Teaching of Humanities and Social Sciences in IIT - A Critical Analysis

Representative picture.
  • Based on a review of the Humanities and Social Science sections of old and newer IIT sites, here are some thought-provoking observations that pose a bigger question–what is the purpose of IIT? 

Whilst researching for How did students clear IIT JEE I discovered an IIT website that taught Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS). Was a bit taken aback, since I always thought that IIT stood for Indian Institute of Technology. According to AICTE site, “The IITs were created to train scientists and engineers, with the aim of developing a skilled workforce to support the economic and social development of India after independence in 1947.”


A review of HSS subjects in table 1 shows it usually includes subjects like English, Economics, Psychology and Sociology. How relevant are HSS subjects in an engineering-focused institution like IITs?  


Sources said, “Department of HSS in all IITs has been there from day one. It is felt that since engineers have to work with people, it is essential for them to be versatile for dealing with people. There is no B.Tech by the Dept of HSS. They run courses in first two years of B. Tech. program. In addition, they have Ph.D. program, in which the admission is by interview.” Typically students can select courses of interest every semester in areas of interest. Read History IIT  


Earlier HSS subjects were treated as an elective. However, sometime post 2005 this changed. As per this Indian Express repor , “According to information provided by Dean Academics at the IIT Bombay, Prof. Avinash Mahajan, the curriculum at the premier institute was last changed back in 2007. “Students will have to select a minimum of two to three courses from each basket along with its core-engineering branch subjects and aligned science courses.” In 2012, BITS Pilani changed their structure giving more weightage to humanities. Thus, it is now mandatory for all engineering students to pick three compulsory courses (modules) from the humanities too. Source  Hindustan Times report 


Anyway, I visited a few IIT sites (mainly HSS section). Part 1 has an overview of key observations IIT wise and suggestions. Part 2 of article has IIT wise findings and is for those who wish to deep-dive on subject. Links are embedded, which take you to the information source.  


At the outset I must state that am a Chartered Accountant with a Corporate/Consulting/Indian Culture and Darsana background. This article is meant to provoke though and not undermine the IITs esp. when they are seen as the nation’s problem-solvers and pride.  


Part 1 Overview of observations and Suggestions

Table 1: Details of Humanities and Social Sciences IIT-wise 


Faculty Number


1. Mumbai


English, Sociology, Psychology, Philosophy, Cell for Indian Science and Technology, Sanskrit.

2. Delhi


Economics, Linguistics, Literature, Philosophy, Psychology and Sociology

3. Madras


Development Studies Economics and Public Policy, Language Literature and Cultural Studies, Inter disciplinary studies, Foreign language and Education.

4. Kanpur


English, Fine Arts, Philosophy Psychology, Sociology, Research Interests

5. Kharagpur

Not on site

Disciplines include English Language & Literature, Linguistics, Economics, German, Psychology, HR, History, Sanskrit and Sociology



M.A. in Society and Culture

7. Mandi


Ph.D. programs, M.A in Development Studies.


The above give common and contrasting examples of HSS subjects across IITs.


How relevant and critical are the study of these disciplines to the over-all focus of an engineering focussed institution? Does study of electives require the setting up of full-fledged HSS departments and Centres/Schools as referred to in Table 2 below?


It can be argued that IIT engineers need to have an overall understanding of issues affecting society, nation etc. Inter-disciplinary learning is a buzz word today. Plus the National Education Policy stresses on multidisciplinary education. Fair point.


In which case, fundamental questions need to be asked.  


One, what is multidisciplinary education?


The Ministry of Education, Government of India states that, “A multidisciplinary education, as envisaged in the NEP- 2020 aims to develop social, physical, intellectual, emotional, and moral capacities of human beings in an integrated manner. Learners will be able to choose from languages and at the same time fields such as Applied Sciences, Mathematics, and Business Studies. This aims at developing critical thinking, versatility, adaptability, problem solving, flexibility, and analytical and communication skills in the learners.”


Has any research been published about the impact of HSS on the key success parameters by which the success of IIT graduates is measured for e.g. number of patents registered?


