Artificial Intelligence and Higher education
“The country that controls artificial intelligence will control the world.”
Hardly a day goes by without some reference to the potential impact of Artificial Intelligence in our lives. I believe that universities both in the United States and around the world will also experience significant change brought about through AI.
This is the first of two articles examining the promises and potential pitfalls of AI on higher education. The first article will define AI and give examples of how AI can impact college and university administrative processes. The second article will examine some of the pitfalls of AI. Both articles will focus on AI as it relates to administrative processes, especially in recruitment and retention, and not teaching and learning.
AI was founded as an academic discipline in 1956. It is defined as the development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally done by humans. AI uses algorithms that can predict everything from picking stocks to diagnosing diseases. Higher education administrative processes will not be immune from the impact that AI can have on how students are recruited, admitted, enrolled and graduated.
Alana Dunagan, a higher education researcher at the Clayton Cristensen Institute, envisions AI as a powerful tool fostering innovation and entrepreneurship in colleges and universities.
According to the report, Artificial Intelligence Market in the US Education Sector, AI will grow by 57.5 percent from 2017 to 2021. Several technological and educational powerhouses including Google, IBM, Pearsons, Content Technologies and Carnegie Learning are committing substantial resources and personnel to develop digital platforms that use AI to provide testing and feedback for students from pre-K to college and university.
How will AI influence national and international recruitment, admission, retention, and graduation? The examples are many; too many to list in one article. but let’s focus on a few.
AI has the potential to change how colleges and universities recruit domestic and international students by creating algorithms that can predict the applicants most likely to be accepted and enroll, from which states and countries, and the enrolled students most likely to progress and graduate and become engaged alumni.
AI has the potential to customize and personalize the admission process, speed up administrative processes for domestic and international students, including admission decisions, visa processing, student housing selection and course registration. AI also holds out the promise of assisting retention and student success deans by identifying students who are most likely to struggle academically in the first semester and year. Early warning signs and red flags will allow progression and retention plans to anticipate, rather than react, to students’ difficulties.
The implications for a school’s financial bottom line are obvious. Also obvious is the anticipated fear that AI may replace recruitment, admission and retention. staff.
AI may also assist college admission deans with dealing with the phenomena of the “summer melt,” a term used to describe the group of students who although they have paid a deposit in May to secure a place in the incoming class, do not actually enroll in September. The financial impact of this cohort of accepted students who do not become enrolled students has caused havoc for many colleges and universities, especially several tuition dependent, private schools. AI by providing personalized and frequent text messaging and communication, can identify accepted applicants who may fall into the “summer melt” category and allow staff to create intervention strategies. Again, the implications for a school’s financial bottom line by enrolling some percentage of this cohort, is obvious.
AI also has the potential to create rapid interventions for students suffering from home sickness or social isolation and thereby becoming an important tool for student engagement.
Identifying and targeting applicants and students who are the best fit for a school and then personalizing the experience from the time of inquiry, to application, to acceptance, to enrollment, to progression, to graduation, and to alumni engagement, will increase not only the bottom line but also increase the reputational value of the school.
In the next article I will examine some of the potential pitfalls of AI on higher education.
Factfulness and Future International Student Mobility
I recently read an article about Bill Gates making a gift of the book Factfulness to every graduating senior from U.S. colleges and universities in 2018. My curiosity was peeked. I bought and read the book.
Factfulness by Dr. Hans Rosling, founder of the Gapminder Foundation in Sweden, is based on 18 years of research. The book did indeed, as the jacket cover promised, change my mind about the way I perceive the world and how I will conduct research and write articles in the future. Dr. Rosling wrote the book to fight what he calls devastating global ignorance and to present data and statistics to challenge prevailing perceptions.
What relevance could such a book have for those of you reading this article who publish, conduct research or are responsible for creating international strategic plans and recruiting and enrolling international students? In the opening chapters of Factfulness the author states emphatically that the one thing we cannot do without is international collaborations. That certainly has relevance in your day-to-day work. The author further states that the most important thing we can do to avoid misjudging something’s importance is to avoid lonely numbers, or using a single statistic to make a point. That certainly has relevance when planning future internationalizing programs or future recruitment. He urges readers never to leave a statistic by itself. For example, there is abundant data to suggest that in addition to Asia, a significant opportunity to recruit international students in the future lies in Africa. One set if statistics may discourage international deans and recruiters from recruiting in Africa based on the perception that most people in Africa are living below the poverty line and wars and droughts have rendered many African countries unsuitable for recruitment. But another set of statistics reveal that in a continent of 54 countries and one billion people, half of all Africans are living middle class lives. Most have cell phones and statistics on the number of African students enrolled in online courses is staggering.
