Universities will use AI to select students, says Alice Gast

Imperial College London president predicts that higher education institutions will follow global corporations in screening applicants using AI-based algorithms

February 7, 2018

Universities of the future will use artificial intelligence to help them select the most suitable students, the president of Imperial College London has suggested.

Speaking at Times Higher Education’s Asia Universities Summit, Alice Gast said that universities would be “leaders” in the so-called fourth industrial revolution and therefore had to embrace the moral and technical challenges ahead.

“These are exciting times,” she said. “The technological advances that [are] sweeping the globe [are] a watershed moment.”

As an example, Professor Gast cited a recruitment method used by Unilever that involves a series of algorithms. Since 2016, the company has used a combination of AI and social media to review candidates for internships and graduate jobs.

Candidates who click on a job advert are directed to a company site where they provide basic information, using LinkedIn, for example. Suitable applicants are then sorted by an algorithm and invited to play a series of online games to assess their memory and risk-aversion characteristics. Finally, the candidates use their smartphone to answer more questions about various “real-life” situations before being invited for an “in-person” interview.

“Their approach replaces campus visits, eliminates the submission of résumés, reduces the number of interviews and increases the efficiency of the search process for both applicants and the company,” Professor Gast explained. As a result, such approaches to recruitment can reduce costs as well as the average waiting time for students.

Speaking to THE afterwards, Professor Gast said that she anticipated that AI would “augment” the student admissions process. “As it is, we do the best we can with the information we have…but AI can use some of that integrative analysis to help humans make better informed decisions,” she said.

In her keynote address, Professor Gast highlighted the strength of AI research and development in Asia and said that the region’s universities should look to the future “with great anticipation and expectation”. “We are already beginning to see the revolution in action,” she said.

Universities already use AI to a limited extent, for example, in learning management systems that enable staff and students to access course materials online and also in tracking plagiarism and student participation rates. Programmers predict that the “new generation” of virtual learning software will become increasingly sophisticated, however.

“University leaders have important roles to play in helping to manage the changes that define these times,” said Professor Gast. “These changes will affect our students, they will affect our staff, they will affect our neighbours, and they will affect society as a whole.”


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