March 2024

The role of artifical intelligence in the higher education landscape

For many institutions, it can be difficult to work out how to get started with AI. With so many use cases, identifying the best starting point and approach is half the challenge...

Universities are the cornerstone of the UK economy. It’s estimated that there are over 2.8 million students in higher education in the UK who will go onto form the workforce of the future. As well as this, Universities employ around 230,000 staff across a variety of functions - this shows the sheer influence that Universities have in shaping the future workforce

Here at Loomery we’ve been discussing the role of AI in the higher education landscape, which arguably has never been more of a topical discussion.

Universities, however, are locked in a perpetual battle. Balancing numerous strategic priorities whilst operating a highly competitive environment and aiming to deliver the highest standard across student recruitment, student experience, academic excellence, research, and commercial performance are all front of mind. 

The world is changing at a greater pace than ever before, and this shows no signs of slowing. Staying at the forefront of technological advancements has become an underpinning foundation to each of the above strategic priorities. We’ve already seen the difference that technology can make to support this, including our work with our friends at the University of Exeter and University of Bath, and with these pressures in mind, many more Universities have turned to, or are at least exploring, the role that artificial intelligence (AI) can play. There are many examples of where AI is already being utilised to provide benefits to the higher education sector, and even more opportunities of where AI could yet play a role. 

AI is a broad term, encapsulating several different areas - machine learning, deep learning, generative AI, but for the purposes of this, I’m using AI as an all encompassing term. 

We’ve been discussing the role of AI through the lens of two core benefits. AI extends the capability of an organisation through being able to rapidly analyse data, identify patterns and trends, which can then be used by human intelligence. It also enhances the capacity of organisations by undertaking manual, time consuming tasks in a much shorter time frame - allowing human resources to be deployed more effectively. But what does this mean for the higher education sector? 

Essentially this means that where the capability or capacity of an individual, or team, could be extended, AI could play a role - right? Nearly. It’s not quite as simple as that), but examples of where AI is, and could, be used in higher education include: 

  • Supporting the student recruitment journey by tailoring and automating content based on data gathered during application forms, such as displaying images with social or sporting events, or quickly changing content into a native language.
  • Analysing engagement with student learning portals to identify and support.
  • Automating timetabling to quickly identify and resolve any clashes between courses, room bookings, or planned maintenance time periods.
  • Responding to common student enquiries (either pre-University or during University) through an AI-powered Chatbot, to quickly resolve queries. 
  • Use of AI tools in image generation.
  • Support the accessibility of learning resources, such as audio description of charts and diagrams.
  • Idea generation for tasks that neurodivergent students may find difficult.
  • Creation of interview environments (or clinical environments) that use VR and AI tools to help develop soft skills such as empathy and self-reflection, and build confidence in interview scenarios.
  • Quickly provide feedback to improve grammar and readability for written documents as well as opportunity to  and transcribe long documents.
  • Support the student admission process to quickly allocate first year students together in accommodation based on mutual interests.
  • Analyse usage of facilities on site, such as teaching space, accommodation, parking, commercial outlets such as cafes, to predict future requirements, analyse peak times and adjust operations accordingly.
  • Support research by using language processing to allow for less time collecting and analysing data.

For many institutions, it can be difficult to work out how to get started. With so many use cases, identifying the best starting point and approach is half the challenge. At Loomery, we would recommend that starting small is the best option - find a few possible use cases, and trial and test. If this works, you have a platform from which to grow. Don’t get so locked down in trying to finalise the strategy at the outset that it becomes impossible to bring this to life.

To kick start you and your team to push you in the right direction, we’ve created an AI-powered tool that analyses where you currently are and uses GPT4.5 to generate a personalised report to help you get started. Alternatively, get in touch to find out more. 

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