Higher education in APAC set to double rate of innovation with AI

Microsoft Asia and IDC Asia/Pacific released findings specific to the education sector for the study, Future Ready Skills: Assessing APAC Education Sector’s Use of AI, where it found that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will help double the rate of innovation improvements for higher education institutions. 

With student outcomes being a key performance metric for higher education institutes, many are turning to leverage data to glean insights and drive improved outcomes.

“For many institutions, student performance has a direct impact on rankings. AI can be a tool to help better manage outcomes and ensure continued innovation to optimize operations and enhance student engagements, as it reduces resource intensive work among faculty and administrative staff,” said Larry Nelson, Regional General Manager — Education, Microsoft Asia.

“In fact, we found that 3 out 4 education leaders agree that AI will be able to drive competitiveness in the next 3years. However, only 32% of education institutions in Asia Pacific have embarked on their AI journey,” added Nelson. 

Based on the study, the top business drivers for education leaders to adopt AI include better student engagement, higher funding, and accelerated innovation. For institutions that have adopted AI, they are already seeing improvements in the range of 11% to 28% today in areas such as higher funding, accelerated innovation, higher competitiveness, improve efficiency and better student engagement. By 2021, education institutions with AI stand to experience the biggest jump in higher funding, which is expected to increase by 3.7x, higher than most industry sectors in Asia Pacific.

Fig 1: AI improves business today and in three years 

Developing a globally engaged citizenry is of utmost importance for all countries and is also one of Japan’s key priorities. However, many students would avoid these opportunities as doing so can delay them from taking the classes they need for graduation.  As one of the top universities in Japan serving over 17,000 students, the Faculty of Engineering at Hokkaido University has embarked on its AI journey as part of its mission to encourage students to study abroad. 

In a bid to remove this obstacle and contribute to a better abroad experience, the university developed a Microsoft Azure-based e-learning system that enables students to keep up with coursework back home. Leveraging AI and automation capabilities, the system helped the university broaden student access, expand capacity, streamline course prep from days to hours, and enhance security — transforming the abroad learning experience. 

Asia Pacific’s Education Institutions Need to Focus on its Strategy and Investment, Culture and Data

The Study evaluated six dimensions contributing to the sector’s AI readiness. The educational sector is currently lagging in Data, Strategy and Investment, as well as Culture when compared to Asia Pacific’s overall AI readiness. This signifies that more work needs to be done for these specific areas for educational institutions to remain competitive.

1.     Data: Education institutions need to work on availability, quality and governance of existing data

Data readiness is a key issue for education institutions. Today, data within higher education institutes is siloed, with limited usage of a cloud platform for scalability. Institutes also face issues with data timeliness and quality from sources, and a lack of governance practices to ensure trust in data usage.

2.     Strategy and Investment: Education institutions need to evaluate investment allocation to support their AI strategy  

For education institutions to reap the benefits of AI, they must have a sound AI strategy in place to help improve their AI readiness. With this, they need to also look at investment strategies that can be allocated to support organization-wide AI efforts.  

3.     Culture: Traits required for AI adoption lacking in education institutions

More than half of the education staff, and nearly half of the education leaders polled believe that cultural traits and behaviors are not pervasive in their organization today. For example, 67% of staff and 46% of education leaders do not agree that staff are empowered to take risks, and act with speed and agility within the institution. 

AI Skills Required for Future of Educational Sector

Both education leaders and staff in the education sector are equally positive about AI’s impact on jobs. Majority of education leaders (61%) and staff (61%) believe that AI will either help to do their existing jobs better or reduce repetitive tasks. In addition, both are optimistic of the impact AI will bring to their jobs, with 21% of education leaders believing that AI will create new jobs while 13% of staff agreeing so. 

Fig 2: Perception of AI’s impact on jobs (Management and Staff)

However, according to education leaders, the skills required for an AI future are in shortage. The top three skills identified to face a shortage of supply in the next three years include:

  • IT skills and programming
  • Digital skills
  • Quantitative, analytical and statistical skills

The Study also noted that there is a disconnect with education leaders’ perception of their staff’s willingness to reskill. Although the education leaders realize that there is an urgent need for reskilling efforts in order to cultivate an AI-ready workforce, they are not fully convinced that their staff are committed to being reskilled. Based on the study, 26% of education leaders felt that workers have no interest to reskill, but only 11% of staff had no interest. 

Asian Summit on Education and Skills 

These key findings were unveiled at the Asian Summit on Education and Skills (ASES) held in Bangalore, India from 22 — 24 September 2019. ASES is a leadership and ministerial event dedicated to the education and skills sector, where Microsoft has been the founding partner for its six editions. 

The annual summit convenes education system leaders, policy makers and key education institution representatives from across Asia to discuss challenges and opportunities in policy formulation and implementation in the sector. Hosting various sessions of insight and inspiration led by leading education pioneers and experts discussing industry trends and best practices, ASES is attended by senior ministerial delegations and eminent education leaders from India, and delegates from over 15 countries. 

About the study Future Ready Skills: Assessing APAC Education Sector’s Use of AI

  • 207 education leaders and 150 education staff from the education sector participated in this study out of 1,605 business leaders and 1,585 workers in total.
  • Business leaders: Business and IT leaders from organizations with more than 250 staff were polled. Respondents were decision-makers involved in shaping their organization’s business and digital strategy.
  • Workers: Respondents screened have an understanding of Artificial Intelligence today, and do not play a role in decision-making process within their organization.
  • 15 Asia Pacific markets were involved: Australia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

To learn about how AI can make a difference in the education sector, click here.

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