Erasmus University aims to store student credentials on blockchain
Once regarded as the hottest trend in tech, blockchain technology is now seen by some as a solution in need of a problem. A multidisciplinary team at Erasmus University believes the technology can be put to good use in the form of a digital wallet for students to store their courses, grades and extracurricular activity. They can then use an app to manage their validated profile and make it available to potential employers. This should also help to prevent and counter diploma-related fraud.
For those less familiar with the technology: in short, a blockchain is a kind of digital ledger that can store all types of information, ranging from contracts to digital currencies such as bitcoins. The resulting structure of the online digital file ensures that the data isn’t easily altered by other parties, making it practically immutable. This makes blockchain ideal for storing information that needs to be accessible and trusted by a number of different parties.
And precisely that is the case with student credentials, says Rajarshi Chakraborty, innovation manager at EUR’s Central Information Office: ‘More and more we see students shaping their education by taking courses in more than one faculty or even university. After graduation they often pursue additional courses that are not part of an academic program, but can still be valuable for their CV, such as executive education courses or MOOCS. To offer the sought-after freedom, universities and other educational institutes needs to have flexible and interoperable systems that can communicate to each other. Because of this absence, students are often restricted from perusing their studies in different places. Additionally, not having a way to verify completion claims can lead to fraud, which in turn undermines trust in – and the reputation of – the system.’
‘Another trend is that, especially after the introduction of the new European data protection law GDPR, organisations are required to give individuals access to their own data – and also make sure there are options to manage that data. Blockchain technology could be a good tool to achieve that. One of the positive side effects of the digital wallet we are aiming to create is that it can reduce the number of requests for diploma and certificate data. Right now we are still processing those manually. This has the potential to make our back offices more efficient.’
The trusted status of the validated vault, which is currently in its conceptual design phase, would also be interesting to future employers and even recruiters, the team acknowledges. With the app the team envisions, students would eventually be able to decide if they want to open up their full profile to everyone, or just one employer. Alternatively, they can opt to anonymise their public profile and have better control on what data is shared with whom.
The team still sees some challenges ahead. “It is an untested technology and an unpaved path. This design sprint is an opportunity for us to learn about the technology in the context of the university and to learn how to work in sprints. We’ll take what we learn from the sprint in deciding on the next steps.”