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Blockchain for Academic Credentials: What’s in Store

Blockchain for Academic Credentials: What's in Store

Students devote years of hard work and tremendous amounts of money to earn academic degrees, and if they are successful they are given a piece of paper which indicates they have a degree, and another piece of paper detailing all the classes they took and the grades that they received, i.e. the transcript. These academic credentials are needed when the student tries to get a job or applies to another school.

However, paper tends to wear and tear over time, to the point that it can become illegible after a number of years even if the student does their best to keep them intact. Also, sometimes students simply lose their degree or transcript papers when moving or cleaning. Considering the years of hard work and the money spent to obtain a degree and transcript, and the potential earnings from them, it is an inexcusable situation that degrees and transcripts are recorded on a fragile medium like paper.

A more permanent solution

Blockchain technology has the capability to store degrees, transcripts, and other academic achievements immutably, so students never have to worry about losing this important information. Indeed, a consortium of world-class universities is now looking into storing transcripts on the blockchain, including MIT, Harvard, Delft University Of Technology, the University of Potsdam, TU Munich, Tecnologico de Monterrey, UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, and the University of Toronto.

This consortium has formed the Digital Credentials collaboration, which has the goal of creating a trusted, distributed, and shared infrastructure to issue, store, display, and verify academic credentials. Although the press release announcing the formation of Digital Credentials does not specifically mention blockchain, the technology described is precisely what blockchain is capable of.

Blockchain technology is able to store information securely and immutably, meaning records can never be deleted or modified. Further, blockchain is perfect for a shared and distributed data ecosystem, specifically permissioned blockchains. With a permissioned blockchain, universities can be given access to issue academic credentials, ensuring that only official sources are writing data to the blockchain. Students can then be given read-only access, so they cannot modify the blockchain but are able to query the blockchain at any time to obtain personal academic credentials. Since only official sources can write to the blockchain, and the data cannot be modified or deleted by anyone else, students and employers are guaranteed that the information on such a blockchain is truthful.

Academic credential pioneers

An excellent example of an academic credentials blockchain in action is Blockcerts, which was developed by the MIT Media Lab in collaboration with Learning Machine and the W3C Credentials Community Group. Only verified issuers of degrees and certificates are allowed to write to the Blockcerts blockchain, and employers or universities can then go to the Blockcerts website and verify the information. Blockcerts records degrees and diplomas, transcripts, exam records, student IDs, and badges for micro-achievements. Blockcerts can use any blockchain to store the data, including popular blockchains like Bitcoin and Ethereum.

One of the greatest strengths of Blockcerts is that students have access to the information for life, as opposed to paper degrees and transcripts which can be ruined or lost. In the case where a student loses their degree or transcripts, they have to contact the university, which costs time and money, and is sometimes impossible due to debts owed to the university like tuition or library holds. Aside from those problems, MIT Vice President for Open Learning Sanjay Sarma notes:

“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.”

Another advantage of Blockcerts is it accelerates the time to verify academic credentials. In the typical situation, when a student shows their academic credentials to a potential employer, the employer has to contact the National Student Clearinghouse to verify that the papers are truthful. This process takes time and money. With Blockcerts academic credentials can be verified instantly, saving crucial time when a student needs to get a job immediately.

Plenty of other pioneers exist. BitcoinNews.com has written about Irish banks looking to verify employee credentials on blockchain, Singapore issuing degrees on blockchain and Malaysia looking to follow suit.

Further, academic credential fraud is completely eliminated by blockchain technology. There have certainly been cases of people faking academic credentials, simply watch the movie “Catch Me If You Can” to see a true story of such a case. Any paper document can be forged, and if an employer does not go to the National Student Clearinghouse to verify the documents then that employer could end up hiring someone that actually has no academic experience. With blockchain technology such forgery is impossible.

Employment credentials

Beyond issuing, storing, and verifying academic achievements, Blockcerts can also be utilized to store work achievements. This can be essential for applying to new jobs and advancing one’s career.

