PETALING JAYA: While the verdict is still out on whether university students should be allowed to use ChatGPT to help generate their assignments and theses, a version of it built for academics has been released.

Called ChatGPT Edu, it was launched on May 30 by American AI research organisation OpenAI, which said it provides cost-effective, high-security features tailored for educational institutions.

The AI-driven tool is currently used at universities such as Oxford, Wharton, Texas, Arizona State and Columbia, and is said to “responsibly apply AI across students, faculty, researchers and campus operations”.

In March 2023, former higher education minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin said Malaysia will not restrict the use of ChatGPT, but its implementation must adhere to established guidelines.

He said the guidelines, specifically tailored for the use of ChatGPT, have been formulated and disseminated among higher learning institutions across Malaysia.

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The Malaysian Qualifications Agency, which is responsible for ensuring higher education quality, also issued guidelines stressing the careful use of generative AI in universities.

“The guidelines emphasise the need to uphold academic honesty and manage risks such as plagiarism and protection of data privacy,” it said.

National Association of Private Educational Institutions secretary-general Dr Teh Choon Jin said Malaysian universities are increasingly signalling their readiness to integrate AI into educational practices.

He said the guidelines that have so far been issued provide clear instructions for students and staff on how to use generative AI tools responsibly.

“They promote academic integrity and foster a community-wide understanding of the implications of AI technology. However, many still suspect ChatGPT of impacting academic integrity.

“However, by following the guidelines, local universities are exploring how AI can enhance student learning while academics have started to set additional guidelines

as well.”

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He said many universities have also started offering special AI courses in which students study machine learning, data analysis, AI ethics and how computers understand human language.

While AI technologies benefit students in various ways, Teh welcomed ChatGPT Edu and emphasised the need to further support academics who shoulder multiple responsibilities.

“Academics have to develop syllabuses, lesson plans, course materials, and organise class schedules and meeting times. Lecturers also focus on achieving their key performance indicators, and participate in departmental and university committees.

“All these tasks can distract them from their primary focus, which is teaching, grading and carrying out research.”

Hence, Teh said advancing AI is essential in its transformative journey as it has the potential to revolutionise various industries and sectors.

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On this, he drew parallels with Google’s evolution and stressed how the initial scepticism about its reliability gave way to widespread adoption for information retrieval.

“Similarly, the presence of AI does not imply replacing human roles but rather strategically augmenting them.

“It is crucial that AI tools such as ChatGPT Edu support educators rather than supplant them. By embracing such technologies, lecturers can enhance their teaching methodologies and administrative efficiency,” he said.

In addressing the technical and ethical considerations of AI integration, Teh underscored the need for robust infrastructure to support it.

“This includes high-speed internet and secure data management systems that are compliant with local regulations such as the Malaysian Personal Data Protection Act.

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“Comprehensive training programmes for faculty and staff are also pivotal to ensuring responsible AI use and maintaining academic integrity,” he said.

By aligning technical advancements with ethical standards, Teh said national universities are poised to harness AI’s benefits while upholding educational excellence.

He added that these initiatives reflect a broader trend in Malaysian higher education to balance the benefits of AI with careful oversight and ethical considerations.

“By preparing our institutions with the right infrastructure, training and ethical frameworks, we can ensure AI enhances learning outcomes and supports educators effectively.”