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Nine Universities Collaborate To Develop Blockchain Based Infrastructure To Manage Academic Credentials

Nine major universities from across the world have collaborated to form a group called Digital Credentials, so as to create a trusted, distributed, and shared infrastructure standard for issuing, storing, displaying, and verifying academic credentials. Sanjay Sarma, the MIT vice president for open learning, said,

“Currently, those who successfully complete a degree from an institution must go back to that institution — sometimes by mail or even in person — each time there is a need to verify the academic credentials earned… 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.”

The Universities involved are Delft University of Technology (The Netherlands), Harvard University Division of Continuing Education (USA), the Hasso Plattner Institute (University of PotsdamGermany), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (USA), Tecnologico de Monterrey (Mexico), TU Munich (Germany), UC Berkeley (USA), UC Irvine (USA), and the University of Toronto (Canada). Diana Wu, the dean of university extension and new academic ventures at University of California, Berkeley noted,

“As teaching and learning offered by our universities has come to encompass digital platforms and as each of our learners have gained the power to shape their own educational trajectory over a lifetime, the question of trusted verification and authentication of learning and credentials poses itself with broad urgency.”

The researchers are using technology that depends on strong cryptography in order to prevent tampering and other such fraudulent activities and shared ledgers to create a global infrastructure for anchoring academic achievements. They are aiming to develop on earlier research and pioneering efforts by their institutions — including MIT’s pilot program for issuing all of its graduates a digital version of their diploma that is verified against a blockchain.

One of the driving forces behind this shared effort is the interest by universities to utilise the full potential of these new technologies to their best advantage in a way that prioritises the needs of learners. Digital credentials will enable learners to maintain a compelling and valid digital record of their lifelong learning achievements that may include badges, internships, boot camps, certificates, MicroMasters and stackable combinations, as well as traditional degrees — all of which they can easily be shared with employers or other institutions. Institutions can also record and track the achievements of their learners in a way that is easy, safe, and inexpensive, and minimises the risk of identity fraud.

“We are well positioned in academia to use cutting-edge technology to empower learners to advance their careers and education with credentials in the palms of their hands,” said Hans Pongratz, senior vice president for IT-systems and services at Technical University of Munich (TUM).

The team has now set its sights on the evolution and governance of a shared standard.  Philipp Schmidt, the director of learning innovation at the MIT Media Lab said,

“Digital credentials are like tokens of social and human capital and hold tremendous value for the individual. The significant opportunity we have today is to bring together institutions that share a commitment to the benefit of learners, and who can act as stewards of this infrastructure.”