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How Will AI Change The Future Of Higher Education?

With technological advances happening every day, the future of universities lies in the conversations we have about human interaction, technology and ethics.

image of ​a person holding a graduate cap

A person holding a graduate cap

Alberto Núñez and Jose Maria de Areilza

MADRID — A few years ago, a Spanish university made changes to its student residencies. The dining hall was removed and, instead, mini-kitchens were installed in the students’ bathrooms. Each student was encouraged to study in their bedroom or the university library. The residence rented out equipment such as irons, dryers, video game consoles and other small digital or electronic devices.

But here's the latest innovation: human workers would be removed from the entire loaning process, to be replaced by machines. This would allow for the university to reduce the overall number of staff members. This automation has led to students knowing one another and the residence staff less and less, but satisfaction surveys show that students value experiences that make them feel ‘at home’.

Automation, the great debate

This story provides us with a good depiction of a possible future for higher education. These same automation trends are present in many classrooms. Increasingly, diverse educational platforms are being implemented in university programs to guide and even assess student learning, with their numbers expected to grow.

The possibility of relieving professors from the task of evaluation and, to some extent, teaching, is highly appreciated. It avoids one of the less pleasant aspects of their work, increases objectivity and frees up time to focus on research, a key element in rankings and the professional careers of educators.

There is currently much debate over the impact of new AI tools on teaching. We already know that ChatGPT and many other websites represent a revolution in the way we learn. The analysis and synthesis of information and the creation of papers or other written or visual exercises will be forever affected by the introduction of these tools.

Trust and truth are what prevent societies from falling into the void of lies and violence.

Some propose redesigning tests and assignments to ensure that they are genuinely completed by students. Others consider the impossibility of stopping progress, and prefer to integrate these tools into the curriculum. There are voices that warn of their risks, such as Michael Ignatieff, a historian, politician and former rector of the Central European University in Budapest. Ignatieff points out that we have created machines that make it difficult for “an average person to distinguish the truth, and it will soon become impossible.” He argues that “trust and truth are what prevent societies from falling into the void of lies and violence.”

image of a lecture hall where students attend a class.

Students sitting in a lecture hall.

Dom Fou/Unsplash

The death of universities?

Another effect which merits discussion is the possibility that there may be a need to justify the very existence of university institutions from now on. We won’t have to wait long for the development of personalized tutors or teachers: they will be AI tools which will guide us individually in our studies and propose tests and exercises based on our progress and the goals we aim to achieve. This has already been implemented in fitness gyms – it’s only a matter of time before it extends to the core of higher education.

The race for efficiency, defined in this way, has consequences that we often don’t value in the long run. It is true that there are many things we do in the classroom that, in hindsight, are a waste of time or could have been optimized. Our energy and motivation levels are not always high. Machines will always do things better, faster and more efficiently. But what does it mean to teach? Is it about designing the most efficient process for acquiring specific knowledge, with the main focus being the production of the best professionals?

In our opinion, this leads to a rethinking of the meaning of teaching and the competencies that are inherent characteristics of a higher education institution. It is not difficult to come to the conclusion that this exclusive core of competencies should focus on everything related to human interaction and the holistic formation of the student. In fact, the world’s leading technologists and scientists agree on one thing: the major challenges we face in the future are ethical and political in nature. They emphasize this in all their manifestos and public statements, increasingly alarmed by the risks posed by their own creations and seeking to make sense of impending societal changes.

However, in our academic circles, as in the rest of society, the gap between what we can do and what we should do seems to widen. We are not focusing on our efforts on connecting students with civic values and equipping them with the moral reasoning abilities needed to live in societies that were constructed on the basis of freedom, equality, and solidarity.

Good citizens before good professionals

The word “university" evokes the gathering of professors and students, a decision to come together for a communal learning experience, understood as a journey open to all dimensions of humanity. Philosopher and writer Javier Gomá recently reminded us that the mission of the university is to educate good professionals and good citizens, but the latter purpose should always take precedence over the former in cases of tension between the two. In other words, learning to recognize the human dignity of others is more important than gaining technical competencies.

The sense of belonging to one or more communities has weakened.

In these times, we must all undertake a reflection which is not insignificant in order to ensure that universities complete their missions. In the last years, we have witnessed hyper-individualistic mentalities increasing in western societies, largely due to the fragmentation of the human experience caused by digital technology and social media. The sense of belonging to one or more communities has weakened. We see this reflected in the modern language of politics, which focuses on the assertion of new and old rights and forgoes civic duties, which are virtually nonexistent in public discourse.

We would like to conclude by posing a question to the reader: will high quality human interaction within higher education become a luxury only accessible to those with resources? Or, will we be able to integrate these technological tools into a learning process that, of course, does not disregard them, but rather places them within a meaningful and ethical reflection?

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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

Settlers, Prisoners, Resistance: How Israeli Occupation Ties Gaza To The West Bank

The fate of the West Bank is inevitably linked to the conflict in Gaza; and indeed Israeli crackdowns and settler expansion and violence in the West Bank is a sign of an explicit strategy.

Settlers, Prisoners, Resistance: How Israeli Occupation Ties Gaza To The West Bank

Israeli soldiers take their positions during a military operation in the Balata refugee camp, West Bank.

Riham Al Maqdama


CAIRO — Since “Operation Al-Aqsa Flood” began on October 7, the question has been asked: What will happen in the West Bank?

A review of Israel’s positions and rhetoric since 1967 has always referred to the Gaza Strip as a “problem,” while the West Bank was the “opportunity,” so that former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s decision to withdraw Israeli settlements from Gaza in 2005 was even referred to as an attempt to invest state resources in Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank.

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This separation between Gaza and the West Bank in the military and political doctrine of the occupation creates major challenges, repercussions of which have intensified over the last three years.

Settlement expansion in the West Bank and the continued restrictions of the occupation there constitute the “land” and Gaza is the “siege” of the challenge Palestinians face. The opposition to the West Bank expansion is inseparable from the resistance in Gaza, including those who are in Israeli prisons, and some who have turned to take up arms through new resistance groups.

“What happened in Gaza is never separated from the West Bank, but is related to it in cause and effect,” said Ahmed Azem, professor of international relations at Qatar University. “The name of the October 7 operation is the Al-Aqsa Flood, referring to what is happening in Jerusalem, which is part of the West Bank.”

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