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Graduating Blockchains: Managing Education Credentials on Distributed Ledgers

Resumé padding. False transcripts. Misplaced academic records. These are just some of the problems created by credential management challenges in the education industry.

Blockchain technology offers a solution. Universities and startups are already leveraging the blockchain to help manage credentials, confirm educational history and prevent fraud. Here’s a look at how the education industry is utilizing blockchain technology and why this innovation is so significant.

Challenges in the Education Industry

The education industry suffers from serious credential management challenges.

To understand what they entail, put yourself in the shoes of an employer reviewing a job applicant’s file. The employer has little means of verifying that the applicant graduated from the academic institution they claim to have attended, because there is no central database of names and degrees where this information can be verified. 

The employer could request copies of academic transcripts, of course. If a transcript is authentic, it can serve as proof of an individual’s academic record. But transcripts are not very reliable. They can be lost, forged or contain erroneous information. So, too, can diplomas. 

As a result, employers have to take an applicant’s word for it that the transcript they submit is authentic, since in most cases they cannot request transcripts directly from an institution. Plus, even if they could obtain them directly, doing so for each applicant would be time consuming and inefficient.

Verifying test scores, extracurricular activities and so on is just as difficult. There is no publicly accessible, central database where this information can be looked up.

The root cause of all of these issues is that educational credentials are not recorded in a systematic, reliable or transparent way. Verifying the authenticity of educational records — if you can locate the records at all — is a time-consuming and error-prone process.

Improving Education Credential Management With the Blockchain

This is where blockchain technology can help to improve the education industry. By storing academic records in a decentralized blockchain database, academic institutions can achieve a credential management system that is:

  • Fraud-resistant. Once data is written to the blockchain, no one can change it without the consent of the entire blockchain. Fraudulent modification of data such as grades or graduation dates is virtually impossible if the data is stored on the blockchain.
  • Durable. Academic records that are maintained by a university or college on a centralized database could be lost in the event that the host server breaks or the institution decides to erase the data. On the blockchain, however, the data exists indefinitely and is distributed across a large number of nodes. It can’t be deleted, and the disappearance of a single node or host server would not lead to data loss.
  • Transparent and accessible. Data stored on a public blockchain can be instantly accessed by anyone, from anywhere. By moving educational credentials to the blockchain, an individual’s academic background could be verified instantaneously. In addition, software tools could be created to look up education records automatically on the blockchain. This would make the verification process much more efficient than submitting manual requests to an institution each time a record needs to be obtained.

Learning From the University of Nicosia

The use of blockchain technology in education is not just theoretical. Institutions such as the University of Nicosia are already leveraging it to record credentials. 

This year, the Cyprus-based university announced that it will now publish diplomas for all students on the Bitcoin blockchain. The announcement follows a trial program that the university launched in the spring of 2014, when it started publishing academic certificates on the blockchain. A year later, it began experimenting with blockchain-based diplomas.

By publishing the diplomas of all future graduates on the blockchain, the University of Nicosia ensures that its alumni’s graduation records will remain permanently available and accessible to anyone needing to confirm them.

The University of Nicosia is not the only organization leveraging the blockchain as a solution for credential management. Projects like BadgeChain are developing similar solutions for managing credentials in the education industry and beyond.

Otlw’s publish tool, which provides a solution for managing documents on the blockchain, could also be leveraged for storing education records — as well as other types of data that are important in the academic world, such as research papers.

In short, blockchain technology offers a much more efficient and reliable solution for storing credentials, and provides a foundation for solving long-standing credential management challenges within the education industry.

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