There is abundant data in this book to prove that most of the world’s population lives in Asia. The United Nations forecasts that 20 years from now Asia and Africa will be at the center of gravity and world markets will shift from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. Many profitable investments will no longer be made in western capitals but in the emerging markets of Asia and Africa. That information surely has relevance to international recruiters and deans. Taking the long view means planning beyond next year’s incoming class of international students. It means challenging perceptions.
There will be, I believe, some nasty enrollment surprises in the fall term. There will also be some pleasant surprises. One thing for certain is that there will be changes in why and where international students enroll. Shifts have has already occurred.
Big change is always difficult to imagine. But instead of fearing change, international deans and recruiters should prudently use data to better understand the world’s globalized markets. As Dr. Rosling makes clear in his book globalization is not a one-off. It is a continuous process. He urges readers to develop a fact-based worldview and base future decisions on the facts.
After reading this book I thought that it should be given to all incoming first year students in September. As the book’s introduction states: if you are ready for critical thinking to replace instinctive reaction, if you are feeling humble, curious, and ready to be amazed, this is the book for you.
Confucius Institutes – Soft or Hard Power?
A little more than a decade ago China began imitating the United States, Britain, France and Germany by engaging in what Joseph Nye, termed “soft power,” a collection of methods used to extend a country’s influence on the world stage.
One example of Chinese “soft power” was the creation of hundreds of Confucius Institutes worldwide. Funding was available to Chinese language, history and culture. The first Confucius Institute opened in South Korea in 2004 and quickly spread to Japan, Australia, Canada and Europe. Today there are more than 100 Confucius Institutes at public and private universities in the United States and more than that number at American high schools. Writers of an article in “The Economist” estimate that the Chinese government spends $10 billion a year to promote its image abroad.
The Chinese government has made ample use of financial incentives to encourage the acceptance of Confucius Institutes on campuses worldwide. China pays $100,000 to each college or university that agrees to sponsor a Confucius Institute on their campus and annual payments are made over a five-year period. There appears to be a link between those schools with Institutes and full-paying Chinese students.
The Communist Party of China has made no secret that it considers Confucius Institutes a propaganda arm for the government. Chinese minister of propaganda, Liu Yunshan, in an article in “People’s Daily” wrote: “We want to coordinate the efforts of overseas and domestic propaganda and further create a favorable international environment for us.” Official Chinese positions on Tiananmen Square, Taiwan, human rights and Tibet are part of the information disseminated through the Institutes.
It is no accident that the ruling body of the Office of Chinese Language International, a branch of the Ministry of Education, coordinates all of the Institutes’ programs.
Within the past few years there has been pushback from several colleges and universities with regard to Confucius Institutes. In 2014, for example, more than 100 University of Chicago faculty members signed a petition portraying the information from Confucius Institute on their campus to contradict the university’s core academic values. The university did not renew its Confucius Institute contract. Neither did McMaster University in Canada renew its contract. Other universities followed suite, including, Pennsylvania State, Stockholm University, and the University of Lyon. But other schools in the United States continue to support their Confucius Institutes including, George Washington University, Tufts University, Portland State University and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Still the controversy continues. In February 2018 Florida Senator Marco Rubio asked Miami Dade College and universities in North, South and West Florida, to shut down their Confucius programs. Along with many other U.S. government officials, Senator Rubio considers the Institutes a threat to America’s national security by institutionalizing Chinese propaganda on American colleges and universities. The Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation also raised concerns about Chinese infiltration on American college campuses.
The Chinese government, quick to recognize a problem, has promised reforms.
Are Confucius Institutes an example of soft power becoming hard power? Or are Confucius programs just one piece of China’s plan to be recognized as a major player on the world’s stage?
Even this blogger, who clearly enjoys researching and writing articles about international students and trends in international student mobility, needs a vacation. There will be no blog postings in August. But I will come roaring back in September with new information and worldwide fall enrollment reports.
Economic and Societal Changes in China
Ever since Deng Xiaoping opened up the economic levers in China in the 1980s, Chinese society has fundamentally changed. Unquestionably, one of the most significant worldwide developments of the past 30 years has been the economic growth in China. Millions of Chinese have been lifted out of poverty. For the first time in its history, China has a huge middle class. The average per capita income for many people in China’s largest cities is roughly equivalent to the average income in Taiwan and South Korea.
By some estimates, by 2020, the Chinese middle class will outnumber the middle class in Europe. Nobel laureate economist, Robert Fogel, predicts that China’s economy will be 40 percent of global GDP by 2040.
