Uni degrees of the future

April 27, 2015
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What do you want to be when you grow up?

Sure, we’re all adults here, but that doesn’t mean we’ve necessarily worked this out yet. Students face an ever increasing sea of choice regarding which uni to go, what to study, and how to set themselves up for a stimulating and sustainable career.

The big question is, should you enrol in one of the old reliable degrees, like law or business – or is it better to set your sights on an uber new industry? Ethical computer hacking, anyone?

Behold the university degrees of the future, where cutting edge, no-longer-niche interests are hitting mainstream tertiary education institutions around the world. This means students can turn their peculiar passion into a vocation, truly fulfilling that old adage of doing what you love.

Overseas, Scotland’s University of Abertay Dundee is the first university in the world to offer a Bachelor of Science in Ethical Hacking – nope, we’re not making this up. The four-year degree accepted 150 fulltime Julian Assange wannabes this year.

Meanwhile the US is turning critical analysis of pop culture into a profession. Washington DC’s American University runs a course on The Hunger Games as part of their American Studies program, and New York’s Skidmore College offers a semester in The Sociology of Miley Cyrus.

Back home, the rise in popularity of food-based qualifications such as William Angliss Institute’s Bachelor of Culinary Management may highlight the influence of reality television cooking programs on education. Down in regional Victoria, hipsters are flocking to enrol in Federation University’s Graduate Diploma of Beer Brewing. And for NSW postgrads wanting to make an impact in social justice, they can do so via Macquarie University’s Master of Social Entrepreneurship.

"Are these newfangled programs creating skilful citizens who add value to society, or are they pandering to short-lived fads?"

While we’re seeing the rise of new jobs such as “social media strategist” and the demise of old ones – like “journalist” (sigh) – it seems entrepreneurial abilities are the latest must-have skillset to beef up CVs. Last year, the University of Technology, Sydney launched the Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation. This unusual undergraduate program is taken in conjunction with any of the core degrees offered by UTS, turning a traditional three-year bachelor of engineering, design, humanities or business into a four-year double degree.

One of the brains behind the BCII, Dean of the UTS Business School Professor Roy Green, says the program teaches students “to understand the techniques to apply creativity, and to take a concept from an idea to reality”.

The resource-intensive course offered 200 places in its second year, and received over 3,000 applications. As Professor Green says: “It’s caught the zeitgeist.”

But are these newfangled programs creating skilful citizens who add value to society, or are they pandering to short-lived fads?

Professor Green acknowledges trends can come and go, but “boundary-crossing skills” are now essential, and without them students “will be at a disadvantage in the contemporary labour market”.

But the world will always need lawyers, we hear your mum argue. Isn’t it safer to study for a stalwart job?

“There’s a question of risk and reward,” says Professor Green, emphasising that the nature of work is changing.

“The reward may be ending up with an entrepreneurial mindset in which you do a better job in an organisation than if you had a traditional degree.”

University degrees of the future are moving beyond traditional notions of education to create what Professor Green calls a “T-shaped person” – that is, a student who has specialised discipline knowledge, as well as a broader understanding of the context in which the discipline operates.

Whether you decide to stick with the established streams of law or engineering, or embark on one of the more novel options, one thing is certain: today’s students are spoilt for choice, with countless exciting areas to explore. So much to study, so little time. It really does make you hope you don’t grow up too fast.

Phoebe Hartley

Phoebe makes films, eats dumplings and studies journalism at RMIT University. She tweets sporadically at @phoebehartley.

Image: Mark Roy, Flickr Creative Commons license