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Ripple’s $50 Million Fund Brings Blockchain Studies to Higher Education

Sometimes, you know a new technology has truly “arrived” once it becomes the subject of research in major business and engineering schools.

To that end, Ripple, which uses a blockchain platform to provide currency transfers, is giving several major business schools grants to study blockchain development. The company is offering more than $50 million to fund academic programs at 17 colleges, including the University of Texas, Austin (UT) McCombs School of Business.

At UT, Austin, for example, the Ripple grant will support the college’s blockchain initiative at Texas McCombs, a new program that will foster research on blockchain technology’s potential across several disciplines such as business, engineering and law. The college will receive $2 million from Ripple for its program.

“Academia has been lagging behind blockchain research,” said Cesare Fracassi, a McCombs associate professor of finance and the blockchain initiative’s director. “There’s a strong demand to talk and teach about blockchain [technology], which is driven by interest in cryptocurrencies.”

UT has been active in blockchain education development issues. Its MBA-level class has been fully subscribed, and the college will now offer an undergraduate class on the subject. In April, the school hosted a national blockchain conference for some 300 attendees that featured speakers from Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Walmart Inc., Merck & Co., IBM, the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance, the United Services Automobile Association (USAA) and Ripple, together with academics, practitioners and students to debate and explore the business opportunities and challenges of adopting blockchain technology. 

“Demand for blockchain learning, research and project-based experience is at an all-time high among university faculty and students, and this gift will go a long way in fulfilling that demand,” said Fracassi.

As an incubator for talent, research and development, academia will play an important role in the future of blockchain applications. Many of the greatest advances in technology such as the semiconductor and internet have come from this environment; then they often find their way into the private sector as major colleges have arms that license and finance new technologies.

Academia also serves as a testing ground for filtering out the best and worst in a nascent technology. Graduate research often points the way under rigorous inquiry while undergraduate courses provide basic training.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Oxford University, for example, offer online courses on blockchain technology. IBM is offering free courses to students and educators through its academic initiative. Cornell University; Duke University; Georgetown University; Princeton University; Stanford University; the University of California, Berkeley; and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign are also offering courses.

Academia has traditionally been a critical driver of technical innovation,” said Eric van Miltenburg, senior vice president of global operations at Ripple. 

Despite the enthusiasm around blockchain courses, the technology will never be a cure-all, despite how many new students engage with it.

“Blockchain is a promising technology, but it doesn’t mean it can be applied to everything,” noted Fracassi. “It can be viable in some settings, but not all.”

And the Ripple grants are not without controversy. Ripple Labs, the company’s licensed money services business, is currently being sued by investors in a class-action lawsuit. The lawsuit alleges that Ripple’s token is actually an unregistered security. Several regulators around the world, including the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, are researching whether cryptocurrencies should be treated and regulated as securities.

(The company replied that the action is “an opportunistic suit that lacks merit. We feel confident that the claims regarding XRP are completely unfounded both in law and fact.”)

Other colleges slated to receive Ripple grants include the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School; MIT; Princeton University; University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business; the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; the University of Oregon; the University of Waterloo, Ontario; University College London; Korea University; the University of Luxembourg; the Australian National University College of Law; Fundação Gutulio Vargas, Brazil; the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay; the International Institute of Information Technology, Hyderabad; the University of Nicosia, Cyprus; and the Delft University of Technology, Netherlands.

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