Thought Leadership

Industry Leadership for Higher Education Reform Given ChatGPT

Leadership in industry is now leadership in higher education because of innovations in generative A.I.. How we credential humans for the workplace is changing. Forging new kinds of industry coordination with higher education can help enable the structural changes needed for a smooth transition to an economy that is based on “humans plus technology”. The business industry has supported higher education through internship programs, mentorship schemes, and research funding. But a more dynamic approach that reflects our disrupted times is needed.

People have been arguing that business industries and higher education need to work together for years. What is different is that Generative AI platforms are disrupting education because they require institutions to change how they teach, and how they verify skills and competencies. ChatGPT can produce any structured text – essays, code, language translations, PowerPoint presentation, and even tweets. Early analyses are pouring in, but it can essentially match the quality of work produced by a high performing high schooler or a young university student. There are also no counter measures. Platforms designed to determine if ChatGPT generated the content have too high of a false positive to be reliable or worthy of our time. And the model is getting more sophisticated all the time. Banning it is not realistic as VPNs, and quick fixes, or text messages to a cousin in another location, can give anyone access. Despite all the concerns, integration of ChatGPT into higher education is a forced move. Not to mention the fact that everyone who works with a computer will have chatbot models integrated into their work within a year’s time. The future of knowledge production and work is humans plus ai.

Simultaneously, we see the automation of entire sectors of work due to technological breakthroughs across a wide spectrum of economic tasks. This change is known as the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). ChatGPT represents humanity’s phrase transition into our new reality of automated cognitive tasks, and is a core feature of the 4IR. And for the first time we have economic growth without job growth in many economies. Industry is still making money, but people are not doing the work. A global trends is that capital-intensive technology is used to produce goods and services, not people.

The combination of these two challenges means we need government and industry to work together to finance a massive shift in our higher education systems. This is in part about producing talent to run the global economy, but this is also about educating our societies so that individuals can thrive. The value of education beyond its crucial role in economic development needs to be centered in new policy formation, and the corporate social responsibility (CSR) of industry.

There are three main ways in which industry can work with the higher education sector to help support the transition to a new model.

Financing Change

First, industries need to create new and substantial financial contributions to education systems, individual institutions, and to fund students themselves. Bold leadership in this space needs to be on a scale rarely seen. McKinsey Scott is an example of an individual supporting education at very high levels, but we need firms and their CEOs to step in. This should not be an exceptional headline going forward, it needs to be standard practice because of the scale, pace, and velocity of the disruption. This is also true because the tax base of contributions that currently fund education are shrinking. For developed economies, shrinking populations, and fewer high paying jobs means that the accumulated wealth from automation needs to be redistributed if we are to foster equity in society, and ultimately peace.

The cost of higher education is not sustainable. Industry cannot uphold universities and colleges around the world, but it can help craft new models.

Consultation on Revamping the Credentialing Model

Second, governments and industry need to work with higher education leaders to revamp the credentialing model. Currently, undergraduate bachelor’s degrees verify knowledge, some skills, and a few competencies. Many employers require a bachelor’s degree to be considered for certain types of roles. Indeed, across industries, companies recruit from universities and colleges and participate in internships and other programs to identify and nurture talented workers.

The shortened shelf life of knowledge, and the ability of artificial intelligence models to produce useful ideas, means that we need to credential a different set of skills than is currently in place. This is not just because there is a mismatch between what industry is demanding and what graduates can do. It is because people cannot thrive amongst the new normal of constant disruption if they are not taught how to learn (rather than what to learn). Industry leaders may very well develop new and different criteria for hiring practices.

There is a movement to credential in different ways already. An example, is Opportunity at Work in the United States. This not-for-profit is funded by a large collection of NGOs and large corporations. The organization works to credential people with skills outside of the higher education system. It seeks to “rewire the labor market so that everyone can contribute their skills, talent, and energy in pursuit of a better life.” The idea is great. The reach could be more. And more research needs to be conduct to determine the impact of such programs in different countries. Coordinating with higher education institutions and government ministries to coordinate such an effort at scale is key to effectiveness.

The Price of Peace

Education is a common good. At scale, education, particularly at an advanced level, increases the understanding of different cultures and beliefs, leading to more tolerance and respect for others. Education across different leads to better communication amongst diverse populations which can reduce conflict and promote collaboration. Industry benefits from the stability that quality education fosters in a given firm, community, and society. It is time for industry to pay for the peace that enables it to function in much more substantial financial ways. If industry is to benefit from the peace that an educated society yields, then it should provide explicit financial support for that common good as part of corporate social responsibility, and its commitments to inclusion.

Our future is “humans plus technology”. ChatGPT is an example of this.

Education systems are disrupted because the processes we use to verify the knowledge of student learners are no longer viable due to generative ai. The skills and competencies needed in the workplace are changing. Any employee who works with a computer for their job, will be working with generative ai tools in the very near future. The upskilling and reskilling demand is immense. To tackle the challenge, industry can work with universities to create the space, curriculum, and credentials for the demands of a quickly changing economy.


About the Author:

Nancy W. Gleason, PhD is the Director of the Hilary Ballon Center for Teaching and Learning and an Associate Professor of Practice in Political Science at New York University Abu Dhabi. She is a leader in global liberal arts education. Her research focuses on the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s impact on higher education, and the future of work and education.  She considers societal impacts of education, employment disruption, continuous reskilling, and the role of industry in supporting upskilling of adults. She is the editor of Higher Education in the Era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Springer, 2018), and she is the co-editor, Diversity and Inclusion in Global Higher Education: Lessons from Across Asia (Palgrave March 2020). @NWGleason