DEX Series #5 - Academia, managing credentials through blockchain

DEX Series #5 - Academia, managing credentials through blockchain

Technology harbors a great promise to improve education, and numerous new educational venues have already opened due to technological advances (i.e., MOOCs like Coursera, Udemy, etc.). Unfortunately, technology also made fraud in education a lot easier.

Fraudulent claims about academic achievements are still very much present. Besides, the still predominantly manual process of management of a high variety of academic credentials is creating an additional challenge for the field. Academic credentials are the currency that helps get jobs and improve one’s options in life, so leaving them vulnerable and mismanaged is corrosive to society at large. Blockchain just might be the perfect solution.

Old systems, old issues

According to the bestseller “Degree Mills: the billion dollar industry that has sold over a million fake diplomas” by researchers Allen Ezell and John Bear, it is highly likely that more than half the people who claim to have a Ph.D. are being dishonest or got their credentials improperly. In the media, there have been numerous exposed cases, where high profile individuals, from the chairman of the US Olympic Committee to CEOs, have lied about their academic credentials. There is also corruption in higher education that ranges from outright bribery to kinship and lack of compliance, and is of endemic nature (but, as research suggests, it varies between countries and markets).

While we have seen some initiatives to employ blockchain tech for managing university degrees (for example in Italy, Russia, and more recently, Malaysia, and with independents projects like Blockcerts and BCDiploma), there’s still a lack of fully developed systems for issuing, recording and managing academic credentials that would become generally recognizable, portable, verifiable and safe.

Towards more reliable credentials

In an increasingly globalized world, student data portability (credentials being the key), in general, remains a challenge. Consequently, a student’s life can be a drag, as it often relies on long and tedious administrative procedures for managing one’s credentials and other data. Cross-border mobility for students and especially their academic records can even today end up on the level of paper-based exchange - an exchange that lacks security and erodes mobility (rather than promote it). While checking and verifying academic credentials is indeed possible without blockchain, the process remains inefficient and complex. The end result, according to some experts, can be actually foreclosing access and opportunity around the world.

Blockchain technology (specifically the non-fungible tokens – NFTs) provides a solid technological foundation to change that. It enables robust yet simple management of assets. In the context of education, assets are the academic credentials.

No longer just a theoretical concept, solutions like Academia offer blockchain-based certificate management for academic institutions and education providers. Solutions like these transcend geographical borders, specifics of national educational systems, and relentless creativity in fraudulent approaches.

From paper to tokens

Academia provides an environment that fundamentally changes how credentials are being stored. No longer are we talking about paper or some outdated and no longer supported software solution. Rather, the idea is a mapping of the credentials with non-fungible tokens as unique, unbreakable digital assets.

Academia will allow for minting new academic certificates on the part of the issuer (academic or educational institution) in the form of non-fungible tokens. The minting process in Academia will be run through a smart contract, much similar to the one employed in our upcoming decentralized exchange. Both Academia and the exchange are being built on the 0xcert protocol, which allows the same smart contract to be combined even with the functions of an NFT-minter. They both provide their users with transferring functions for their non-fungible assets within the respective platform.

For Academia, this means that creating, issuing, holding, viewing, and verifying academic credentials can be done faster and more reliable. A student can collect his micro-credentials from different courses in his wallet. Once done with the studies, he can send the NFT credentials to the institution that confirms their validity and issues the student his well-earned diploma.

Such a system also decreases complexity and opens opportunity. The management of these crucial digital assets becomes less dependant on specific institutions, as it involves the student, as well. It also means a general reduction of cost due to less complicated processes. Overall, it delivers secure and portable management of academic credentials throughout the educational process and beyond (e.g., in the working environment).

Less hassle, more learning

On the ground, there are tangible assets in everyday life of students. When a student moves through international exchange programs, his credentials would easily follow him wherever he goes. Even everyday study on a local alma mater would be easier, with every exam or another achievement certified as a micro-credential, which can be combined and used as an automatic milestone for issuing a diploma or a masters degree. This means less administrative efforts for both – students and institutions.

It also means a more mobile educational life for students. There is still massive and stressful administrative acrobatics involved when somebody wants to consolidate all the credentials from various institutions in different countries (which might occur through a long period of time). Academia’s approach will also impact the potentials for fraud. Both transparent access to the data and unhackability of smart contracts allow for more effective and reliable tracking of student progress and achievements on actual educational programs, making fraud all but impossible.

Blockchain in education - a growing potential

With both implementations of the 0xcert protocol, Academia and decentralized exchange for NFTs, the management and transfer of non-fungible assets become a reliable, fast, and intuitive tasks.

Academic credentials are an essential aspect of an educational lifecycle but are not the only one that could be addressed with the use of the NFTs and blockchain. There are further potentials that will undoubtedly be explored - ranging from streamlining procurement and other processes that rely heavily on complicated agreements. Several projects mentioned above have started building the future of academic credentials on the blockchain, each with a bit different methodology. While some still in development, their blockchain-run systems are answering to an ever stronger demand by educational institutions for reliable asset management tools.

Easy and user-friendly transfer of non-fungible assets will soon become available on 0xcert-powered decentralized SwapMarket exchange for trading NFTs.

For more on the topic of a decentralized way of trading assets, please check our other episodes of the DEX Series:

DEX Series #1: Tags and IDs
DEX Series #2: Trading and exchange
DEX Series #3: Governance and control distribution of exchanges
DEX Series #4: Centralized vs. decentralized exchange
DEX Series #6: Crypto-collectibles