AI usage under scrutiny at varsities, ethical use of AI being embraced

The University of the Western Cape’s The Great Hall (main hall). File Picture: Jason Boud

The University of the Western Cape’s The Great Hall (main hall). File Picture: Jason Boud

Published Jul 5, 2024


Cape Town - The use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) at universities is in the spotlight after the University of South Africa (Unisa) flagged the exam scripts of students for its use of ChatGPT.

It is reported that AI tools were banned for the assessment, and allegedly used by hundreds of students now expected to appear before a disciplinary hearing.

Unisa remained mum over the allegations on Thursday.

At the same time, institutions of higher education in the Western Cape say they are exploring ways in which students and staff could make use of AI to bring added benefit to teaching and learning while ensuring it is done ethically.

Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) spokesperson Lauren Kansley said: “Senior leaders at CPUT down to faculty academics have explored the growing importance of AI in educational settings and its ethical implications in academic research and how it could be used to effectively teach and learn.”

Kansley said this formed part of staff training and development and that the institution was pleased that colleagues were finding the benefits and skilling themselves in “harnessing this asset.”

CPUT’s Faculty of Engineering and Built Environment has enrolled around 40 staff members in the Certificated AI Engineer programme, a collaborative effort with Microsoft AI University.

Kansley said this would enhance the faculty’s capabilities in AI.

University of the Western Cape (UWC) marketing and media manager Gasant Abarder said the university is currently developing a Policy and Guidelines on the use of AI.

“As an engaged university, there is a broader conversation about AI under way in terms of it being used as a tool for research and how to use it ethically. More specifically, the University of the Western Cape has a well-established institutional Learning Management System.

“The platform has embedded plagiarism detection software which flags the extent of plagiarism as well as the use of AI tools such as Chat GPT. It also has the capacity to pinpoint where in the submission it has occurred.

“The university is currently developing a Policy and Guidelines on the use of AI which will further inform its use and incorporation into learning, teaching, research and assessment,” Abarder said.

Stellenbosch University (SU) Student Representative Council (SRC) president Phiwokuhle Qabaka said that while she believed each department had its own rules pertaining to its usage, there existed systems in place to pick up on the use of AI.

“One of our institution’s main priority is to ensure that our students know how to use AI tools rather than ignore it as if it is not there,” Qabaka said.

Universities South Africa (USAf) CEO Dr Phethiwe Matutu said standard policy making is the domain of the government and that so far, they were not aware of a standard government policy for universities on the use of ChatGPT in teaching and learning.

“What we do, as USAf, in support of our member institutions and through our capacity development arm HELM (Higher Education Leadership and Management) programme, we equip academics in AI tools that benefit teaching and learning.”

University of Cape Town (UCT) spokesperson Elijah Moholola said at UCT, there were particular instances where students are permitted to use AI, within “specific defined parameters and subject to students appropriately acknowledging such usage”.

In unauthorised usage of AI, students would be subjected to applicable rules as per the Student Handbook, he said.

“UCT endeavours to create awareness among students around authorised AI usage. In instances of unauthorised usage, such cases would be referred to and handled by the Student Disciplinary Tribunal,” Moholola said.

Dean of Faculty of Education at Stellenbosch University, Professor Mbulungeni Madiba, said clear strategies around the utilisation of AI needed to be put in place.

“AI is here with us, we can’t ignore it. All universities are looking at ways to manage and promote the effectiveness of teaching and learning in AI,” Madiba said.

Madiba said these future strategies involved using AI to challenge critical thinking and creativity, as the nature of assessments utilising AI was critical.

The Department of Higher Education and training did not respond to queries by deadline yesterday.