Universities on alert over ChatGPT and other AI-assisted tools

Universities in Asia are on the alert over new generative artificial intelligence writing tools such as ChatGPT and other AI-assisted tools that can help students write text or code. Some universities moved early to ban their use while others have been more cautious.

Some institutions, such as the University of Hong Kong, have outlawed ChatGPT as a temporary measure until proper policies for their use can be worked out.

Other universities and colleges simply issued warnings, often likening the use of ChatGPT to plagiarism, while many have adopted a wait-and-see attitude. So far, few education authorities have issued specific guidelines.

The powerful language model can generate human-like text, write prose, poetry and essays etc for students, and replicate the style of an author. This could affect students’ creative abilities, according to academics.

Hong Kong University has been among the most explicit in explaining its policy. An internal email to staff and students from the Vice-President for Teaching and Learning, Ian Holliday, banned ChatGPT and other AI tools for any “credit bearing activity” at the university including “classroom, coursework and assessment tasks”.

The ban was described as an interim measure, with the university noting that it needed time to consider incorporating AI tools into learning and teaching. “Since the implications are certain to be significant … it will take a while for us to settle on a long-term policy,” Holliday said.

In the meantime, unless a student has the course instructor’s written permission, use of ChatGPT will be regarded as using other people’s work and will be treated in the same way as plagiarism. Teachers can set supplementary oral or written exams, or adopt “other measures” if they suspect ChatGPT or another AI based tool has been used, added Holliday.

South Korea and Singapore

South Korea is a country of early adopters of new technologies, where use of ChatGPT is spreading fast. According to academics, universities have been criticised for not setting out effective countermeasures, particularly in a highly competitive education system where some students may use ChatGPT to simply gain an advantage over other students.

Sejong University, a private institution in Seoul, took a nuanced view, saying it would allow students to use ChatGPT as a reference tool, but using it to write assignments and reports would be prohibited, and students would receive a failing grade if caught.

South Korea’s education ministry has already held meetings of officials to discuss the use of ChatGPT. Other education authorities in South Korea have said that rather than issuing specific directives to counter its use, the focus should be on teaching students digital ethics and how to use ChatGPT responsibly and wisely.

The country’s top institution, Seoul National University, has reportedly started discussions with its AI research institute on developing new tools to prevent what it called ‘illicit’ activities using ChatGPT.

Singapore’s education ministry is one of the few ministries to take a stand. The ministry said it supports the use of AI tools such as ChatGPT in schools and universities. Education Minister Chan Chun Sing said the ministry was already providing guidance and resources to schools and higher education institutions.

“As with any tech, ChatGPT and similar generative AI tools present both opportunities and challenges to users,” Chan told the Singaporean parliament on 6 February in response to questions from parliamentarians.

The Singapore government, too, backs the use of AI and other technologies in education. Chan said ChatGPT was being explored in educational settings. “At the same time, our educators will still teach students to understand fundamental concepts and guide students against developing an over reliance on technological tools.”

The case of India

In India the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), which sets the school leaving exams, on 14 February included ChatGPT among its list of prohibited items in exams, which commenced last week.

“Mobile, ChatGPT and other electronic items will not be allowed in the examination hall,” the Board’s guidelines said, making it clear that AI-assisted tools were akin to cheating. CBSE controller Sanyam Bhardwaj described the ChatGPT as use of “unfair means”.

Institutions based in Bengaluru (Bangalore), the technology capital of India in the southern state of Karnataka, were the first to prohibit the use not only of ChatGPT but also of other AI-assisted tools, as many students in the city tend to be early adopters of new technologies.

RV University in Bengaluru banned the use of AI based tools such as ChatGPT, GitHub Co-Pilot and Black Box, and said teachers would carry out “spot checks”. If students are found using these tools, they will be required to redo their work on account of plagiarism.

GitHub Copilot is a tool co-developed by AI research firm OpenAI – creator of ChatGPT – and the Microsoft-owned code repository GitHub. It helps developers code faster by generating computer code from natural English language, or auto completing a block of code.

Teachers at various colleges in India are telling first-time coders and other students not to use AI powered tools that are capable of generating code or text.

College authorities say new programmers should not use tools like GitHub Copilot as it could hamper learning, describing it as suitable only for students fully conversant with programming, who can write the code without the help of the tool.

Bias and discrimination issues in some AI-assisted tools have already been highlighted in other countries.

Sanjay R Chitnis, founding dean of the school of computer science and engineering at RV University, said students should be allowed to use coding tools when they are working on a problem, to get the solution. “But if they are writing a code then these tools should not be allowed,” he said, adding that in future it may become almost impossible to detect the use of AI code generation.

Other universities in India may soon totally ban, or at least strictly regulate or limit, the use of AI-based tools such as ChatGPT as they fear students will become dependent on them, which might in turn hamper the process of learning. It is believed that some students use these tools in academic activities, during exams, lab tests, and to complete assignments.

A teacher at a leading institute in Bengaluru, who is not authorised to speak on the issue, said the institution had caught assignments that had been completed using AI engines and had taken up the matter with students to dissuade them from using the tools.

However, Vidya Yeravdekar, pro chancellor at Symbiosis International University in Pune in the Western state of Maharashtra, was of the view that instead of banning them, institutions should frame policies to help students use AI tools, which she sees as the way ahead for learning.

Yeravdekar wrote in a recent blog that as an educationist, she and others were worried about the repercussions of such tools.

“My first concern is about students using the tool to do their homework, write their assignments, or even publish research papers based on the content generated by ChatGPT, though the creators of ChatGPT have also created the new AI classifier tool that will help users determine whether a block of text was written by a human or a computer.”

She added that students will get “immense help in answering questions” but noted that teachers would have to leave it to their [students’] conscious judgement whether they want to grow their own intelligence or allow AI to override it.”

Many believe, like Yeravdekar, that students should be taught to use AI tools in a responsible way so that the learning process is not affected.

A professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Indore, requesting anonymity, said that it is too early to know how to restrict ChatGPT. “We have to carefully analyse the implications of such revolutionary tools for education and ensure their rational and restricted use in the interest of students.”

Others in academia have said they will ask students to write a first draft of some assignments in class or under supervision and have stressed the importance of original content.

* University World News Asia Editor Yojana Sharma contributed to this article.