UK

Top universities pledge to adapt teaching and assessment to incorporate AI use

The Russell Group includes many of the most selective universities in the UK (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
The Russell Group includes many of the most selective universities in the UK (Dominic Lipinski/PA) The Russell Group includes many of the most selective universities in the UK (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Universities will adapt teaching and assessment for students to incorporate “ethical” use of generative artificial intelligence, leading institutions have said.

The Russell Group, which includes many of the most selective universities in the UK, has published a set of principles to help universities capitalise on the opportunities that artificial intelligence (AI) offers to education.

The statement, backed by the vice chancellors of the 24 Russell Group universities, hopes to support the ethical and responsible use of software like ChatGPT while ensuring that academic integrity is upheld.

ChatGPT is a form of generative AI that can respond to questions in a human-like manner and understand the context of follow-up queries, much like in human conversations, as well as being able to compose essays if asked – sparking fears it could be used by students to complete assignments.

But the Russell Group statement suggests that incorporating generative AI tools into teaching and assessments “has the potential to enhance the student learning experience, improve critical-reasoning skills and prepare students for the real-world applications” of generative AI technologies.

It said: “All staff who support student learning should be empowered to design teaching sessions, materials and assessments that incorporate the creative use of generative AI tools where appropriate.”

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan Education Secretary Gillian Keegan previously called for evidence on the benefits and concerns around AI use in education (Jonathan Brady/PA)

The principles have been published after Education Secretary Gillian Keegan launched a call for evidence last month on how generative AI could be used “in a safe and secure way” in education settings.

It came after the UK’s major exam boards suggested in March that schools should make pupils do some of their coursework “in class under direct supervision” amid cheating fears in the context of AI use.

All of the Russell Group universities have reviewed their academic conduct policies to reflect the emergence of generative AI and these policies make it clear to students when its use is “inappropriate”, according to the statement.

“Ensuring academic integrity and the ethical use of generative AI can also be achieved by cultivating an environment where students can ask questions about specific cases of their use and discuss the associated challenges openly and without fear of penalisation,” it said.

Professor Andrew Brass, head of the School of Health Sciences at the University of Manchester, said: “We know that students are already utilising this technology, so the question for us as educators is how do you best prepare them for this, and what are the skills they need to have to know how to engage with generative AI sensibly?

“From our perspective, it’s clear that this can’t be imposed from the top down, but by working really closely with our students to co-create the guidance we provide.

“If there are restrictions for example, it’s crucial that it’s clearly explained to students why they are in place, or we will find that people find a way around it.”

He added: “Assessment will also need to evolve – as it has always done in response to new technology and workforce skills needs – to assess problem-solving and critical-reasoning skills over knowledge recall.”

Professor Michael Grove, deputy pro-vice chancellor (Education Policy & Standards) at the University of Birmingham, said: “Generative AI offers potential beyond a role as an intelligent information retrieval tool, and could be used to support the development of stylistic writing skills or to make learning materials more accessible and inclusive for students from different cultural or linguistic backgrounds.

“The rapid rise of generative AI will mean we need to continually review and re-evaluate our assessment practices, but we should view this as an opportunity rather than a threat.”

Dr Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group, said: “AI breakthroughs are already changing the way we work and it’s crucial students get the new skills they need to build a fulfilling career.

“The transformative opportunity provided by AI is huge and our universities are determined to grasp it. This statement of principles underlines our commitment to doing so in a way that benefits students and staff and protects the integrity of the high-quality education Russell Group universities provide.”