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Oxford Spinoff to Revolutionize Higher Education With Blockchain Technology

A spinoff of Oxford University, Woolf Development, wants to leverage distributed ledger technology (DLT) to disintermediate higher education, Forbes reported.

“We use a blockchain to create efficiencies by managing custodianship of student tuition, enforcing regulatory compliance for accreditation, and automating a number of processes,” said Oxford researcher Joshua Broggi, the founder of Woolf Development, as reported by Forbes. “Our ultimate aim is for this to be a driver of job opportunities and security for academics, as well as a low-cost alternative for students.”

The Woolf website states that Woolf is the first university powered by DLT and that it has been designed to disrupt the economics of higher education and provide new opportunities for both students and academics.

The Woolf platform runs on top of the Ethereum blockchain, but the team behind the project has indicated that it is willing to move to another blockchain.

According to another Forbes article, the costs of four-year institutions in the U.S. have increased by 4 to 6 percent per year since 2000. The cost for Harvard tuition, for example, has gone up from $33,000 in 2000 to about $68,000 today. Blockchain solutions like the Woolf platform are meant to streamline administrative processes with smart contracts, thereby reducing these rising overhead costs.

“Woolf will be a borderless, educational society which reimagines how teachers and students connect,” according to the Woolf website. “It will rely on blockchains and smart contracts to guarantee relationships between students and educators." 

The advantages of DLT for higher education go beyond cost reduction. In fact, the key advantage of DLT is the fact that all records are stored in a tamper-proof decentralized ledger, and permanently available for inspection. Therefore, dishonest people can’t claim a degree from an institution they did not graduate from, and students are protected from the risk that the institution from which they received a degree could go out of business. Also, DLT can simplify the process of accumulating credits from multiple providers over time.

The Woolf platform has the ability to store data on critical interactions between students and teachers, including proof of payment. It can also record information on course and exam performance.

The Woolf platform, which will be available to other partner institutions, could also help other universities to reduce their administrative costs, and free up resources for their core educational mission. “Ambrose, the first college on the platform, will be formed by Oxford academics in the fall of 2018,” as reported by Forbes.

“The plan is for a digital version of Oxford tutorial system at $400 per session,” per Forbes. “If that sounds expensive, it’s less than half of a traditional degree. Future programs could feature larger groups and lower costs.” 

According to the Woolf FAQs, the Woolf platform is suitable for both on-site and online education, including massive open online courses (MOOCs). It’s worth noting that remote online education has obvious advantages for both teachers and students, because it offers everyone options independent of geographical location.

“Underemployment among academics, and poor coordination with students, is the intellectual equivalent of allowing the most expensive real estate in London or New York to sit empty,” according to the Woolf website. “In the same way that we saw Airbnb allow for a more refined allocation of real estate resources, we believe that Woolf can make better use of academic resources.” 

Forbes noted that “professors could earn $50,000 to $100,000 teaching a comfortable online load.”

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