After a period of caution, universities open up to ChatGPT

The University of Hong Kong (HKU), an early mover in banning student use of ChatGPT, the open source AI-powered language model developed by OpenAI, pending an investigation into its use, has moved swiftly to partially lift that ban and invest resources into developing the use of such technologies in higher education.

In February, Hong Kong’s top university imposed the temporary ban on generative AI programmes for classroom work, coursework and assessment tasks. However, in a statement on 3 August, HKU said it would allow AI tools such as ChatGPT, capable of generating human-like text, and image generator Dall-E, to be incorporated into university teaching from the new academic year in September.

The university provided teaching staff with access to ChatGPT in April, and access to image generator Dall-E in early May.

Students will be allowed free access to software such as ChatGPT but will be restricted to 20 prompts per user. Training and online courses and other resources will be provided to ensure the effective use of these tools, the university said.

HKU Associate Vice-President (Teaching and Learning) Pauline Chiu said at a press conference in early August the aim was not to “police” students’ use of generative AI or to interrogate them about the proportion of such content in their assignments but to give them a sense of responsibility. Other academics have said restrictions on the number of prompts were imposed to prevent misuse of students’ accounts by outsiders.

No change of mind

Ian Holliday, HKU’s vice-president and pro vice-chancellor for teaching and learning, who led the university’s investigation of generative AI or GenAI use designed to inform its policy, said: “HKU embraces GenAI and recognises AI literacy as essential to teaching and learning. Our goal is to enable our teachers and students to become not only AI literate but also leaders in exploiting the vast potential of GenAI for the benefit of mankind.”

Holliday insisted there had been no change of mind at HKU. “We wanted to be as responsible as we could be in making use of ChatGPT. We knew it was the future. We knew it back in February. But we didn’t have a policy in place to make it fair for all of our students,” he said.

HKU has received HK$15.7 million (US$2 million) in funding under a Hong Kong fund administered by the city’s University Grants Committee which for the first time will provide resources to help develop Innovative Technology-in-Education. The funding will be used to enhance GenAI technology use in various disciplines, the university said.

The university also plans to form alliances with “elite universities worldwide” to jointly explore the potential of generative AI and to “tackle challenges”, it said.

Embracing new tech

Hong Kong’s Lingnan University announced this month it had bought a licence for version 3.5 of ChatGPT and would train students and staff to use the tool for teaching and learning. Under Lingnan’s new AI policy, lecturers can specify whether ChatGPT should be used for assignments and students could be required to submit a list of their prompts to ChatGPT along with their work, the university said.

Joshua Mok Ka-ho, vice-president at Lingnan University, told University World News that when HKU announced its temporary ban in February, Lingnan “decided to benchmark with HKU, and just like them we banned everything in the beginning, but now we have changed our policy because there’s been more room for us to reflect upon the way it is used, and the pros and cons.

“We were a bit concerned but after a few months of discussion among the Lingnan community we have adopted a more open policy, purchasing the right kind of technology to enable Lingnan students and faculty members to use them,” he said.

Mok said the university was organising various workshops. “We need people to change, so we listened to the students and also faculty members to understand whether they are prepared, and how the university could support them in embracing the technology.

“We certainly welcome technology of this kind to enable students and faculty members [in their] research and learning but we have not lost sight of the potential risks, ethical use and the problems with plagiarism, and also the impact on learning because students can make use of ChatGPT for assignments,” said Mok.

An ‘enabling’ approach

However, unlike HKU, his university would not be restricting use, he said, pointing to the difficulty of monitoring such restrictions. “Our approach is more enabling,” he said, while also intending to highlight risks to university users.

Professors will have to specify when GPT can and can’t be used for written assignments and students will have to back this up with a summary of their own thinking and conclusions, to highlight the learning process.

Sizhao Joe Qin, acting president of Lingnan university who will take over as president on 1 September, himself a data scientist, said: “It’s a really good example for everyone at Lingnan to show that innovation and research are part of our lives, and that the dissemination of knowledge is no longer a static thing.”

“Also, society as a whole is changing and we have to recognise that. We will invest our own resources as well to buy AIGC (AI generated content) licences,” Qin said. “It is certainly an exciting time and another representation of knowledge, but I think of AI as a tool, an assistant, and that’s the way it should be.”

Some other universities in Hong Kong, including Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and the Education University of Hong Kong, already granted limited approval in March for students to use generative AI tools.