University of Houston's future studies course


Update: This post was called "University of Houston closes its future studies course" but the course is now alive and well and I wanted to stop the misleading title appearing prominently in related Google searches. The course has moved to the main University of Houston campus and appears to be much invigorated. Read more about it. (20 April 2006)

I'm guessing that the future must have seemed a more viable prospect in the past. This week it was announced that the University of Houston - Clear Lake is to wind up its Future Studies masters degree, which was founded in 1975, just up the road from NASA's Johnson Space Center.

I spent over a year completing the course over the turn of the century, and I was upset when I heard of its closure. Not that the news was wholly unexpected; the course managed to enroll 30-40 students but this wasn't enough to prevent it feeling small, with classes ranging from five to around 15 students. Not enough for the administration to keep it on the books when they could be concentrating on more populous courses, many of which, for some reason, attract large numbers of lucrative students from all over Asia. So now Peter Bishop, the remaining stalwart professor in the programme, is presumably looking for new prospects.

My disappointment in the news shouldn't imply I had no problems with my time there. I hoped for fascinating and intellectual students from all over the US, rather than variable students from all over Houston. Most classes were taught in the evening, which is wonderful for those in work, but leaves the full-time student with days to fill in Clear Lake, which is not a place to spend much time. For me it was a peculiar and often horrifically depressing time, although little of the blame for that could be laid at the feet of the course. While too many classes were less rigorous than I hoped for, the best were fascinating experiences that I only wish more people could have shared. My intellectual horizons broadened hugely in classes such as Social Change and Creating Cultures and I've certainly looked at the world -- past, present and future -- in a very different way ever since.

Could anything have been done to save the programme? I was always surprised how few people outside the surprisingly tight field of future studies knew of it. Why didn't more people from my world of, for example, Wired-reading, weblogging, R&D-oriented folk know about it? As the only course of its kind in the country it should have been attracting far more students from all over. But this would have required investment in PR and, I think, staff and classes. Investment that would itself require a longer-term view than that of the budget-balancing administration.

But it's all over now, and coupled with 2002's closure of Leeds Metroplitan University's masters in future studies, prospects don't seem rosy for those wanting to learn (or teach) how to gain a rounded futures perspective on the world, and help others think for the long term. Hopefully there are other, more positive, events happening out there, and I'm just too out of touch with the futures world to know about them...

Related entries


Wow, I'm so shocked to hear this. Poor Peter, his vision was beautiful. My favorite was Social Change, too.

Maybe it was the economy? People these days need a more concrete paycheck than the ambiguous interdisciplinary degree offers. And tighter budgets hardly leave room for personal development degrees. It was probably also location. I wouldn't want my worst enemy to spend a year in an American suburb, beachfront property to the Bible Belt. At least now Houston has mas-trans. Back then you were SOL.

The closure (and the earlier WIRED and TIME articles) are ironic, given the huge upsurge in Futures activities in Europe. Much of this goes under the label FORESIGHT, and spins off from the Technology Fotresight activities kaunched in many countries from the mid-90s on.

I can supply some historical material for anyone interestee, but there are various documents online:
(see also their Europeanm Monitoring Centre on Change)
or at our own website
PREST: this may be particularly interesting as by going up a level from from page you will find much other material on the Knowledge Society Foresight project:
and also stuff on the FISTERA (IT Foresight) project.
PREST runs a week-long Foresight training course each year, and we participate in similar courses run by UNIDO and other organisations.
From the publications page of PREST's website you'll also find links to several other publications including the Practical Guide to Regional Foresight :
and the much revised Practical Guide to Regional Foresight in the United Kingdom is online at:
- this is the UK version, national editions in appropriate languages are available for 14 of the EU-15 members
FORETECH has a lot of useful publications on its site too. And at PREST, try looking into Denis Loveridge's personal pages.

all best - I found out about this very nice set of blogs from the Guardian Online piece - Ian Miles

What a pity that Future Studies Master degree program is closed. Perhaps it doesn't have that much students but it has its demand. Whta a shame...

Recent Entries

Bye for now
I’m going to stop posting things here. When I started up again a few months ago I had a fair… More…
Master of Design in Strategic Foresight and Innovation
I’m not clear whether this is new or not but, via the Futures weblog, the Ontario College of Art and… More…
Wrong Tomorrow
It’s getting linked to from many places today but that’s no reason not to mention it here… Wrong Tomorrow is… More…
ETech 09: The Real Time City
Andrea Vaccari, from Senseable City Lab, MIT, late on Wednesday aftenroon at ETech 09.… More…