Philosophy paper for engineering students in Anna University and the controversy around it

The outrage prompted the University’s VC to issue a statement saying that the paper would be an elective and not a compulsory subject.
Philosophy paper for engineering students in Anna University and the controversy around it
Philosophy paper for engineering students in Anna University and the controversy around it
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Anna University, on Wednesday, stoked controversy after the new course regulations for B.Tech Information Technology course introduced a paper on Philosophy in its syllabus, which predominantly features the Upanishads. The outrage on this introduction forced the Vice Chancellor of the university to issue a clarification that the it was an elective subject and not a compulsory one.

The new regulations for students pursuing B.Tech information technology in Anna University’s College of Engineering Guindy was released recently. As per these regulations called 'Regulations 2019', students in the second year of their course shall be introduced to a course on Philosophy. The course will give students 3 credit points and will involve portions of various Upanishads like the Brihadaranyaka, Taittriya and Chandogya and the Bhagwat Gita apart from glimpses into Greek and Chinese philosophies.

The news of the inclusion sparked massive outrage on social media with a majority of the opposition centred around the selection of just Hindu scriptures, with many pointing out that Tamil literature and texts from other religions like Buddhism also had similar valuable lessons.

The outrage prompted Vice Chancellor Dr MK Surappa to issue a clarification on Wednesday evening that the paper will be an elective for the students, and not compulsory. “The students can take the paper as an elective among the HSMC courses provided by the university. We assure that we will not impose anything on the students,” he told TNM.

Why Philosophy? 

The All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) introduced a new course structure for engineering education in the country in 2018. The revamped structure requires undergraduate engineering students to earn 12 credits from Humanities, Social Science Management Courses (HSMC) subjects. The AICTE model curriculum also suggests a list of around 32 subjects from which universities and colleges can choose subjects to be offered in their institutions. The Anna University’s Regulations 2019 follows this revamped course structure, and applies to students who began their first year of engineering in 2019-20. The department of Information Science and Technology, which runs the B.Tech Information Technology programme has prescribed five HSMC subjects: Technical English, Professional Communication, Film appreciation, Philosophy and Ethics, and Holistic Life. Of these five, students will necessarily have to pick three (as per the department rules) and earn at least 12 credits (as per AICTE norms).

‘Unnecessary for engineering students’

Dr E Balagurusamy, former Vice Chancellor of Anna University, said that the philosophy paper was unnecessary for engineering students. “If it is about Indian culture or Indian philosophy as a whole, then I think it would still have been okay. But I don’t know why engineers studying information technology must learn Upanishads,” he said. 

Philosophy as a subject is objectionable on two aspects, said D Ravikumar, writer and the member of Parliament from Villupuram. “First aspect is that philosophy with Upanishads, Vedas etc is not just irrelevant for engineering students, but also contradicts with basic science. If students study these contradictions as a part of their course, their scientific temper gets diluted. Hence it is wrong to have this in the course,” he said. Adding that propagating Upanishads is a way of encouraging and justifying a graded society, Ravikumar said, “Our Constitution treats every citizen as equal. That being the case, why is this (Upanishads) being spread in institutions? It is not just diluting scientific temper, but also against democratic values of our Constitution. Teaching Upanishads in Anna University is not only unscientific but also illegal.”

‘Include the best of all religions’

However, some stakeholders have welcomed the move, albeit with restrictions. Jayaprakash Gandhi, an education consultant, told TNM that such courses help students learn human values, guru-shishya tradition, and family and inter-personal relationships. However, he added that these are available across the spectrum and not just in Hindu scriptures. “The university must teach the best lessons from all religious texts. The university can do this on its own and make the material available for their students. It is not right to specifically take from Hindu religion alone.” Adding that students are being encouraged to learn inter-disciplinary subjects, he said that students must also learn to manage work stress. “That is why yoga, and similar subjects are being revived. Nothing wrong in this,” he added.

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