MIT and Central New Mexico Community College have already utilized Blockcerts, giving students the option to download a JSON file to their phone which can then be verified by future employers. These digital diplomas are stored on the Bitcoin blockchain, which is the most widely used and perhaps the most secure blockchain in the world.

Additionally, aside from providing an effective system for issuing, storing, and verifying academic credentials, blockchain technology also protects privacy. Oftentimes centralized databases are hacked, leading to the illicit distribution of student’s and teacher’s personal information, which can lead to identity fraud and permanent damage to one’s credit. Blockchain technology is built on cryptography, and a proper blockchain system cannot be hacked. Therefore, storing student’s and teacher’s credentials and personal information in a blockchain-based database is the safest option.

With the advent of Blockcerts, and major universities like MIT experimenting with storing academic credentials on the blockchain, it is feasible that in the not so distant future the system of paper degrees and transcripts will be abandoned for a superior blockchain system. In such a future academic credentials will never be lost and employers can verify the credentials instantly, leading to a more efficient academic system and a more efficient global economy.

 

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Former Zuckerberg Classmate and Binance CFO Slams Facebook’s Crypto Intentions

Binance CFO Wei Zhou has taken a swipe at Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg accusing him of targeting cryptocurrency as his next monopoly after recent hints at a FB cryptocurrency in the making.

Although there are yet to be any official announcements from Facebook, there have been past media reports talking up a possible ‘Facebook Coin’, and the company has been seen to advertise vacancies for blockchain experts. Now, more than 40 people are reportedly working in Facebook’s blockchain division, and the company continues to talent hunt for experts in the fields of engineering, product and business development, blockchain, cryptocurrency, and legal.

This hasn’t amused the Chinese venture capitalist and boss of the biggest cryptocurrency exchange in the world. Zhou claims that Zuckerberg has no interest in propagating further interest in crypto through the medium of Facebook with a ready audience of over 2 billion, but simply wants to dominate the space. He argues that ‘Facebook is not a community-driven organization’ adding:

“Their goal is to wall off other people from coming into their system. Their goal is not to open up their system to other people.”

The two entrepreneurs are not unknown to each other.  Zhou attended Harvard with Mark Zuckerberg and in 2004, Zhou was amongst the first group of students who signed up for the college networking website, pre -Facebook launch. Far from being decentralized, Zhou envisages a potential Facebook crypto project as centered around the Facebook CEO;

“I don’t think it’s in Zuckerberg’s DNA to let go. The mindset is very clear from day one if you’ve read the book, watched the movie, see what he does. Even the way he lives — before he moved into the neighborhood, he bought every house in that neighborhood.”

“It’s going to be a closed Facebook ecosystem,” he adds.

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Analysts See 2019 as the Year of Institutional Crypto Investment

A number of investment funds and cryptocurrency firms are lauding 2019 as the year of institutional investor, 24 hrs before its arrival.

Many see large scale investment being re-examined in 2019 after being scared off by Bitcoin’s December dip. Wall Street notably stood back from the brink prior to the end of the year with Goldman Sachs’ much-publicized plans to open a crypto trading desk called “top-of-the-market-hype thinking” by one New York executive.

Nasdaq is already supporting crypto exchanges and the company is certainly not new to cryptocurrency’s underlying technology, blockchain. Apart from its long-term relationship with blockchain startup, Chain, it has recently announced a collaboration with cryptocurrency exchange Gemini.

Downunder, Henrik Andersson, chief investment officer of Apollo Capital Fund is upbeat on the prospect: “During the coming year we will see a gradual adoption from institutions,” he said, adding “We have the first US university endowments investing in funds” referring to major universities’ announcements that they were to invest in cryptocurrencies.

Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Stanford University, Dartmouth College, and the University of North Carolina (UNC), have all made investments from their endowments into at least one crypto fund in 2018.

Another Australian, Every Capital’s director Tom Surman believes that the institutional phase has already begun, adding, “Massive retail offerings and institutional investors are probably the only groups that can meaningfully move the needle on the crypto market cap from here on.”

