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Student Voices on AI: Navigating Expectations and Opportunities

  • 15 April 2024
  • By Isabelle Bristow

This HEPI blog was authored by Isabelle Bristow, Managing Director UK and Europe at Studiosity, a HEPI Partner. Studiosity is a learning technology company, working with 100+ universities globally, serving 1.8 million university students across the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the Middle East.

In order to better understand and discuss the motivations, emotions, and demands of university students, Studiosity has run Student Wellbeing Surveys with UK university students since 2019. In November 2023, we commissioned YouGov to conduct a global wave of this research, with 10,189  students surveyed across the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA, Singapore, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Focusing specifically on UK students 2,422 were included in the survey, with 149 higher education institutions represented. On the quantitative and qualitative findings on students’ attitudes towards artificial intelligence (AI):

  • Most students responding to the survey are 18-25 (54%), 69% are undergraduate, and 58% of all respondents are female across all age groups, consistent with the national average.
  • Amongst international students, the gender is more evenly split, 49% male to 49% female. In this survey, 3% of students self-reported being non-binary, transgender or other; this number was halved for international students.
  • The students are majority domestic (89%), and 41% of students are studying on campus only, 18% are carers – people who provide unpaid care or other support to family members and friends at the same time as study.

2023 saw the mass expansion of generative AI with much coverage of the anticipation about what this could mean for the higher education sector – both positively and negatively.

If last year was a year of generative AI fact-finding and planning, 2024 should then turn into a year of action for a critical area of change and innovation in higher education. With this in mind, the following areas stand out for consideration:

  1. Nearly two-thirds of UK students say their university is not adapting quickly enough to include AI support tools to help with their study.

Speed of feedback – ‘only waiting minutes, not a day or several days’ – is the main reason that students would use their university’s AI support or feedback (26%), followed by confidence, specifically to check they are ‘on the right track through their assignment’ (17%).

Some 64% said they believe their university can accelerate the integration of AI tools for learning. Whilst only 39% of students currently expect their institution to offer AI support tools, this is significantly higher among international students at UK universities (57%) than their domestic counterparts (37%). Business students are more likely to want their university to innovate and provide AI support (57%) and Humanities and Social Sciences students are least likely (29%).

  1. Students need more flexibility and support whenever and wherever they make the time to study.

With 71% of students in employment during study – and almost a quarter of all students in full-time work – it is not surprising that the biggest cause of study stress for over half of all students is time pressures. Students are struggling to balance their studies with exam and assessment preparations and their life commitments – an increasing trend since 2021.

The number of students who feel stressed ‘constantly’ almost doubles when they also feel like they don’t belong in their university (30%). Almost half of all students (46%) said the provision of personal, 24/7 study and assignment support would improve their sense of belonging. Confidence in being able to reach out for help, study flexibility; access to mental health support and being able to connect with a peer are also important considerations.

  1. Some global comparisons
  • UAE and Saudi Arabia students have some of the highest expectations in the world for AI learning support (84% and 79% respectively).
  • As well as the UK, students in Australia (55%) and Canada (60%) also strongly perceive their university is not adapting fast enough to include AI support tools.
  • The main reason given by students in the majority of countries for using their university’s AI support or feedback was ‘speed’, apart from New Zealand, Saudi Arabia and the UAE where ‘confidence’ was most highlighted.

Our UK study also found that a large proportion of students are confused about what AI is, and how it can be used in their educational setting. Many students expressed concerns about the ethical use of AI or its reliability, over AI potentially replacing human support, and there were also reports of university-wide bans. However, while many students believe AI can have an ethical and valid role in supporting their studies, they also feel their university does not have this understanding yet and has been slow to react.

In conclusion, the key findings from the report are that senior leaders and staff must educate themselves and their students on the positive powers of AI for both their learning experience, and for the wider workforce that they will be entering to be future-proof.

Studiosity+ allows institutions to give all their students formative feedback on their written work in minutes – supporting satisfaction, completion and helping them to maintain their credible degree delivery. It is learner centric, research-driven, and designed on a legacy of strong higher education partnerships. It is ethical, and has a permanent and robust ‘Humans in the Loop’ process‘To hear AI and ethical in one sentence is also hugely reassuring to our students, and this will be an important part of their study toolkit’. Kerry Kellaway, Head of Library at Plymouth Marjon University.

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  1. Bernard says:

    How about considering some of the negative aspects of our increasing use of AI plus expecting personal tutor, study and assignment support 24/7 is just plain ridiculous given the ever increasing work pressures that HE academic and support staff are currently facing….

  2. Joe says:

    Really interesting read. I did feel there was a bit of a disconnect between the experiences of AI students had and the “Students need more flexibility and support whenever and wherever they make the time to study” section.

    I don’t think AI is the solution to these problems, or is even vaguely linked. Time pressures come about because of needing to work part- or full-time during studies which are a result of student loans not being sufficient enough. I do agree with Bernard on some points too. The ability for AI to provide instantaneous feedback should not then put expectations on staff to follow that standard, and quite frankly it would be impossible to do so. I know the article didn’t explicitly say this, but it felt like the angle it was heading for.

    AI is good and can have benefits, but I feel like we’re focussing on the wrong benefits here – it is an accessory to existing provision in HE, not a replacement. Maybe certain programmes should be provided as part of a subscription package similar to library access for students, but it should become a personal assistant, comparable to an academic advisor/dissertation tutor. Also a really interesting insight that social science subjects aren’t as keen on the idea of using it – really shows how ethical considerations in research are drilled into people in certain specialisms and not so much in others…

    Hope that wasn’t too negative, really interesting and thought provoking. Got my brain going mid-afternoon on a Monday! Thank you 🙂

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