University launches compulsory artificial intelligence module

Chinese institution says it wants to nurture ‘master-level strategic scientists’

March 6, 2024
Xianlin Campus, Nanjing University
Source: iStock/Fanfan Meng

A Chinese university has become the first institution in the country to make artificial intelligence a compulsory module for students in all departments.

Nanjing University, in Jiangsu province, announced its plan for an “artificial intelligence general core module system” at the end of February. From September onwards, undergraduate students will take an AI module as a compulsory part of their degree, in a bid to nurture “master-level strategic scientists” with an AI-literate, innovative and interdisciplinary approach.

This “1+X+Y” course consists of lectures, seminars, internship and AI teaching assistance. Selective X modules will cover skills and subjects related to AI, such as mathematics, programming and data analytics. In contrast, Y modules will focus on cutting-edge knowledge combining AI and different subjects.

After China prioritised artificial intelligence development as a national strategy in 2017, it has become popular for higher education institutions to invest in AI-related subjects, in line with the country’s action plan for this sector. Although Chinese institutions hold cautious attitudes towards students’ usage of AI tools such as ChatGPT, nearly 500 institutions have created an AI-related major in the past few years.

It is hard to predict whether more universities have similar plans, because there has been controversy over artificial intelligence courses in higher education. A widely cited discussion is when Gao Wen, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and a professor at Peking University, said at an event in 2018 that China does not lack AI talent but top AI talent.

“There is no need to launch a national movement for this. If we create a bunch of artificial intelligence colleges like we did with software colleges, it might be another disaster. I think cultivating top AI talent requires some top schools and more resources to train better students,” he said.

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