How to spot an innovative, future-proof STEM degree | Top Universities

How to spot an innovative, future-proof STEM degree

By Laura Lightfinch

Updated June 12, 2023 Updated June 12, 2023

Rapid developments in technology and artificial intelligence are changing the workplace for STEM graduates. While new technologies can handle certain skills more efficiently, this is creating opportunities elsewhere. Other skillsets are growing in importance as industries look to remain agile and make the most of the changes AI brings.   

Riccardo Ocleppo, founder of the Open Institute of Technology (OPIT), spoke to about the most in-demand skills needed in the AI and technology fields and how STEM students can prepare to fill the skills gap and enjoy a thriving career.   

What are the most in-demand skills in the STEM fields? 

“The shortage of tech workers is projected to grow even faster in the coming years. Despite the worry that the AI wave is creating, I’m confident that there are a few types of professionals who will become even more in-demand,” said Ocleppo. 

Highly-skilled technical professionals 

“The first type is highly-skilled technical professionals who can build secure, functional, and scalable applications in the field of computer science.” 

That is why OPIT designed a new BSc in Modern Computer Science to target students who want to build strong technical skills in these areas of demand. Providing students with the foundational academic and technical skills in programming, software development, cloud computing, cybersecurity and data science, the online degree sets up its graduates for a broad career across development, engineering and data science.  

Professionals at the intersection of management and tech 

“The other type of professional I believe will be in high demand are those who can bridge the gap between management teams and tech professionals within a company to make the most of tech investments and ensure companies produce a return on investment,” added Ocleppo.  

“That’s why we designed an MSc in Applied Data Science and AI. The programme requires no prior study in computer science and provides students with the tools to solve real-life business problems that can be analysed with data science and AI. 

“What we’re seeing today is that there are many people who have studied management and many people who have studied technology or computer science, or have skills in those respective fields but the connection between those areas is limited. That has to change to include people who can sit at the intersection between different professions and be able to translate up to senior decision-makers and down to workers on the front line.” 

What should students look out for in a modern STEM programme? 

Innovation in programme design 

When designing degree programmes to meet today’s in-demand skills, the team at OPIT chose to start from scratch to break down the barriers of what is usually done and go beyond the limits of traditional higher education. 

Ocleppo said: “We carefully selected a diverse group of esteemed professors from countries including Canada, the USA, Italy, Brazil, Sweden, Scotland, France, Germany, Poland, Lebanon and Spain. With a wealth of teaching expertise gained from renowned international universities, as well as notable professional and research accomplishments, our faculty ensures a pedagogical approach grounded in robust theoretical foundations while effectively applying them to tackle real-world challenges. 

“We also chose to not have a final exam at the end of each semester, but to include progressive assessments throughout the course. The programme can be completed in a shorter time frame if students choose to study through the summer months, empowering them to customise their learning, fast-track their education and embark on their careers sooner.  

“This reflects our commitment to providing a student-centric learning experience, enhances academic outcomes and prepares students to thrive in a rapidly evolving world where adaptability and continuous learning are paramount.” 

Strong industry connections 

Another key focus for OPIT was to embed industry insight into the design and curriculum of the programmes, ensuring students receive as much real-world experience as possible.  

Ocleppo said: “Involving companies in our programmes was top priority and their insights were fundamental in designing the modules we’ve included, on which technologies to rely on, what programming languages to work with, etc.  

“One thing we’ve found from liaising with companies to design our programmes is that students need a lot more practical learning when they enter a company, for them to come up to speed with the technologies, processes and ways of working. So, our goal is for our students to leave OPIT feeling a lot more connected to what companies really need from them."  

Ability to specialise in your area of interest 

“When students are looking to become skilled experts within their industry, the flexibility to choose modules and specialise is very important,” said Ocleppo.  

“For the bachelor’s programme, we included a full term of elective modules before the final dissertation, so students can pick five options from a list of 13, covering courses such as mobile development, game development, advanced AI, and computer cloud automation.” 

A balance of technical and soft skills  

“To be a fully rounded professional, even in the STEM field, you have to understand the bigger picture and how things work in global scenarios and with diverse perspectives,” said Ocleppo.  

“At OPIT, we offer several non-technical modules to complement the scientific understanding. In parallel to our courses in operating systems or database fundamentals, we also teach business, digital marketing and project management.”  

He added: “By possessing both sets of skills, graduates can effectively navigate diverse workplace environments, communicate and collaborate with colleagues, adapt to evolving technologies, and solve complex problems. This combination enables graduates to be versatile, well-rounded professionals who are sought after by employers and have the ability to thrive in dynamic and competitive job markets.”  

How can students and STEM professionals remain valuable in the field? 

According to Ocleppo, the best way for STEM professionals to not become obsolete in the age of AI and advanced technology is to continue learning. He said: “You need to build knowledge outside of your degree, and keep learning as you move through your career, evolving the in-demand skills as things change in your field.  

“You need to build knowledge; to adapt and reinvent yourself. Then, on top of that, you can build real-life knowledge in your career. 

“Our students undergo career coaching throughout their experience to ensure they are ready for the workplace. At university, I was a top student and I thought that the doors would be open for me when I entered the job market, but that wasn’t the case. I quickly realised that I had a very limited perspective on the job market and without the guidance or coaching from my university, I didn’t know how to handle that.  

“Embrace opportunities to gain practical experience through internships, projects, or open-source contributions. Cultivate your problem-solving and critical thinking abilities, as they are highly valued in the field. Nurture your communication and teamwork skills, as they are essential for collaborating with colleagues and effectively conveying technical concepts to non-technical stakeholders.”  

Riccardo Ocleppo is founder and director of the Open Institute of Technology (OPIT). He’s an entrepreneur and education enthusiast and designs educational products and services with the goal of reaching millions of people and having a real positive impact on society. 

He is also the founder of Docsity, an ed-tech platform for international students which helps students succeed in their studies by allowing them to find and share high quality study resources that support their university preparation. 

This article was originally published in June 2023 .

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