Two, should IIT’s be an engineering focused teaching institution? 


Three, does multidisciplinary education envisage (see table 2) having MA degree in economics, a super-speciality hospital, schools of intellectual property law and management?

Giving students a macro-level understanding of other subjects and multi-disciplinary education are useful but it is worth considering if the nature and extent of disciplines offered amount more than multidisciplinary education.


Here is a personal corporate experience.


After qualifying as a Chartered Accountant, I joined Hindustan Lever as a management trainee. During the 18 month training stint I was placed in various departments (commercial, finance). It gave me a good understanding of the business and prepared me for the challenges ahead. Yet, as a Factory Commercial Manager, when any complex issues came up on Taxation I had to consult with the in-house tax expert. Personally, I have thrived on multidisciplinary knowledge as a Consultant and founder of www.esamskriti.com


In an earlier article on how students cleared IIT Jee earlier I spoke to IITians who had studied from about 1980 to 2010.  They said that IIT helped develop the mind esp. analytical skills. Nearly all respondents chose to do an MBA post IIT. To read their views


IIT Bombay has a Bachelor of Science Economics program. IIT Kharagpur offers undergraduate course in MSc economics and Ph.d in MHRM. It also has a school of Intellectual Property Law. Students learn about patent laws today but if need to register a patent later they will need to go a patent lawyer specialist.  


If IIT is an engineering-oriented institution is there a need economics education of this level plus teaching human resources and patent law?


Having said the above, a 45 plus IITian told this author that most people he knew found humanities courses useful later. In his/her view “education needs to be balanced. It's never just about specific skills but about problem solving.”


Here is a summary of schools/centres at select IIT’s.


Table 2: Key Schools/Centres at select IITs 


Nature of School

1. Bombay

Entrepreneurship, Management, Design

2. Delhi

11 Centres and 6 Schools per IIT site

3. Madras

Centre for Indian Knowledge Systems, Centre for Technology and Policy, Centre for Memory Studies, IITM-Kenyan Writing Workshop.

4. Kharagpur

Centre of Teaching, Learning and Educational Technology, Centre for Rural Development and Innovative Sustainable Technology, Humanities and Social Sciences, Rekhi centre of Excellences for the Science of Happiness + School of Intellectual Property Law.

5. Kanpur

School of Medical Sciences and Technology and a Super Speciality Hospital, School of Sustainability


It has 7 Centres including one on Archaeological sciences.

7. Mandi

Centres include Indian Knowledge Systems and Mental Health Application besides Centre for application and fabrication of electronic devices, Quantum technologies, Artificial Intelligence and Robotics etc.

Management School.


How relevant are some of these schools to engineering education?


Is there a Central Coordination Committee for all IIT’s that reviews the proposals received from individual IIT’s for new schools/centres and allocates scarce resources? 


What exists is an IIT Council that looks at macro issues. A reading of a few Council minutes (April 2023, February 2021, September 2019) does not seem to indicate that such proposals are received. At an individual IIT level, the Senate of each IIT decides on disciplines therein. 


So either the role of the Council can be expanded or a Central Coordination IIT Committee that, devoid of bureaucratic interference, could decide on disciplines for each IIT. This could be line with their Thrust Areas.


The committee could consist of Directors of each IIT with each of them becoming Chairman by rotation. This way, resources of management, finance, land, people etc. are put to optimum use.  


For this Central committee to be effective, the government and IIT’s need to first decide what is the objective of IIT? To produce high quality engineers or!


General observations and suggestions

1. The starting point is what does Brand IIT stand for? What are the attributes that students who pass out must possess? Should IIT be an engineering focused institution and leave subjects like economics, law, management etc. for others.


2. If HSS is considered important, should they restrict themselves to those studying B.Tech and avoid taking Ph.D students.


3. Different IIT have different subjects in HSS. Should subjects be standardised?


4. If the Centre still wishes to pursue teaching of some HSS subjects, that have no relation to engineering education, can a separate institution be started where faculty and teaching is consolidated.


5. Every IIT must give number of faculty and students discipline wise on its site. This will enable benchmarking across IITs and more. Currently, statistics on number of student is available on IIT Council site and up to 2021-22.   


