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University of London and Demos report finds AI could remove the “bottom rung of the career ladder” for new graduates

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A new report from the University of London and cross-party think tank Demos has found that emerging technologies like AI could open up and disrupt career pathways for students by removing “the bottom rung of the career ladder”.

While automation may change or replace entry-level roles, the report argues this could free up new graduates to focus on softer-skills like critical thinking, creativity and personal relationships. It highlights that there is often a disconnect between employers’ expectations and graduates’ capability when it comes to higher-level skills, and AI’s disruption to menial tasks in employment could be an opportunity for students to expand more on the initiative and future leadership skills desired by employers. 

The AI Generation - How universities can prepare students for the changing world
Report graphic - The AI Generation: How universities can prepare students for the changing world

The report, The AI Generation: How universities can prepare students for the changing world, which is authored by Richard Brown, Visiting Fellow at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, found that co-curricular and extracurricular activities, such as work experience, years abroad and participation in clubs and societies, are more effective than typical “employability add-ons” in developing the transferable skills and experiences employers value. The report encourages universities to expand access to these types of activities by building connections with business and civil society and ensuring that students from all backgrounds are supported to take advantage of these opportunities.  

The report includes a suite of recommendations for universities and policy makers on the actions that need to be taken to limit the negative impacts of AI on graduate careers. These include: 

  • Universities need to integrate AI into teaching and learning into their courses to reflect that these technologies will play a bigger role in people’s work lives. 
  • Smart regulation of AI and the impact on university teaching and learning so that changes in technology do not negatively impact the most disadvantaged
  • Government needs to review funding for higher education to enable more co-curricular and extracurricular activities to take place and support the development of flexible provision, such as ‘sandwich courses’, that embed students within employers or give them access to broader experiences to boost their long-term employability prospects. 

Commenting on the report, Professor Wendy Thomson CBE, Vice-Chancellor of the University of London, said:

This research reinforces the vital work universities are undertaking to equip students for a workforce transformed by AI and automation. Universities have a pivotal role to play in ensuring our students have the skills and experiences they need to build successful careers. While we have made progress, this report is a timely reminder that we must move quickly as a sector to build on these initiatives to ensure that everyone is given a fair chance.

Andrew O’Brien, Director of Policy and Impact, Demos said: 

“There is a lot of doom-mongering about AI and technology at the moment, but we cannot put the genie back in the bottle. Demos’ research has shown that providing high quality extracurricular activities, in partnership with civil society, can provide people with the skills they need so that they can thrive, not fear the future.”

“Government must take notice of these trends and ensure that we put in place the long term funding, smart regulation and wider support so that universities can do what they do best. Giving students the knowledge, skills and experience they need to be the best they can be.”

Report author Richard Brown, Visiting Fellow of the School of Advanced Study, University of London, said: 

“We know that technology is disrupting the future of work, and that AI promises more turbulence to come, but the good news is that there are practical, tangible steps that universities can take to equip their students with what they need to succeed – the human skills and judgement that will complement technology.”

“As technology redefines professional roles and career paths, universities have a critical role to play not just in giving students the skills they need to flourish and helping them take the first steps in their career, but in actively leading a wider debate about the future of work, and the skills and education that it will demand.”

The report, The AI Generation: How universities can prepare students for the changing world was launched at the Festival of Higher Education on Wednesday 8 November at the University of London.