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The National Centre for AI in Tertiary Education: summer roundup newsletter

Updates on the Centre’s work

Developing chatbot pilots. Here at the National Centre for AI in Tertiary Education we have been doing the groundwork for an exciting pilot programme. Starting next academic year, we will be evaluating the effectiveness of chatbots designed to support students and staff. Our team has been working closely with Bolton College to develop a bespoke version of Ada (their pioneering chatbot) which will be rolled out to a small number of colleges so that we can test its efficacy.

We will keep you updated on the progress of these pilots, and we’ll share key learnings with you.

Welcoming new team members. We have been expanding our team, and have recently welcomed two new members: Stuart Ecob, who joins us as our Business Analyst; and Tom Moule, who joins us as Product Lead.

Building the Centre’s community group. On 27th July we held a meet-up event for the Centre’s community group. You can read a summary of the discussions that took place on our blog.

The Centre will be host regular community events, which will be open to all Jisc members. We look forward to seeing you there.

AI in the news

Here is a selection of interesting articles to help give you a sense of how AI is being utilised in other sectors, and of what issues arise.

Artificial Intelligence may diagnose dementia in a day – BBC News

South Africa grants patent to an AI system known as DABUS — Quartz Africa ( and In a world first, South Africa grants patent to an artificial intelligence system (

Is artificial intelligence ready for the great rehiring? | World Economic Forum (

Interesting comment pieces

John Ross’ article in Times Higher Education takes a nuanced look at how AI could affect the creation and assessment of students’ written work. The article explores both the role of AI in plagiarism detection and the implications of AI-generated content and guidance for writers. It also questions whether attitudes to AI-supported written work are conservative and do not grasp the changing nature of the world.

In Education Technology Jisc’s very own Andy McGregor argues that the sector needs to get the ethical dimension right if AI is to be successfully and sustainably adopted. In particular, he highlights four key ethical issues: bias, privacy, transparency, and the marginalisation of human interactions – and discusses how the sector can start to rise to these challenges. As Andy stresses, ethics is a crucial aspect of the work of The National Centre for AI in Tertiary Education.

In The Times ($) Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP (Chair of The Education Select Committee) and Rt Hon David Davis MP argue that by re-engineering the classroom, AI could boost social mobility. Their article focuses on AI’s capacity to enhance teaching and learning through personalised learning. Meanwhile, this article in Times Higher Education argued that the use of AI in university admissions could actually make universities less socially inclusive, with the argument hinging on AI’s capacity for bias.

Recent Reports

With heightened anxieties around fake news, The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation’s report: The role of AI in addressing misinformation on social media platforms is a timely read.

Equally timely, WHO have published authoritative guidance on the use of AI in health. As the report argues, ethics and human rights are key to the successful and sustainable deployment of AI in this vital area.

Earlier in the year, The Institute for Ethical AI in Education published The Ethical Framework for AI in Education. The Framework outlines key ethical principles and sets out how educational institutions deploying AI can put these principles into practice.

In April, we at the National Centre for AI in Tertiary Education published a report on the state of AI in tertiary education. The report is a great place to start for those who want to understand the current and anticipated use cases of AI, and the benefits and challenges around utilising this innovation.

Thought for the month

For each newsletter, we will ask thought leaders with expertise relevant to AI in education to give us their “thought for the month”. The Centre’s Product Lead, Tom Moule, will kick off with this newsletter’s inaugural thought for the month by exploring how AI can help to address educational inequalities.

If you’re interested in providing a thought for the month for a future newsletter, please email

Educational inequality is endemic throughout the world. Fortunately, the capabilities of artificial intelligence can help to narrow educational divides, providing this innovation is harnessed in a purposeful and responsible way.

Learners from different socioeconomic groups face stark disparities in both the quantity and quality of educational opportunities. With quantity, in wealthier countries, more affluent learners are better placed to supplement compulsory education with extra-curricular learning – by, for instance, hiring a private tutor. In poorer countries, many of the most disadvantaged learners do not even have meaningful access to compulsory education. With quality, smaller class sizes often lead to more effective teaching and learning for wealthier students. And it is often the case that more privileged students benefit from more experienced and better qualified educators.

Artificial Intelligence can help to combat educational inequality on both flanks. With regards to quantity, AI could offer educational opportunities in contexts in which they are currently lacking. UNESCO goes as far as anticipating that AI could support the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 4 – inclusive, equitable and lifelong education for all – by enabling a high standard of personalised learning for individuals across the globe.

Uruguay provides a model of best practice. There, all school-age students have access to the Mathematics Adaptive Platform. As well as providing a cutting-edge personalised learning platform, Uruguay has invested significant sums in ensuring that all students have access to a device and a good internet connection, meaning that all students enjoy the benefits.

Elsewhere, artificial Intelligence could also be used to personalise the delivery of MOOCs, thereby upgrading lifelong learning opportunities whilst keeping them affordable. This will help to ensure that adults from all socioeconomic groups can access the necessary provisions to upskill and retrain at various points during their lives.

Looking at quality, one of AI’s biggest strengths is its ability to automate certain tasks. In all corners of the sector, educators are beset by overwhelming workloads. This diminishes their capacities, leaving them with less time to support their students in meaningful ways. Burdensome workloads can also decrease the attractiveness of becoming and staying an educator, thereby reducing the pool of inspiring teachers and lectures that students can benefit from.

Fortunately, however, AI could significantly reduce these burdens. McKinsey has predicted that technologies that already exist could cut teacher workload by between 20-40%. Resources such as chatbots can help to reduce the time spent on administrative tasks. Automated essay-marking systems could make a sizeable dent in educators’ workloads. And AI could even be used to support planning by generating learning material. Of course, care must be taken to ensure that AI technologies do not undermine educators. That said, if used purposefully and in an augmentative way, AI could greatly enhance educators’ roles, significantly benefiting students in the process.

By enhancing both the quantity and quality of educational opportunities, AI can help to overcome entrenched inequalities. Powerful software can help to make learning more effective and abundant, thus particularly benefiting those who tend to be most underserved.

But there is a caveat. It is also possible that disparities in hardware could widen the divide. Only those institutions and individuals who have adequate access to devices and connectivity will reap the rewards of artificial intelligence. As such, if this innovation is to help societies realise more equitable education systems, then advancements in AI must be matched with progress towards closing the digital divide.

Tom Moule (@tommoule8) is the product lead at Jisc’s National Centre for AI in Tertiary Education, and has written a book entitled Cracking Social Mobility: how AI and other innovations can help to level the playing field.

We hope you found this newsletter useful; we also hope the next one will be even better. Please do email to let us know what you think would be useful for us to include in future newsletters, which will be published monthly from now on.


By Tom

Product Lead at The National Centre for AI in Tertiary Education

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