Key Figures of 2023


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  • Sam Altman, co-founder of Loopt and head of OpenAI, reshaped higher education in 2023 through the global impact of ChatGPT despite facing a temporary setback in an AI ethics dispute.
  • Theo Baker, a Stanford freshman, exposed ethical lapses involving the university’s president, Marc Tessier-Lavigne, leading to Tessier-Lavigne’s resignation and highlighting the growing importance of college journalism in ensuring accountability.
  • Edward Blum, founder of Students for Fair Admissions, secured victories against Harvard and UNC, challenging affirmative action policies and signaling a broader campaign to eliminate racial preferences throughout US society.


Several influential figures emerged in 2023, leaving an indelible mark in the higher education sector. These individuals, spanning diverse backgrounds and continents, have played pivotal roles in shaping debates and driving significant changes. 

Sam Altman

Sam Altman, known for co-founding the social networking site Loopt and later spearheading OpenAI, stood at the forefront of transforming key figures in 2023. Despite lacking a university degree, Altman became a driving force behind OpenAI’s ChatGPT, a product that triggered extensive discussions within academic circles. 

Even a temporary setback during an AI ethics dispute did not derail Altman, highlighting the profound impact of ChatGPT on universities globally. As the implications of AI in education unfold, Altman’s influence promises to shape the sector for years to come.

Theo Baker

A Stanford University freshman, Theo Baker showcased the growing importance of college journalism in ensuring institutional accountability. With a sense of moral duty, Baker exposed questionable ethics in research publications involving Stanford’s president, Marc Tessier-Lavigne. 

His investigative efforts led to a university inquiry and resulted in Tessier-Lavigne’s resignation. Despite facing legal threats, Baker’s commitment to journalistic integrity earned him the distinction of becoming the youngest recipient of a George Polk Award. His story underscores college journalism’s crucial role in holding institutions to ethical standards.

Edward Blum

Edward Blum, founder of Students for Fair Admissions in US higher education, emerged as a formidable figure challenging affirmative action policies. Raised in a liberal Jewish household, Blum’s belief in equal treatment regardless of race-fueled his activism. 

In 2023, he achieved significant victories against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, signaling a shift in the ongoing debate. With plans to extend his influence beyond academia, Blum aims to eliminate racial preferences throughout US society, leveraging his success in challenging affirmative action.

Sakhela Buhlungu

Sakhela Buhlungu, vice-chancellor of the University of Fort Hare, took a bold stand against corruption within South African universities. In a region plagued by leadership challenges and corruption, Buhlungu’s commitment to addressing fraud within his institution was met with deadly consequences, including the assassination of staff members. 

Undeterred, Buhlungu declared, “The fight continues. We are not going to stop.” His resilience in adversity highlights the urgent need for reform in South African higher education.

Sabyasachi Das

Sabyasachi Das, an economist at Ashoka University, exemplifies the challenges to academic freedom faced by Asian scholars. His publication on alleged interference by India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in election results sparked controversy, leading to a political storm and the end of his career at Ashoka. 

Despite receiving support from the academic community, Das’s resignation serves as a cautionary tale for government-critical academics, highlighting the precarious nature of academic freedom in certain regions.

Megan Davis

Megan Davis, a UNSW Sydney lawyer, captured attention with her keynote at the Universities Australia conference. Co-author of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, Davis advocated for Indigenous rights and an advisory body in the Australian constitution. 

Despite widespread support, the referendum to enshrine these changes failed, prompting reflection on the role of universities in broader societal issues. Davis’s impactful presentation raises questions about the responsibility of universities in shaping the socio-political landscape.

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Brenda Kanana

Brenda Kanana is an accomplished and passionate writer specializing in the fascinating world of cryptocurrencies, Blockchain, NFT, and Artificial Intelligence (AI). With a profound understanding of blockchain technology and its implications, she is dedicated to demystifying complex concepts and delivering valuable insights to readers.

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