Claire University bursts into the Australian HE market

The campaigns for Claire University are surprisingly strong.

Unfurling beneath the slogan “Empowering Futures, Illuminating Minds” the pitch of the latest entrant to Australia’s HE market is of equivalent strength to many of its’ competitors.

“At Claire University, we transcend traditional education by fostering a dynamic learning environment where innovation meets tradition. Our world-class faculty, global perspective, and commitment to student success make us the premier choice for those seeking to ignite their potential. Join us at Claire University, where knowledge becomes a transformative journey.

“Selecting the right university is a critical decision in a student’s academic journey. Claire University in Australia shines as a top choice, offering a blend of exceptional teaching quality, state-of-the-art campus facilities, promising graduate outcomes, and a legacy of accomplished alumni.”

Named in honour of our esteemed Federal Education Minister, the concept of Claire University came to life in Shepparton at around 5am two weeks ago in my head. Within 28 minutes I had generated a slogan, unique value proposition, student support policy and multiple social media posts thanks to our friends at ChatGPT.

The idea was that if universities across Australia are scrambling to revisit their exam approaches in a frenzied attempt to ward off cheating via AI, shouldn’t we also be looking at how AI could change the work of others in the sector?

In a sector as homogenous as Australian Higher Education, where almost every institution offers a similar-looking business degree, or an arts degree, or a science degree, AI is finally going to create an Emperor has got no clothes moment, when we open our eyes long enough to glimpse its mysterious powers.

Here just some of the questions that nobody wants to ask, but lots of people are thinking about, in a sector just recovering from the COVID market insurrection.

  1. If the AI robot can spit out marketing copy in a matter of seconds that is just about as good as the copy that the marketing team produce, why do I need a marketing team?
  2. If the AI robot can come up with a slogan for free that is just as banal as the slogan of most other universities, why do we need to spend six months and hundreds of thousands on an agency to reach a similar result?
  3. If the AI robot can write a student support policy in 30 seconds, why don’t I ditch the policy team?
  4. If the AI robot can write an essay of any length required, and other programs can tweak it to evade your detection software, what is the point of your current teaching and assessment regime?

This is a critical conversation that every university team should be having before Christmas. AI is so good, and developing so quickly, that there hasn’t been enough time to consider what it means for staff across the sector.

Students are leading the way on many aspects of this. While the headlines and the anxiety have largely revolved around cheating, students are now routinely using AI in research – getting bots to power through and summarise articles to identify where students can best invest their time; introducing new approaches to expression that students can learn from and opening up new approaches to communication, expression and creation. After discussing AI with students and staff at numerous universities, it was clear that tools like Chat GPT were not some distant threat, but rather a current and irreversible change to the way we curate, communicate and work.

There are implications for most jobs, but for the sake of brevity I have chosen to just take a closer look at marketing here – because it’s an area most often maligned by peers, but also one where AI is ready to go right now, serving up pedestrian, lookalike content almost instantaneously for free, just as well as any poorly-performing marketing team can.

Yes, The robots can produce pedestrian, unengaging and poorly targeted content just as well as the rest of us, but it is critical to note that they are derivative – and their existence should spell an end to a whole lot of derivative, low-value work. The kind of work that made too much of our sector present as shades of beige.

The kinds of campaigns that have marooned universities way over the horizon of the public’s emotional landscape.

So why would a higher education consultant write a story about the potential of an AI bot to take over his role overnight?

I have worked with more than half of the universities in the sector, have written course guides and websites and brochures for most of them, and have time and again seen significant results when I get permission to write differently, to use new approaches to design and to cut through with content that stands out not because it is expensive, or over-workshopped, but because it is clear and different.

The rear vision mirror of AI can not challenge that skillset for now. Which means that the jobs of marketing teams are safe as long as they commit to relentlessly innovating in a quest to continuously improve engagement and outcomes.

Secondly, the campaigns generated by AI are spawned by a multitude of failed marketing initiatives, as well as the good.

AI should drive a stake through the heart of weak and unsupported HE hyperbole wherever it can be found, and clearly illustrate the importance of pairing research, meaning and audience empathy with words, images and video. Great content is not just inspired, it is also informed by insights into the needs, wants and perspectives of those we seek to enrol or employ. Humans are going to need to drive that effort for many years yet.

The closer I looked at AI output, toying around with content for various institutions, the more I realised that AI was about to take away a whole lot of really dull work and make more sophisticated projects much more highly valued (yes I have looked at what it pumped out for each of yours, and there are some pretty interesting insights to share another time, comparing the AI with the institutional versions).

And as for Claire University? The student support policy is pretty good and there are a whole host of reasons a Year 12 student would choose to enrol. I have created a Facebook presence entirely of ChatGPT content for those wanting to see more. It will be up for a limited time – it’s a little too convincing as a generic Australian institution for it to be left out in the world for very long.

Ways to improve productivity and impact in HE using AI this year

MARKETING HEALTH CHECK: Ask an AI tool to produce a marketing campaign, social media posts, values and strategy for your institution and then compare the results to what you are currently using. If the AI version is better, it doesn’t mean the AI robot is a better writer than you (after all it is an assembler, not so much a creator), but rather than the average of content scraped off the walls of the web is expressed better than your version. You can use it as a benchmarking tool of sorts, and use it to look at what you could do better in all your content.

POLICY SPRING CLEAN: Ask your most capable administrator to generate AI versions of each of your policies and then compare the results with your current policies. The smart money says that your trusty administrator will find a bunch of ways to improve at least one or two of your policies.

TOWN HALL ICEBREAKER: Ask an AI tool to produce an hilarious verse about the Vice-Chancellor and five versions of a marketing campaign for 2024, then vote on the best one.

CHRISTMAS PARTY PREP: Ask an AI tool to provide a two sentence performance evaluation of each staff member and then compare it with your own. If the AI is better then you have a problem. Fix it before the Christmas Party comes along (its going to have a lot more value than discussions about how many platters to order this year).



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