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 3 years. 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.

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.

“Our Azure-based e-learning system far better meets the needs of our students, who can access courses from PC, Android, iOS, and other devices. This gives them a more enjoyable and convenient educational experience,” said Professor Yukinori Kobayashi, Doctor of Engineering and Director of the Graduate School of Engineering, Hokkaido University.

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.

“For education institutions to fully harness the power of AI, they will need to work on developing an AI strategy which can help better integrate AI elements in various areas of the institution. To do so, they will first need to have better data hygiene and work on improving data readiness. Lastly, culture is an important key to help nurture the AI-mindset. Education leaders will need to develop an innovative culture and empower their staff to work in an agile manner,” said Victor Lim, Vice President, Consulting Operations, IDC Asia/Pacific.

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.

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.

“Education management needs to better understand their staff and prioritize reskilling efforts to address skills shortage. Only then, are they able to bring their respective institutions forward into an AI future, and achieve better student outcomes,” shared Nelson.

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