Much to Learn from Beyond our Borders

In late 2017, the European Commission’s Joint Research Center produced an exploratory study to understand what can enable both the process of awarding, issuing and recognizing degree credentials in an our advancing digital/internet economy.  The report emphasized the immediate need for awareness and individual empowerment in terms of managing one’s own educational portfolio, taking advantage of the benefits of decentralization and new applications, specifically blockchain technologies.

While the majority of attention is currently directed at Fintech as opposed to education, trust in blockchain technology will migrate from finance to education. Large players will eventually shift their attention to education. The implications and applications of trying to outsource trust to technology cannot be accurately forecast, and may well entail complications and side-effects that we can’t currently envisage

Aengus Collins Aengus Collins, Practice Lead, Global Risks, World Economic Forum (2017)

The Foundational Principles

The report was clear in the underlying functions of blockchain technologies in providing new avenues that advance progress in higher education (page 10):

  • Self-sovereignty: the ability to identify oneself while simultaneously maintaining control over the storage and management of their own personal data
  • Trust: a technical infrastructure that gives people enough confidence in its operations to carry through with transactions such as payments or the issue of certificates;
  • Transparency & Provenance: users to conduct transactions in knowledge that each party has the capacity to enter into that transaction;
  • Immutability: records are written and stored permanently, without the possibility of modification;
  • Disintermediation: removal of the need for a central controlling authority to manage transactions or keep records;
  • Collaboration: the ability of parties to transact directly with each other without the need for mediating third parties.

This critical report discusses a wide range of applications and includes use cases from across the globe where blockchain and cryptocurrencies are already being applied in very innovative ways.  One institution, University of Nicosia (the largest university in Cyprus) has begun to accept Bitcoin for students to pay for their master’s degree.  More applicable and most likely disruptive for US institutions are the implications of the underlying blockchain technology to business as usual that include intellectual property, transfer credits, accreditation and the issuing of diplomas, as MIT has already begun, having awarded 111 master’s degrees to students via the blockchain and digital iPhone wallets in Fall of 2017.

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