How top-class innovative universities build their future profiles?

Higher education is inherently connected to the future by shaping the future employees and citizens. But can we detect this future-orientation in the study programmes offered by leading innovative universities? In order to answer this question three researchers of our research centre conducted a comprehensive analysis  of the top innovative universities’ master programmes: Fehér – Géring – Király, 2021.

Why master’s programmes?

Master’s programmes require complex knowledge and skills to be applied for problem solving and network building on the global or local labour markets, thus they strongly represent the profiles and future visions of the universities. Consequently, their online representation communicates and advertises the programmes to experienced professionals who typically have high expectations. This is especially true to top-class innovative universities, where future-orientated studies could considerably support the image of the university and offer a tentative prognosis of future directions in education.

Accordingly, our study looks at the available 2708 master’s programme descriptions offered by the selected thirty leading innovative universities of three geographical hubs (the US, Western Europe, the Far East and China). We the interdisciplinarity of the STEM and business programs, as one of the most important aspects related to the future of higher education.

Interdisciplinarity – there are examples, but not overwhelming

Interdisciplinary studies in the STEM field represent 15% of all programmes. That is, 15% of the whole sample is interdisciplinary programmes with a minor proportion of STEM and a major proportion of non-STEM areas and vice versa.

An additional but not expected aspect is that the non-STEM field is dominant at older universities established in the 18th century. This result indicates that newlyest ablished universities are more responsive to changes in trends, and this can explain their fast ascent towards the top of the rankings.

Among the 2708 master’s programmes examined of the thirty innovative universities involved in this study, only 430 (16%) offer business-related courses. Despite the relative low proportion of business-related master’s programmes, their interdisciplinary programmes feature in a significant proportion. Namely, out of this 16% of the 2708 master’s programmes, 6% offer a business-only curriculum and the other 10% an interdisciplinary business version.

Certain unique or emerging programmes that reflect changing trends in the economy and society are also offered. A few emblematic examples are Public Policy Data Science, Cybersecurity and Leadership, Digital Anthropology, Sustainability Leadership or Medical Humanities and Risk. These are not simply future-oriented but also provide an answer to market needs in the globalised market of higher education.

To sum it up, the leading innovative HEIs represent a majority of STEM studies with noteworthy options for interdisciplinary studies and with their significant role in business studies as innovation and employability. This curriculum-based representation of innovative HE is presumably a reflection of expected future competences and socio-economic trends in technology and sustainability. Interdisciplinary studies and the available personalised master programmes provide complex cognitive competences and responsible knowledge.