President Aoun: In the AI revolution, higher ed must be relevant—or risk becoming obsolete

Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun, second from left, was a featured speaker Monday at a summit hosted by the New England Board of Higher Education. Joining Aoun for the session were, from left to right: Scott Carlson, senior writer for The Chronicle of Higher Education; Tara Amaral, senior vice president of talent acquisition at Fidelity Investments; and Maura Dunn, vice president of human resources and administration at General Dynamics Electric Boat. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

At a summit in Boston on Monday focused on strategies to increase college graduates’ career readiness, Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun said advances in artificial intelligence and robotics leave U.S. higher education institutions with two choices: embrace this reality, or become obsolete.

Aoun pointed to estimates that AI and automation will wipe out millions of U.S. jobs—up to 50 percent in the coming decades. “If indeed we are right that there is an AI revolution that is going to displace jobs, higher education needs to be relevant. Otherwise it becomes obsolete,” he said.

“If we don’t want to become obsolete, we have to lead. And that’s our opportunity.”

“If indeed we are right that there is an AI revolution that is going to displace jobs, higher education needs to be relevant. Otherwise it becomes obsolete.”

Joseph E. Aoun President of Northeastern

Aoun was a featured speaker at a summit hosted by the New England Board of Higher Education. The organization’s Commission on Higher Education and Employability is focused on strengthening the employability of New England’s graduates, work that involves aligning institutions, policymakers, and industry around this goal. The summit—titled “Employability: A National Imperative,” and held at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston—served as an opportunity to discuss these efforts and the commission’s recently released draft recommendations.

In opening remarks, Michael K. Thomas, president and CEO of the New England Board of Higher Education, highlighted the need to equip graduates with the skills and attributes to keep up with the fast-paced and evolving digital economy. He said, “Our purpose today is to answer a critical question: How do we ensure that our colleges and universities continue to be the primary and most effective source of outstanding talent for our cities, states, and region, and the organizations and businesses…

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