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The Education Futures Blog

AI in higher education: A perspective from an emerging-country context

Demystifying risks and opportunities and charting a pathway for the future

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In the recently released book, Emerging education futures: Experiences and visions from the field, University of South Africa professor Leona Ungerer looks at how artificial intelligence impacts higher education. She briefly introduces the field of artificial intelligence, discussing many opportunities that the mode of technology offers. And, she also addresses concerns about incorporating it in higher education contexts, especially in emerging countries such as South Africa, where an ecosystem is forming to support applications of AI in education.

She highlights the development of soft skills along with technical competencies are key:

Humans cannot compete with AI in terms of efficiency, accuracy, knowledge and incessant replication. Irrespective of the subject they teach, educators should instil important human capabilities such as creative problem-solving, inventiveness, collaboration, leadership, empathy and resilience in their students. Focusing on human attributes that distinguish them from machines is important in preparing them for the future (Makhdoomi, 2018).

...as well as breaking universities out of their traditional roles toward becoming more involved in the business community:

For students to be able to observe how their studies prepare them for their careers in a workforce where they will work closely with machines, universities should collaborate with industry. University–corporate projects may provide students with the relevant experience to determine suitable careers for them. Students should further be mentored at university. If suitably matched, they could receive guidance on how to approach their careers, use technology and select suitable employers (Glass, 2018). By collaborating with educators, business leaders could ensure that the skills that students are equipped with suitably prepare them for the future workforce. Business leaders pre-empt possible changes in their organisations in preparation for suitably upskilling their workforces. CEOs will soon be expected to demonstrate the capacity for estimating this type of future scenario (Caplan, 2018)

She concluseds that "competent humans" are at no immediate risk of being replaced by AI. Universities, however, should look at leveraging AI tools for the purpose of further development, integrating crucial curricular changes, as well as the industry's relationships with the world outside.

Read more in the Emerging Education Futures book (also available in print from Amazon).


Caplan, S. (2018). Closing the skills gap could be as simple as ABC.

Glass, S. (2018). Why universities need to prepare students for the new AI world.

Makhdoomi, M. (2018). Artificial Intelligence to change higher education.