4/2014, In English, Koulutus ja oppiminen, Tutkimus ja innovaatiot

Interdisciplinary expertise as a goal in universities of applied sciences


Interest in interdisciplinarity has been growing steadily within higher education in the wake of more wicked problems to be solved in the world, demands of industry for ground-breaking research-based innovations that typically happen through disciplinary boundary-crossing, and as a consequence of funding agencies’ emphasis on interdisciplinary collaboration (Raisio 2010, Huutoniemi 2012, Lyall & Fletcher 2013). Moreover, philosophers of science have taken up the challenge of systematic work on interdisciplinarity as advocated recently by Uskali Mäki in his “Philosophy of Interdisciplinarity: A Manifesto” (Mäki 2013).

Interdisciplinarity is related to the discussion on multidisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity. Multidisciplinarity refers to two or more disciplines working together on a common problem but drawing only on disciplinary knowledge, that is, maintaining their basic assumptions, concepts, methods and other manifestations of disciplinary boundaries. Transdisciplinarity calls into question disciplinary thinking, as Thomson Klein argues (2004, 524). It refers to close collaboration and exchange of assumptions, concepts and methods that approaches the formation of a new discipline. Interdisciplinarity lies somewhere between these two. Concepts converse and migrate across disciplines, methods are compared and contrasted between disciplines, and, after critical analysis and evaluation, better formulations of methods may be achieved through cross-disciplinary discourse. It looks at a discipline from another discipline’s perspective and may lead to greater integration, that is, to real interdisciplinary engagement. There is typically also some reflection of each individual discipline’s basic assumptions against the assumptions of another discipline but each discipline maintains its (current) fundamental commitments, which does not happen in the case of genuine transdisciplinary enterprise. (Stember 1991, Thomson Klein 2004, Rubin 2004.)

Interdisciplinarity in universities of applied sciences and their master programmes

In the context of a university of applied sciences, discussion of multi-, inter-, and transdisciplinarity plays a role among teaching staff as they have typically all been trained in an academic discipline. Multidisciplinary collaboration in research and development projects is becoming more common as industry and services development demand it, but reflective interdisciplinary engagements are harder to find. Transdisciplinarity hardly exists since forming new disciplines is a realm of traditional universities rather than universities of applied sciences, whose mission is to educate and to conduct applied research and development work.

The master’s students of a Finnish university of applied sciences can be seen to come from different professions rather than disciplines because they enter their respective master’s programmes with at least three years of work experience after the bachelor’s degree. Their work experience is typically even longer, 5–15 years. From the perspective of master’s students, universities of applied sciences could be said to be inherently multiprofessional. Now the challenge for developers of master’s programmes and their research and development orientation is what to do with the multidisciplinary teaching staff and the multiprofessional student body if there are drivers towards greater interdisciplinarity and analogous interprofessional collaboration, as has been suggested by Hautamäki and Ståhle (2012), among others.

We remarked in an earlier article (Lindeman et al. 2012) that multidisciplinary, multiprofessional, interdisciplinary, interprofessional and their variants appeared in only one title of the articles included in the earlier book on the development of master’s degrees at universities of applied sciences (Varjonen & Maijala 2009). In the recent similar volume (Töytäri 2012), there are two articles with such terms in the title: our own and another one on an interprofessional teacher group. Otherwise, the book focuses on the relationship between working life and different aspects of educational practices of master’s programmes, without explicit attention to interdisciplinarity or interprofessionalism. However, the need for interdisciplinary and interprofessional collaboration is widely shared, in Honkanen and Veijola (2012), for instance.

The evolving aim at KyUAS has been to move from multidisciplinarity towards interdisciplinary work among faculty members of different master’s programmes. A further aim has been to expose master’s students to interprofessional encounters, particularly in general management and leadership studies, and, more recently, also in project management studies and multicultural studies.

A call for further development and research

A challenge that has yet to be taken up seriously concerns the development of research and development studies, together with the thesis supervision process, in a way that would increase interdisciplinary collaboration and interprofessional problem-solving (Lindeman et al. 2012). This challenge is particularly wicked with respect to thesis work and supervision. In order to fully understand the task ahead, we need a closer look at the research-assisted development work that master’s students have done in their theses. We also need to study the RDI projects of universities of applied sciences from an interdisciplinary point of view in order to find out good practices and working methods driving development towards this goal. Studying of RDI projects might also reveal hidden problems in integrating disciplinary and professional knowledge meaningfully and for the full benefit of working life partners involved.


Ari Lindeman, Team Leader, Kymenlaakso University of Applied Sciences, ari.lindeman@kyamk.fi

Minna Veistilä, Principal Lecturer,Kymenlaakso University of Applied Sciences, minna.veistila@kyamk.fi

Hautamäki A. & Ståhle P. 2012. Ristiriitainen tiedepolitiikkamme. Suuntana innovaatiot vai sivistys? Helsinki: Gaudeamus.

Honkanen H. & Veijola A. 2012. Kunnat tarvitsevat rohkeita uudistajia, miten ylempi ammattikorkeakoulututkinto vastaa haasteeseen? In Kehittyvä YAMK – työelämää uudistavaa osaamista, ed. by A. Töytäri. Hämeenlinna: Hämeen ammattikorkeakoulu. 107–123.

Huutoniemi K. 2012. Interdisciplinary Accountability in the Evaluation of Research Proposals. Prospects for academic quality control across disciplinary boundaries. Academic dissertation. Publications of the Department of Social Research 2012:17, Social and Public Policy. Helsinki: Helsingin yliopisto.

Lindeman A., Niiranen-Linkama P. & Veistilä M. 2012. Kiperät ongelmat ja monialainen ongelmanratkaisu metodologisen tarkastelun välineinä ylemmissä ammattikorkeakoulu-koulutusohjelmissa. In Kehittyvä YAMK – työelämää uudistavaa osaamista, ed. by A. Töytäri. Hämeenlinna: Hämeen ammattikorkeakoulu.

Lyall C. & Fletcher I. 2013.Experiments in interdisciplinary capacity building: the successes and challenges of large-scale interdisciplinary investments. Science and Public Policy 40/1, 1-7.

Mäki U. 2013. Philosophy of Interdisciplinarity: A Manifesto. Lecture in Pre-symposium of the European Philosophy of Science Association’s conference in Helsinki (author’s lecture notes).

Raisio H. 2010. Embracing the Wickedness of Health Care Essays on Reforms, Wicked Problems, and Public Deliberation. Acta Wasaensia 228. Vaasa: University of Vaasa.

Rubin A. 2004. Monitieteisyys, poikkitieteisyys, tieteidenvälisyys. Accessed 10 December 2013 http://www.tulevaisuus.fi/topi/topi_vanha/kokohakemistosivut/kokomonitieteisyys.htm

Stember M. 1991. Advancing the social sciences through the interdisciplinary enterprise. The Social Science Journal. Vol. 28 Issue 1. pp. 1–14.

Thomson Klein J. 2004. Prospects of transdisciplinarity. Futures 36. pp. 515–526.

Töytäri A. (ed.) 2012. Kehittyvä YAMK – työelämää uudistavaa osaamista. Hämeenlinna: Hämeen ammattikorkeakoulu.

Varjonen B. & Maijala H. 2009. Ylempi ammattikorkeakoulututkinto – osana innovaatioympäristöjä. Hämeenlinna: Hämeen ammattikorkeakoulu.

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