6. In pursuant of the minutes of IIT Council held 22.2.2021 found media reports on thrust areas. Can thrust areas for each IIT be part of the IIT Council site?

Courses offered. Pic from IIT Madras site.


PART 2 is for deeper study. It has detailed data on individual IITs.


1. IIT Mumbai site – HSS site

Disciplines are – History, English, Sociology, Psychology, Philosophy and English-All areas in Literature, Linguistics, Performance Studies and Cinema studies.


As on 10/12/2023 the number of faculty is 36. Break-up is English are nine, Sociology Eleven, Psychology four, Philosophy ten and Cell for Indian Science and Technology in Sanskrit two . Also taught is History that covers Archaeology Modern History- Subaltern history, migration history, maritime history and histories of anti-colonialism and decolonization


It has schools of entrepreneurship, management and design in its academic divisions.


IIT B also has a Department of Economics with a faculty of 13. It has undergraduate courses (Bachelor of Science Economics) for Microeconomic and Macroeconomic Theory, Econometrics Theory etc. The BS Economics program “seeks to impart education to students to become more efficient analysts/ decision-making professionals in the area of business & public policy and development administration.” It also has PhD students.


If IIT is an engineering-oriented institution is there a need for economics education of this level? 


2.  IIT DELHI site - HSS site

Disciplines are - Economics, Linguistics, Literature, Philosophy, Psychology and Sociology.


Within Economics it has courses on Advanced Econometrics, Advanced Economic Growth Theory, Advanced International Trade etc. It also has a Department of Management Studies and offers an Executive MBA, MBA Telecon and a Doctoral Program etc.


If IIT is an engineering-oriented institution is there a need for economics education of this level? 


According to this link, as on 10/12/2023, the number of Faculty is 42. Names classified alphabetically as a 6, b 1, d 5, f 1, I1, j 1, k 1, m 3, n 1, p 3, r 4, s 11, t 2, v 1 and y 1. 


It has 11 Centres and 6 Schools. Source and has an Indian and Foreign Languages Learning Program, M.Sc. Cognitive Science amongst others.


Link to IITD Dubai campus


3.  IIT MADRAS site – HSS site

The Department of Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) is one of the oldest departments at IIT Madras. It offers both Master's and Doctoral programmes, as well as electives for B.Tech and M.Tech students.” Electives are courses which students can choose based on their interest–it can be their core department or humanities or other courses.


Disciplines are – Development Studies (sociology, anthropology and social work, History, Politics and International Relations, Urban and policy studies), Economics and Public Policy, Language Literature and Cultural Studies (cultural studies, linguistics, literary studies), Inter disciplinary studies, Foreign language and Education (foreign language, Indian knowledge systems, Philosophy).


Are these subjects that an Indian Institute of Technology must teach in the name of multidisciplinary education?

Pictures and about Faculty 42 can be viewed here 

Faculty 40, 215 post grad students, 130 PHD research scholars etc.

Courses are 2 year MA in Developmental studies, 2 yr MA in Economics, 2 yr MA in English and Btech Electives (to know courses offered for e.g. German, French, Indian Art, Applied Economics, European Union Studies, War and Peace in West Asia). Electives are courses which students can choose based on their interest – it can be their core department or humanities or other courses. 


How relevant is a MA degree to the overall IIT mission of being an engineering focused institution?

IIT M has 4 Centres namely Centre for Indian Knowledge Systems, Centre for Technology and Policy, Centre for Memory Studies, IITM-Kenyan Writing Workshop.


IITM is opening or has opened a campus at Zanzibar, Tanzania India has century old relations with Tanzania.


4.  IIT Kanpur site – HSS site

“The Department of Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) was established in 1960 along with other departments of Science and Engineering. With an intent to sharpen the creative talents of the students and to help them evolve as better leaders and decision- makers, the institute allocated more than fifteen percent of the total UG course credits to HSS courses.

