Home Education Designing a sustainable higher education in AI-powered future
EducationMY LNATechnology

Designing a sustainable higher education in AI-powered future

Emeritus Professor Dato’ Dr. Halimah Badioze Zaman

By: Emeritus Professor Dato’ Dr. Halimah Badioze Zaman

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has evolved from a science-fiction movie plot to an essential part of many important domains in our lives. Since its emergence in 1950s (thanks to the work of Alan Turing on ‘Intelligent Turing Machines’ in 1954 to be precise), we have seen exponential growth in its potential particularly in the 21st Century. The fact that everyone seems to think that they understand AI is perhaps not a bad thing, but can also be a dangerous thing. This is because like many other phenomena in life, AI has its paradoxes. It has many benefits but it also has many drawbacks or risks. Thus, one needs to tread this digital technological journey positively but with caution. At this moment in time, we are witnessing a wave of interest and investments in AI globally. A recent report by PwC, indicate that the advances in AI will increase the global GDP by up to 14% between now and 2030. It is estimated to contribute over USD15 Trillion (approximately RM68 trillion) by the year 2030. The advance AI-powered technologies, have brought phenomenal impact in enhancing productivity, improved healthcare and medical diagnosis, more efficient manufacturing through intelligent robotics, as well as more fraudulent free financial approaches through more efficient and accurate fraud detection solutions using intelligent predictive data analytics and insights, through Machine Learning (ML), Deep Learning (DL) and Natural Language Processing (NLP) techniques. Significant advances in these areas open new possibilities and challenges for Higher Education.

We had witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and today we see increased access of AI to Higher Education specifically, at universities in particular, in the aspect of Teaching & Learning and assessment. AI has the ability to bring about more personalised and interactive learning experience that can motivate and engage students in learning resulting in better academic performance. With personalised learning, each student can have their own way of learning based on their level of understanding and need. By understanding the needs of every student, lecturers can come up with a tailor-made study plan that can meet students’ real needs. For instance, Carnegie Mellon has used the well-known ‘Carnegie Learning’ platform to provide customised courses using AI for its students. The usage of AI systems, programmed in the best way, that can curate information in real-time and provide high touch experiences, can also help students attain self-efficacy in their learning process, whilst lecturers can teach, monitor, access and assess students’ success metrics or progress more effectively through these technologies enhanced with the integration of intelligent data analytics.

I know of a real example based on my counterpart’s experience in the UK, who have successfully done this. Log files which record students’ access to their virtual learning environments (VLEs), integrated with intelligent data analytics, are used to guide students’ progress by automating feedback to them using AI, ML and NLP. Through a system created in their own university, such as that in Dublin City University, the intelligent ‘Help-me-watch system’ have generated personalised summaries of pre-recorded learning videos (using virtual reality, augmented reality and holograms materials as modules), for students based on either their attention levels during the original live sessions and the usage by other students. This has resulted in hundreds of students using it and it has proven to be successful in compensating for some of the downsides of AI online-only experience. Although AI is used tremendously in academic research; is helpful in detecting plagiarism through the system such as Turnitin; successful in managing and scheduling courses and registering students in the respective courses through Learning Management Systems (LMS); efficient enrolment and retention through AI Chat-bots; Enhanced Discussion Boards for students and lecturers for effective Learning and Teaching interactions; and analysing students’ success metrics through data analytics, AI is still not able to assist in assessment fully and effectively, especially in the assessment of critical essay questions examinations as it still have not the capability to do human critical reflection. Work is still in progress using various systems such as Watson IBM (which is already very successful in medical diagnosis using Cognitive AI) to accomplish this end. If successful, it will go a long way in strengthening biases and exam integrity. Another area that AI has yet to accomplish more effectively, is the sustainable green technology in Higher Education – ensuring that AI systems created for teaching and learning use technologies that are green or at least use minimal energy, are energy efficient and helps energy savings. Thus, the advantages are numerous, ranging from streamlining, automating repetitive tasks, eliminating biases and getting into insights for sound decision making, notwithstanding the time saving factor.

Despite the many benefits that AI can offer, there are also many risks to face and mitigate. We know there are today AI tools such as ChatGPT, AI Content Detector and AI Detector, that can be used to generate content, write complex papers, write codes, create websites, reconfigure processes and detect plagiarism through specific patterns and semantic logic. The risks that Higher Institutions have to endure are that lecturers and students may become too reliant on such AI-powered tools and this may limit their imagination, critical thinking, self-reflection, ethical decision making, sustainable green-technology adoption thinking (towards Energy Transition), sense of pride & responsibility, compassion, creativity, the importance of original work and to strive for academic integrity – all these humanly-based characteristics that students and lecturers alike must possess, may be difficult to attain solely through AI adoption in the current disruptive technology-driven sustainable landscape. The AI tools can help both lecturers and students ease their roles, if they have the necessary skills to use them in the best possible way, supported by a humanised-transformation strategy and framework in the form of a “National Artificial Intelligence R&D Transformation Strategic Plan” (that can be initiated by a national level Centre of Excellence such as a National AI Centre (NAIC) that should be established, through the Ministry of Higher Education), conducted in tandem.

Academic practice needs to react to the fast and disruptive changing world of today and the future. To truly benefit from AI and advance AI in Higher Education, the reality should encourage university administrators, policy makers and experts to reimagine its use in an entirely new paradigm – to find the right balance of the paradox through a nation-wide holistic multidisciplinary research (to be conducted not just by computer scientists but educational psychologists and expert educationists that really understands teaching, learning and assessment), on the use of AI in Higher Education in the country through an entity such as NAIC. One cannot adopt AI but remain in the same traditional scenario (business as usual mode) in terms of its people’s AI skills and attitude, financial resources, with the same level of infrastructure and at the same time expect AI to do its magic.

Higher Education Institutions should provide an opportunity to create the ultimate environment that offers the best place for students and lecturers to unleash their potentials towards attaining academic freedom through the openness of minds and hearts, by providing the right resources (human and financial), training and infrastructure for AI to flourish to meet specific needs of each university – facing reality and reimagining ways to break boundaries in order to succeed in the AI technology-driven, and AI energy transition-proof world of the future. 

The author is Holder of Tan Sri Leo Moggie Distinguished Chair in Energy Informatics, Institute of Informatics and Computing in Energy (IICE), UNITEN; and Director, National Energy Centre (NEC), UNITEN.

Leave a comment

Please Login to Comment.

Related Articles

Economy & FinanceHighlightsMY LNA


Kuala Lumpur, 2 June 2023 – Malaysia has emerged as a prime...

Economy & FinanceEnergyMY LNAOpinion

Electricity tariffs: With you in mind

By: Dr. Nora Yusma Mohamed Yusoff The COVID-19 outbreak and the ongoing...

EkonomiMY LNAPendapat

Subsidi bersasar: Jangan seperti enau dalam belukar

Oleh: Prof. Madya Dr. Amanuddin Shamsuddin Topik atau isu berkaitan subsidi bersasar,...

EducationHighlightsMY LNA


The core of Universiti Malaya STEM education means to educate and spark...