Students devote years of hard work and tremendous amounts of money to earn academic degrees, and if they are successful they are given a piece of paper which indicates they have a degree, and another piece of paper detailing all the classes they took and the grades that they received, i.e. the transcript. These academic credentials are needed when the student tries to get a job or applies to another school.
However, paper tends to wear and tear over time, to the point that it can become illegible after a number of years even if the student does their best to keep them intact. Also, sometimes students simply lose their degree or transcript papers when moving or cleaning. Considering the years of hard work and the money spent to obtain a degree and transcript, and the potential earnings from them, it is an inexcusable situation that degrees and transcripts are recorded on a fragile medium like paper.
A more permanent solution
Blockchain technology has the capability to store degrees, transcripts, and other academic achievements immutably, so students never have to worry about losing this important information. Indeed, a consortium of world-class universities is now looking into storing transcripts on the blockchain, including MIT, Harvard, Delft University Of Technology, the University of Potsdam, TU Munich, Tecnologico de Monterrey, UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, and the University of Toronto.
This consortium has formed the Digital Credentials collaboration, which has the goal of creating a trusted, distributed, and shared infrastructure to issue, store, display, and verify academic credentials. Although the press release announcing the formation of Digital Credentials does not specifically mention blockchain, the technology described is precisely what blockchain is capable of.
Blockchain technology is able to store information securely and immutably, meaning records can never be deleted or modified. Further, blockchain is perfect for a shared and distributed data ecosystem, specifically permissioned blockchains. With a permissioned blockchain, universities can be given access to issue academic credentials, ensuring that only official sources are writing data to the blockchain. Students can then be given read-only access, so they cannot modify the blockchain but are able to query the blockchain at any time to obtain personal academic credentials. Since only official sources can write to the blockchain, and the data cannot be modified or deleted by anyone else, students and employers are guaranteed that the information on such a blockchain is truthful.
Academic credential pioneers
An excellent example of an academic credentials blockchain in action is Blockcerts, which was developed by the MIT Media Lab in collaboration with Learning Machine and the W3C Credentials Community Group. Only verified issuers of degrees and certificates are allowed to write to the Blockcerts blockchain, and employers or universities can then go to the Blockcerts website and verify the information. Blockcerts records degrees and diplomas, transcripts, exam records, student IDs, and badges for micro-achievements. Blockcerts can use any blockchain to store the data, including popular blockchains like Bitcoin and Ethereum.
One of the greatest strengths of Blockcerts is that students have access to the information for life, as opposed to paper degrees and transcripts which can be ruined or lost. In the case where a student loses their degree or transcripts, they have to contact the university, which costs time and money, and is sometimes impossible due to debts owed to the university like tuition or library holds. Aside from those problems, MIT Vice President for Open Learning Sanjay Sarma notes:
“This can be a complicated problem, especially if the learner no longer has access to the university. Such is the case with many refugees, immigrants, and displaced populations.”
Another advantage of Blockcerts is it accelerates the time to verify academic credentials. In the typical situation, when a student shows their academic credentials to a potential employer, the employer has to contact the National Student Clearinghouse to verify that the papers are truthful. This process takes time and money. With Blockcerts academic credentials can be verified instantly, saving crucial time when a student needs to get a job immediately.
Plenty of other pioneers exist. BitcoinNews.com has written about Irish banks looking to verify employee credentials on blockchain, Singapore issuing degrees on blockchain and Malaysia looking to follow suit.
Further, academic credential fraud is completely eliminated by blockchain technology. There have certainly been cases of people faking academic credentials, simply watch the movie “Catch Me If You Can” to see a true story of such a case. Any paper document can be forged, and if an employer does not go to the National Student Clearinghouse to verify the documents then that employer could end up hiring someone that actually has no academic experience. With blockchain technology such forgery is impossible.
Beyond issuing, storing, and verifying academic achievements, Blockcerts can also be utilized to store work achievements. This can be essential for applying to new jobs and advancing one’s career.
MIT and Central New Mexico Community College have already utilized Blockcerts, giving students the option to download a JSON file to their phone which can then be verified by future employers. These digital diplomas are stored on the Bitcoin blockchain, which is the most widely used and perhaps the most secure blockchain in the world.
Additionally, aside from providing an effective system for issuing, storing, and verifying academic credentials, blockchain technology also protects privacy. Oftentimes centralized databases are hacked, leading to the illicit distribution of student’s and teacher’s personal information, which can lead to identity fraud and permanent damage to one’s credit. Blockchain technology is built on cryptography, and a proper blockchain system cannot be hacked. Therefore, storing student’s and teacher’s credentials and personal information in a blockchain-based database is the safest option.
With the advent of Blockcerts, and major universities like MIT experimenting with storing academic credentials on the blockchain, it is feasible that in the not so distant future the system of paper degrees and transcripts will be abandoned for a superior blockchain system. In such a future academic credentials will never be lost and employers can verify the credentials instantly, leading to a more efficient academic system and a more efficient global economy.
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