Revitalising the Arts and Social Sciences

We live in a world that is currently undergoing rapid social, political, and technological change. In this context, insights into human behaviour, which can sometimes seem too complex and unpredictable to grasp, become more important than ever.

At Monash University Malaysia, the School of Arts and Social Sciences has a longstanding commitment to studying such social transformations. Scholars at SASS are constantly generating fresh insights into why people, groups, and institutions behave the way they do. These understandings have long been at the core of what makes the school tick, and as SASS celebrates its tenth anniversary, they continue to form the essence of what it imparts to students.

As the new Head of School, Professor Helen Nesadurai will be turning her attention to developing this, as well as other existing strengths of the faculty. “I'm not looking to radically transform the school's direction because we have a very strong foundation,” she says. “We carried out a few initiatives last year to take things forward in terms of both teaching and research. I see my role as helping to facilitate this, and also to provide direction for more changes that we will need to make to revitalise the curriculum.”

One such initiative that is in the works involves the rejuvenation of the Bachelor of Communications and Media Studies program. The course, one of the school’s most popular, will be fine-tuned to incorporate a digital focus, with the new emphasis better equipping graduates to head into communication careers that are increasingly public, networked, and digitised. To build on its humanities offerings, SASS will be also introducing a new Screen Studies major and a Creative Writing minor in the near future.

With Prof Nesadurai at the helm, the school will continue to take steps toward bridging the gap between academia and industry. Students will soon have access to a dedicated graduate placement scheme with one of Kuala Lumpur’s leading think tanks, where they will conduct original research and have their work published. Those enrolled in SASS’s new Workplace Integrated Units, which have close ties to industry work, will also have the opportunity to try their hand at solving real-world problems.

The three workplace integrated units are designed to get students working on actual industry projects, thus preparing them for the working world even before they graduate from university. In Task Force classes, for instance, a company poses students with a problem or project which they then work on collaboratively. This ensures that graduates will already have valuable industry experience on their CVs as they begin to craft their career paths.

“What these workplace integrated units do is ensure work-ready skills and employability, while also building confidence and the ability to work in groups while still in this setting,” explains Prof Nesadurai, who personally has fifteen years of experience working with a think tank and in consulting. “It’s a safe environment for students to learn these skills, interact with the industry, and sample a range of work. Most importantly, they immediately apply what they have learned in classes to the project, and use their analytical skills to solve real-life problems. These analytical and evaluative skills are really at the core of what a social science education gives you.”

The importance of producing work-ready graduates cannot be overstated, especially given the misconception that pursuing a social science degree disadvantages one in the job market. Altering this mindset is one challenge that the faculty will continue to grapple with over the coming years.

“When people look at the Arts and Social Sciences and can’t immediately map out a related vocation or profession, the assumption immediately goes to ‘no job, no career’, instead of ‘many jobs, varied careers’. I think that frame definitely has to shift,” says Prof Nesadurai. “Our alumni all over the world have gone into diverse fields – working with corporations, governments, international organisations, and some have even started their own businesses.”

Reflecting on her own years of experience with the school, Prof Nesadurai sees much to be proud of. “Our graduates have the ability to occupy multiple perspectives, and are well-equipped to handle many different dimensions of a problem at their place of work. When you look at the diverse fields they now work in, it speaks to the strength of the arts and social sciences,” she points out. It is clear that as SASS turns ten, there is plenty to look ahead to.

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