The Department has twenty-nine faculty members who teach a range of courses in English, Fine Arts, Philosophy, Psychology and Sociology. Many faculty members of HSS actively participate in the interdisciplinary postgraduate programme in Design (M. Des.) and co-supervise students of other departments as well. Besides teaching, the faculty members are involved in thesis supervision of Ph.D. scholars working in different areas...” Prof Mini Chandran, Head, Dept of HSS.  


Research Areas – English, Fine arts, Philosophy, Psychology and Sociology are, by way of an example, covered in some detail.


The English discipline at IIT Kanpur is a unique blend of Literature, Linguistics and ELT streams. While the discipline’s flagship programme remains the Ph.D, it offers a range of electives in literature, linguistics and ELT/ESL studies for undergraduate majors in Engineering and Science.”


Philosophy – “Our faculty broadly work in Aesthetics, Epistemology, Ethics, Evolutionary Epistemology, Existentialism, Gandhi Studies, Logic, Philosophy of Biology, Philosophy of Cognition, Philosophy of Creativity, Philosophy of Language, Philosophical Logic, Philosophy of Mind, Political Philosophy.”


Fine Arts – “The discipline of Fine Arts strives to bring together artistic practice and art historical research to serve a twofold function: engaging undergraduate students across the institute with the practice and historical development in this field and offering a rigorous, multifaceted experience to the doctoral students of the discipline. Fine Arts started as a discipline of study in IIT Kanpur in the early 1970s.”


Psychology – “The discipline is active in the areas of Cognitive Neuropsychology, Cognitive Factors in Design, Trauma Psychology, Affective Processes, Psychological Assessment, Applied Social Psychology, Cultural Psychology, Alternative Paradigms of Psychology, Disaster Mental Health, Qualitative Methodology, Cognitive Psychology, Health Psychology, Social Cognition, Organizational Cognition, Social Representations of Health and Illness and Military Psychology.”


Sociology – “The faculty members teach and do research in varied sociological specialities. The programme grounds the doctoral students in qualitative and quantitative methods in sociology. While giving an exposure to varied fields of sociology the discipline encourages the doctoral students to engage in interdisciplinary research.”


Does India need an Indian Institute of Technology to do research on these areas?


Faculty (32) as on 11.12.23 - English 13, Fine Arts 4, Philosophy 5, Psychology 3, Sociology 2 and Research Interests 5.


It is going to open or has opened the Gangwal School of Medical Sciences and Technology and a 450 bed Super Speciality Hospital. The Gangwal School Complex shall be built over 30 acres in the IIT Kanpur complex.  


The intent of this school is to marry the “technological expertise of IIT Kanpur and one of the best Innovations and Incubation Ecosystem, the setting up of the medical School will complete the MedTech system at IIT Kanpur.”


Should a super speciality hospital be part of an IIT?


Or is the deeper intent of the hospital is to design medical/diagnostic equipment so India becomes atmanirbhar in this space?


Just like IIT Gauhati who have established the “ICMR-DHR Centre of Excellence for Biomedical Device and Diagnostics Innovation and Commercialisation to cater for rural India with a focus on healthcare delivery to the last-mile population.” Source


Research in medical equipment is connected to engineering but running a hospital!


According to December 2023 Indian Express report IIT Kanpur and Kotak Mahindra Bank have jointly launched a School of Sustainability.

5.  IIT Kharagpur site – HSS Site  

The motto of IIT Kharagpur is "योगः कर्मसु कौशलम्". This literally translates to "Excellence in action is Yoga", essentially implying that doing your work well is (true) yoga. 


 According to their site, “currently, the Department houses many disciplines, including English Language & Literature, Linguistics, Economics, German, Psychology, HR, History, Sanskrit and Sociology. It runs major programs such as BS in Economics with a provision for MS, Integrated MSc in Economics, Master of Human Resource Management (MHRM) and Ph.D. in several disciplines.”


The HSS page on IIT site gives name of departmental head only.  


It states, “Department has two major programmes, one at undergraduate level (i.e., five yr. integrated M Sc in Economics). Students get admission through JEE (Advance). We have another programme at postgraduate level (i.e., Master of Human Resource Management (MHRM). It is designed to cater the need of modern industrial society.”