Construction projects, high rise apartment buildings, gleaming airports and high speed rail trains are all part of China’s new landscape. But many of these changes have come at a price: pollution, inflation over six percent, food contamination and shoddy construction projects.
The family, once the cornerstone of Confusion teachings, appears to be changing. A generation of university-trained Chinese are no longer willing to take care of their aging parents and grandparents. Chinese “old age” or “old people” homes are crowded and new facilities continue to be built to meet demand.
Chinese university students are not immune to the economic and societal disruptions taking place in China today.
A university degree from a foreign institution, once considered a ticket to a comfortable middle class life in China, is no longer the case. According to Amanda Barry, the Chinese liaison director for the Australian National University, “The foreign degree isn’t the edge it used to be. Big employers in China go to job fairs of the top Chinese universities and can fill their graduate intake. They don’t need foreign graduates.”
Nor is a university degree a guarantee of a good paying job after graduation. According to an editorial in China Report, the average monthly salary of the 2017 Chinese college graduate decreased by 16 percent from 2016, to 4,014 yuan, or $590. And the number of university graduates when surveyed who indicated they would pursue advanced degrees decreased from 21.3 percent in 2016 to 9.7 percent in 2017.
As Chinese society changes so will the realities and expectations of Chinese university students. As Chinese universities improve teaching and research and continue to climb in world rankings, more Chinese students will opt to stay and study in China where they can establish valuable contacts for future employment.
The implications for future Chinese international recruitment is obvious.
Chinese academic freedom and Communist Party control
No one reading this blog will contest that for the past three decades international higher education recruitment and enrollment has been dominated by the increasing numbers of Chinese students enrolling in international colleges and universities worldwide. There also is little dispute that institutions of higher education have financially benefited from Chinese enrollment.
But there is another side to this story. Some of you reading this blog may regard my musings as China bashing. Actually, the opposite is true. Like many of you I read with a sense of awe about China’s geopolitical, economic and higher education accomplishments. But I also read with concern about the long-term implications of China’s strategies and about the bill that will soon become due.
According to a December 2, 2017 article in “The Economist, Beijing’s “Made in China 2025” strategy, modeled on Germany’s “Industry 4.0” policy, aims to transform the country into a high-tech manufacturing powerhouse in industries like artificial intelligence, aviation and robotics. The key to achieving these objectives rests with the success of China’s educated workforce.
During this month of July, I will report on why I am concerned about several recent Chinese education initiatives. This month’s blogs will focus on the issues of academic freedom, the economic and societal changes taking place on China today and the impact of Confucius Institutes on colleges and universities.
Let’s begin with the issue of academic freedom.
According to an article printed last year in The South China Morning Post, a group of China’s top universities have set up Communist Party Departments to oversee the political thinking of their teaching staff. Universities will be closely scrutinized and professors will be evaluated for ideological purity to Communist party ideals. The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the party’s powerful watchdog, recently published rectification reports on eight of China’s most prestigious universities.
Self-censorship is encouraged. Exile abroad is a very real threat.
In 2015 China’s Minister of Education urged Chinese universities to ban the use of textbooks promoting Western ideals. Last year the Chinese government prohibited foreign student participation in political activities and created new controls for international student support services.
Efforts to control universities are not restricted to Chinese schools. On October 19, 2017, Reuters and The Guardian reported on an attempt by Chinese officials to partially restrict access to the American Political Science Review, a journal published by Cambridge University Press.
This was not the first time that China imposed restrictions on Cambridge University Press.
In August 2017 Beijing demanded that Cambridge University Press withdrew 315 articles and book reviews from China Quarterly, produced by the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. The articles covered topics considered too sensitive by the Chinese government, including Tiananmen Square protests and Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution.
Initially, Cambridge University Press authorities complied with China’s request and withdrew the articles. But three days after this decision was made, the editors reversed their earlier decision and the 315 articles were once again made available.
New York University’s campus in Shanghai and Duke University’s campus in Kunshan will now be required to give vice chancellor status or seats on boards of trustees to party secretaries.
Chinese students who studied abroad, upon returning to China are required to meet with education officials and report on any anti-party activities they experienced while abroad. Chinese students at the University of Science and Technology in Dalian have set up discussion groups to combat any negative influences on their thinking while overseas. Chinese students studying in colleges and universities in Connecticut, North Dakota and West Virginia also have similar discussion groups.
Xi Jinping’s control over the Communist Party of China and all aspects of Chinese life is indisputable. His famous Document # 9, a handbook of subversive ideas, bans topics from public discussion including the nature of human rights and the empowerment of civil society. College and university activities are not immune from Document #9.
Academic freedom or academic control?