“The fact that David Swensen [Yale’s chief investment officer] put an investment into bitcoin — with his reputation on the line, his endowment on the line — tells you something…Some of the smartest people in the investing world think it’s a store of value,” said Mike Novogratz, who had been talking up the industry for much of 2018.

Around the world, national banking institutions continue to dabble with the crypto adoption, mainly as a step towards side-stepping internal financial complexities caused by sanctions or recession, but most banks are reticent to commit to launching cryptocurrencies of their own.  Most prefer to watch and wait.

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Alumni College Donations in Crypto Have Their Own Problems

Colleges and Universities around the world have experienced an increase in the amount of alumni donations being made in cryptocurrency.

Most, if not all, donations appear to be made by alumni wanting to share their good fortune in their digital currency investments. Last year was a fantastic year for crypto, as investors either seasoned or totally new to the concept of digital currencies and Bitcoin, made their fortunes very quickly.

It appears that many of these educational institutions were reluctant to take these, not so hard-earned, donations and some needed convincing.  Nicolas Cary, the co-founder of wallet creation website Blockchain, says his donation of 14.5 Bitcoin to his old alma mater, the University of Puget Sound in Washington State, was hard fought:

“I had to do a little bit of convincing for them to accept it. They wanted to dig in about how it works and what the process would be. We had a lot of conversations.’’

The problem appears to be that many colleges in the US simply don’t have a process for receiving such donations. This is particularly baffling as the cryptocurrency industry is young in both its own existence and the average age of its adherents, which in turn increases the likelihood of the alumni making donations using alternatives to the dollar.

Even Ivy League colleges such as Yale and Harvard who have recently announced crypto investment funds claim it becomes much more challenging in terms of creating a process for alumni donations. Harvard as yet hasn’t received a crypto donation, although Yale would like to do but hasn’t yet established a method of implementation.

Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Stanford University, Dartmouth College, and the University of North Carolina (UNC), have all made investments from their endowments into at least one crypto fund.

Some of the reasons for the reticence up to this point can be put down to media hype; being associated with some of the bad press that occasionally sticks to crypto and other factors such as some of these currencies’ past volatility. Add to this, dealing with the IRS, and the donations can seem less attractive than those made in hard cash. However, with the recent crypto fund adoptions by some of America’s most respected educational institutions, this is likely to change.

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5 Top Unis Follow Yale Down Crypto Investment Path

Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Stanford University, Dartmouth College, and the University of North Carolina (UNC), have all made investments from their endowments into at least one crypto fund. These are some of the highest caliber universities in the United States, all with endowments in excess of USD 1 billion, and can be considered institutional investors. These five universities follow the lead of Yale University, which invested some of its USD 30 billion endowment in two crypto funds, Paradigm and Andreessen Horowitz.

It was reported that David Swensen runs Yale’s USD 30 billion endowment, whose choices are copied by institutional investors worldwide. That appears completely true, with the sudden investment of five other major United States universities into crypto. Harvard University has the biggest endowment in the United States at USD 36 billion. MIT has an endowment of USD 15 billion, Stanford University USD 25 billion and UNC USD 3 billion.

These endowments represent a significant amount of money relative to the total crypto market cap of USD 203 billion as of 11 October 2018. Of course, only a small fraction of these endowments have been invested into crypto but if successful then more will likely be invested. Now that these academic heavyweights have invested into crypto, it is likely that other endowments across the United States will soon diversify into crypto, as well as other institutional investors.

The entrance of major universities into crypto investment is one of the first positive confirmations that institutional investors are dipping their toes into the crypto space. Institutional investment has been hyped as the likely cause of the next big crypto rally. The currently low crypto prices, with Bitcoin sitting near USD 6,000, represents an opportunity for institutional investors to buy in and get the most bang for their buck.

Jon Victor, the journalist who originally broke this news, says, “A move by endowments into funds that will directly bet on cryptocurrencies signals a major shift in investor sentiment toward the asset class, in the same way that institutions over the past decade became more willing to invest in private tech companies. Backing from such closely watched institutions could help validate cryptocurrencies, which are still considered too risky by many institutional investors.”

 

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