7 Higher Education Innovators You Need To Know About

If you’re looking for ways your university can stand out and deliver what today’s prospects are looking for, this article is for you. 

Ready to have your mind blow with what’s possible? This is our hot list to inspire you to think and operate differently in 2023.

From partnering with the creator economy to universities smashing the conventional degree model, we take a look at 7 higher education innovators you should be looking into.

Note: These are not paid mentions. These are institutions we feel are doing great stuff. That’s all.

Breaking the university model

The traditional university model tells us we need to choose a university, stick with it for 3 to 4 years and pay tens of thousands of pounds - putting almost everyone who attends in debt for a majority of their working lives.

Nexford University is a fully accredited institution offering degree-level education on a ‘pay as you go’ basis. Advertised as a next-generation 100% online university, Nexford is breaking down barriers into higher education.

This innovative approach to degree learning allows students to complete their qualification in their own time, pay an affordable price on a monthly basis, and tap into lifelong learning.

Students are making it clear they want a university that changes with their career. We feel this is a totally refreshing way to think about what a life-long university experience can be.

YouTube taking self-learning seriously

It’s finally happening. YouTube is rolling ‘College Foundations’ - a new program allowing students to earn course credit via YouTube videos. The Google-owned platform has partnered with Arizona State University to test the waters with this new initiative.

TechCrunch reports that programs will not require a minimum Grade Point Average (GPA) for enrollment.

Learning via YouTube videos is nothing new to Millennials and Gen Z students. It now seems that YouTube is taking this long-standing trend of self-paced learning seriously.

It is not yet clear whether this new initiative will be rolled out to other universities or countries. However, YouTube also has a ‘Courses’ initiative in India - signaling a definite shift to standardized YouTube learning.

Engaging with the creator economy

No. Not all creators want to be influencers. In fact most young people wanting to enter the creator economy do so because they want to own their own business.

However, there are almost no university degrees or one-off qualifications addressing this huge emerging market. Undergraduates and even would-be postgraduates are ready and willing to invest time and even money in further training and education in this topic.

How does one break into this space? How is content monetized? How are finances managed?

One institution we found who are challenging this head on are East Carolina University. Partnering with well known content creators they are delivering a one-off qualification with no barrier of entry.

Thinking differently about apprenticeships

Generation Alpha (the ones after Gen Z) are already being asked what their feelings are towards further education. According to SFS Media 36% said they would consider an apprenticeship. That’s an increase of 25% on Gen Z (11%).

Staffordshire University is showing its credentials as a “Next Gen” university by getting ahead of this trend. Not only have they committed time and resources to dedicated LinkedIn activities, and conducted relevant research around the impact of apprenticeships, they have also brought the experience offline by hosting an Apprenticeships Fair.

When research becomes a community 

What makes the Institute of Science and Technology Austria such an innovator is the way it uses its campus-based community to deliver exceptional basic research results.

By creating a highly collaborative feel around a purpose built facility, surrounded by lower-Austrian woodland, ISTA encourages cross-discipline discussion and knowledge sharing in order to produce research which is much more than the sum of its parts.

Scientists pursue their basic research interests without constraints or predefined research topics, supported by state-of-the-art infrastructure.

Credit: Springpod

Try before you buy

Potential students are making a huge decision when they choose a university. It’s no wonder they want to try the product before they buy into it. 

Interestingly, the most common answer universities have for this problem is inviting students to an open day or sitting in on a stage-managed open lecture.

In 2019 nearly 60,000 students dropped out of higher education. It is reported that 57% of students considering going to university still feel unsure about what the experience will be like. 

Springpod is a platform allowing prospective students to try out a university or place of work before they commit to it full time. It’s an ambitious problem to try and fix and one we are following with great interest.

The Liverpool-based company currently partner with some of the world's leading brand and universities, allowing young people to connect with the student experience and world of work like never before.

With a huge push towards success stories, long-lasting partnerships and higher education content marketing Springpod are giving it everything to make university and work experiences more transparent. Applause from us.

Giving postgraduates the care they need

All too often postgraduate students and the postgraduate student experience are considered an afterthought. This can be especially true if you are a one person marketing team doing all you can to keep quality undergraduate applications coming. 

Sheffield-based FindAUniversity has been perfecting the postgraduate recruitment process since 2001. They are recognised as the place to be for any university with serious postgraduate ambitions. This higher education marketing mainstay continues to use technology to better serve advertisers and potential students.


The shift in what prospective students want from their university is happening right now. From more clarity on what student life will be like, to affordability, lifelong learning and access to apprenticeships.

The technology is there to fill the gap between university expertise and student expectation. Of course, everyone is being asked to do more with less. Academics and communications staff are working at the limit every day.

However, the takeaway here is that resources and processes are already in place to support prospective and current students - it’s time for a rethink in how they are allocated.

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