- The most ambitious uses for blockchain in higher education could disrupt the industry
- From improving record-keeping to better maintenance of records and even seamless payment transactions, new ways to apply blockchain technology in the higher education sector are emerging all the time
Blockchain, a buzzword with revolutionary potential, is a public ledger that automatically records and verifies transactions. Also known as distributed ledger technology (DLT), it is the fundamental building block that powers Bitcoin, Ethereum, and other virtual currencies. Then there are all the other ways DLT could transform various industries, with much of its potential uncovered amidst the pandemic. Even the education sector is reaping the benefits of blockchain technology these days.
In 2017, the University of Melbourne started using blockchain to issue digital student credentials, enabling students to share verified, unchangeable copies of their qualifications with employers and other third parties in a tamperproof system. Ironically, in 2019, Gartner conducted a CIO survey where they asked higher education respondents their opinion about deploying blockchain technology in an educational framework.
Only 2% of all the respondents responded that they had already deployed blockchain while an additional 18% said that they were going to do so within the next 18 to 24 months. At the time though, a majority 47% said that they were “not interested” – and they wanted to wait.
Gartner’s VP Terri-Lynn Thayer says higher education CIOs should remain curious about blockchain’s potential. “Focus on practical uses for blockchain in the near term, while keeping an eye on its long-term transformative potential,” says Thayer. “The more ambitious use cases have the potential to disrupt the entire education ecosystem,” she added.
So what will some of these “more ambitious use cases” of blockchain in the higher education sector look like?
The most promising use case for blockchain in higher education is to transform the “record-keeping” of degrees, certificates, and diplomas – making credentials digital and placing them under the learner’s control, without the need for an intermediary to verify their authenticity. Blockchain could be also used for accreditation of educational institutions – a complex process in many countries – enabling them to verify the quality of institutes, or qualifications of individuals to teach.
The technology’s ability to improve record-keeping also makes it a natural fit for solving intellectual property (IP) management problems, for example, by using DLT to determine if an idea or invention is unique or to register IP assets, copyrights, and patents.
Records of education achievements
Blockchain-based university diplomas are a great leap forward, but perhaps the ultimate use case is the creation of a virtual transcript or record of all educational achievements throughout one’s entire lifetime. A verifiable lifetime transcript would reduce CV fraud, streamline student transfers between universities, reduce the overhead related to credential verification, and make moving between states and countries less complex. This kind of initiative goes beyond record keeping and seeks to streamline processes, making it an efficient play.
Since processing student payments is labor-intensive and may involve the student, parents, scholarship-granting agencies, financial institutions, governments, and educational institutions, DLT makes the process a whole lot easier. In fact, the blockchain will allow students to store their very own cryptocurrency funds – which should be usable over time to pay for their higher education fees.
Although a lot of educational institutions are reticent about accepting crypto as payment there is some exception like King’s College in New York City was one of the first universities in the world to start accepting cryptocurrency fees. This step also eliminated all of the hidden fees.
Teaching and storage space
Given its versatility, blockchain technology can take care of a lot of interesting tasks. For example, lessons, courses, tests, and quizzes can be coded into the tech and executed on their own when all of the qualifying conditions are verified. The smart contract feature of a blockchain can easily verify when the task has been completed, making it an ideal tool for evaluating students.
Besides that, blockchain technology can also be used by universities and students to get access to more storage space. Since not all institutions can afford to purchase terabytes of cloud storage for all of their files, blockchain can provide an affordable and seamless file storage solution.