Higher Education and the Future of Work

One of the greatest triumphs of the late 20th century has been providing increasing access to higher education to citizens. As manual and other types of jobs disappeared, the answer seemed to lie in increasing the share of the population with higher education qualifications, which has topped 45% of the population in the OECD in 2018.

From a world in which the imperative of providing access to higher education was paramount, challenges have arisen in the relation between what higher education institutions offer and the jobs that are available for people. The world of work has become increasingly complex and fast-changing, but higher education providers have not kept up their transformation. Moreover, many of the skills that are needed in the workplace are a combination of the hard skills that companies give, as well as the ability to soft skills such as teamwork, communication or leadership, which were traditionally not emphasized in the classroom.

The Project

The goal of this program is to systematically analyze the match between the supply and the evolving demands of the labor market.

Collaborating closely with data scientists at IBM Research, we will generate the highest resolution dataset on the curriculum and skills students are receiving in their tertiary education programs and compare, in the United States and several countries in Europe. We will obtain the curricular and extracurricular content of universities’ programs and vocational education institutions, as well as the demands of the labor market.

Our hypothesis is that there are a series of smaller practical changes to the offer of degrees that can be used to improve the match that they provide. On the basis of solid and innovative analysis facilitated by big data we want to spark a conversation on the content and format of the degree.

The basis of our novel research is indeed to develop and analyze this dataset, and complement it with qualitative work to identify:

  • Sources of mismatch in the content of curricular courses and extracurricular experiences, and the demands of the natural feeder labor markets for those degrees,
  • A characterization of the predominant format of instruction in degrees,
  • Identification of the variation in the “intensity of mismatch” by the type of degree, including by the breadth of more “liberal arts” stule degrees vs the depth of more applied degrees,
  • Variation in those gaps by: type of institutions, country, competition or density of institutions,
  • Identification of potential quick wins for small changes to degrees that may improve their fit with labor market demands,
  • Identification of deeper structural changes in the offer of universities,
  • A tentative sketch of what the trends for a successful higher education system will look like.

Our insights will be relevant for:

1) Governments who want to adapt their education systems to new realities

2) Companies that can fill gaps by recruiting from under-explored institutions and geographies

3) Students choosing courses and additional trainings to complement their current ones.

The report is expected to be published in 2021.


Carlos Lastra Anadon

IE University

Ali Jaffer


Peter Dolton

University of Sussex

Victoria Galán-Muros

Innovative Futures Institute

Luis Velasco

IE University

Grace Suh


Renzhe Yu


In partnership with: