China Considers Revoking Degrees for AI-Assisted Dissertations


  • China is considering revoking degrees if students use AI like ChatGPT in dissertations to combat academic misconduct.
  • The proposed law highlights AI’s challenges in higher education, sparking debate on ethics and innovation.
  • Universities may need clearer AI guidelines and improved detection tech to maintain academic integrity.

China is contemplating a significant legal shift in higher education that could reshape the way artificial intelligence (AI) is used by students in academic pursuits. Under a draft law on academic degrees, the country is considering revoking degrees if students are found to have employed AI tools, such as ChatGPT, in the composition of their dissertations. This move marks a notable attempt to tackle the challenges posed by AI in higher learning and raises important questions about the role of technology in academia.

Academic misconduct under scrutiny

The proposed legislation, a departure from regulations dating back to 1980, aims to address a range of academic misconduct, including plagiarism, forgery, data falsification, and a new addition – “artificial intelligence ghostwriting.” If passed, this law would place universities’ degree evaluation committees in the pivotal role of deciding whether AI was used improperly, potentially leading to the annulment of qualifications.

AI’s growing influence in Chinese education

While ChatGPT is not officially accessible in China, circumventing restrictions and utilizing other generative AI models based on large language databases is not uncommon. This legal initiative reflects the evolving landscape of education, where AI-driven technologies are becoming increasingly integrated into the learning process.

Scholarly perspective

Liu Deliang, a distinguished law professor at Beijing Normal University, acknowledges AI’s challenges to higher education. He emphasizes that existing regulations have already addressed various forms of ghostwriting, making the inclusion of AI in this context a noteworthy addition. However, distinguishing between “artificial intelligence assistance” and “artificial intelligence ghostwriting” remains a complex task for both degree evaluation committees and detection technologies.

Balancing innovation and regulation

One prominent issue arising from this development is the differentiation between research tasks, such as literature reviews, and actual writing. This distinction is crucial as universities grapple with the ethical use of AI in academic work. Another challenge lies in balancing preventing academic misconduct through mandatory measures and guiding students in appropriately utilizing AI tools. This delicate equilibrium is a point of contention among educators and policymakers.

Guidelines for ethical AI use

One potential avenue for addressing these challenges involves the formulation of clear guidelines that inform students when and how AI may be employed in their academic pursuits. Establishing a framework for distinguishing between legitimate AI assistance and unauthorized ghostwriting could provide clarity and direction for both students and educators.

Universities may also need to invest in AI detection technologies to identify instances of AI-driven ghostwriting. Developing and refining such tools are essential to maintaining the integrity of academic work. These technologies must evolve to keep pace with the ever-advancing capabilities of AI.

The case for innovation

Despite the potential pitfalls, some academics argue for an open approach to integrating AI into education. They contend that AI can stimulate innovation and enhance the learning experience when used ethically and responsibly. The challenge, then, is to find ways to encourage innovative use while discouraging misuse.

China’s proposed legislation concerning the use of AI in academic dissertations reflects the evolving landscape of higher education in an increasingly technology-driven world. While the legal shift raises questions and challenges regarding the ethical use of AI, it also underscores the importance of finding a delicate balance between regulation and innovation. 

As educators and policymakers navigate this complex terrain, the focus remains on ensuring that students receive a quality education while maintaining the highest standards of academic integrity. The fate of this legislation will likely influence how other nations address similar challenges posed by the growing influence of AI in education.

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Written by Brenda Kanana