ETUI-ETUCE Expert Conference Explores Impact of AI on Higher Education and Research Sector


Discover how AI is revolutionising Higher Education and Research! At a landmark conference in Brussels, experts delved into AI's impact. Could AI enhance or disrupt academic work and ethics? What does AI mean for teachers’ rights and intellectual property? Explore key insights and debates on AI's role in education's future.  

On February 28-29, 2024, ETUCE and the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) collaboratively organised this expert conference to scrutinise the impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on the Higher Education and Research (HER) sector. Hosted in Brussels, the conference attracted over a hundred participants, including education trade unionists, academics, researchers, EdTech representatives, and policymakers, to debate AI's role in the future of education and research. 

The conference was inaugurated with an enlightening keynote address by Antonio Casilli (Telecomm Paris), who provided insights into how ChatGPT is applied in educational settings and the significant work involved in developing AI technologies. This introduction paved the way for an in-depth examination of AI's effects on working conditions, human rights, ethics, and intellectual property rights within the HER sector. 

The first panel discussion centered on AI's repercussions on working conditions in higher education, with eminent speakers exploring topics such as algorithmic implications, machine learning in educational processes, AI's practical applications in formal education, and the datafication of higher education along with its influence on academic labor. 

The subsequent panel probed the complex interplay between AI, human rights, and ethics, with discussions encompassing the delineation between AI human rights and ethics, the significance of AI human rights impact assessments for the HER sector, and a look at the Council of Europe's stance on human rights, democracy, and the rule of law concerning AI, as well as the Steering Committee for Education's efforts to devise a legal framework regulating AI systems in education. 

The conference resumed on its second day with an inspiring keynote from Wayne Holmes (University College London), which assessed the prospects and hurdles AI presents to academics and researchers. 

Further discussions explored generative AI and its implications on the intellectual property rights (IPRs) of academics and researchers. Insights were shared on how HER institutions can address the challenges posed by generative AI and the evolving IPR landscape from the perspective of the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO). Additionally, the dialogue ventured into legal protections, existing gaps in IPR protection for academics and researchers, and the significance of collective bargaining in safeguarding IPR within the HER. 

The conference wrapped up with a panel focusing on the impact of the metaverse and extended reality on researchers and academics. Highlighting examples of immersive learning and laboratories currently employed in HER across Europe, speakers discussed the implications for data protection and the cognitive effects of extended reality on HER personnel and students. 

The ETUI-ETUCE expert conference emerged as a crucial forum for encouraging dialogue among education trade unions, academia and policymakers aiming to foster a shared understanding of the benefits and challenges associated with using AI in higher education and research.