Should an engineering-focused institution be offering MSc economics and MHRM courses?


The IIT site does not give the number and names of faculty members.


According to this link the Humanities, Social and Economic Sciences includes-

1. Centre of Teaching, Learning and Educational Technology.

2. Centre for Rural Development and Innovative Sustainable Technology.

3. Humanities and Social Sciences.

4. Rekhi centre of Excellences for the Science of Happiness.


IIT Kharagpur, in 2006, opened the Rajiv Gandhi School of Intellectual Property Law.  Its aim is to “integrate technology and law to build lawyers with expertise to deal with the legal issues in the interface of technology and law. The School offers three programs; LL.B with specialization in IP Rights, LL.M and Doctoral Program in Law.”


It also has Schools of Law and Management and an Academy of Classical and Folk Arts


How relevant are these schools to engineering education is worth considering?


Let us also look at some of the newer IITs.


6.  IIT Gandhinagar site – HSS site  


MA in Society n Culture

“The MA in Society and Culture, a unique program conceptualized and implemented by the faculty at the Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar (since 2014), has a specific goal of providing to students (from any disciplinary background) breadth and focus in the key disciplines within the Humanities and Social Sciences. It does so by providing fundamental learning, debates, and methods in literature, sociology, anthropology, political science, and history.


The two-year MA program emerges from a conviction that students need to be trained to understand the social and political context around them; that encounters with theoretical and cutting-edge formulations on societies and nations are necessary and must also be learned in tandem with real-life observation and fieldwork.


We envision the program to give students a critical ability to approach the world and its many challenges. Careers after the MA program could be related to journalism, advertising/media, communications, writing, teaching, human resources, non-profit (NGOs, policy think-tanks), and of course, higher studies in academia should you choose to pursue a Ph.D. Students will also have the option of taking the University Grants Commission Lectureship exams (NET/SLET/GATE) in the allied disciplines. We believe that the possibilities are endless.


Admission to MA in Society and Culture is offered based on entrance test and interview.”


Should an IIT be teaching these subjects is a question worth asking?


IITG runs a program India ki khoj. “India-Ki-Khoj is an intensive module focusing upon the understanding and appreciation of India through diverse lectures and field visits. The program is designed and led by members of the Humanities and Social Sciences Program at IIT, Gandhinagar.”


While it a very interesting program should it be run under an IIT?


Faculty are 35. According to the site 13 are Visiting/Guest professors but shown under faculty.


7.  IIT Mandi site – HSS site

It has seven schools for engineering and science, besides a school for HSS and Management.


The Centres include Indian Knowledge Systems and Mental Health Application besides Centre for application and fabrication of electronic devices, Quantum technologies, Artificial Intelligence and Robotics etc.


Faculty are classified based on nature of schools namely school of Bioengineering 11, Computing and Electrical engineering 44, Civil engineering 22, Chemical sciences 14, HSS 15, Management 9, Mechanic engineering 27, Mathematical sciences 11 and Physical sciences 18. Total faculty is 171.


Currently, IIT Mandi offers Ph.D programs and M.A. in Developmental studies.


To read about the M.A. program 


How relevant is it to house a MA program in an IIT?


Utmost care was taken in culling out data. Errors if any are unintended and without malafide intent. IIT websites were visited between December 11-17, 2023.


Also read

1. IIT-B students file complaint against professor, pro-Hamas speaker – “A complaint filed by Omkar Supekar, a student of humanities and social science, at Powai police station demanded that an FIR be registered against professor.”

2. PRS India report on setting up of new IITs

3. IIT Kharagpur produces an excellent calendar based on Indian Knowledge Systems. View 2023 here

4. Contemporary Western episteme and Indian Philosophy Workshop 

5. Interweaving Anthropology, Science, and Narrative: Postanthropocentric Mappings in the era of Climate Crises

6. New Lessons in Critical Humanities- Grounding Posthuman & Experimental Feminisms in Nationalistic India

 7.Rise of Humanities and Social Sciences in IITs

This article should not be republished without prior written approval of www.esamskriti.com  

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