A Blockchain is a chain of packages full of digital information. Each package is called a “block”. The chain has a cryptographic security system that is humanly unhackable. This makes the Blockchain perhaps the most secure storage system in the world today. According to mathematicians and computer scientists, it is safer to store information in the Blockchain than in Amazon’s databases or that of a bank, or even one of the United States Government.
So far, the most common use given to a Blockchain is to power decentralized digital currencies, like Bitcoin, Ethereum or Litecoin, among many others. However, it is important to understand that storing and managing financial assets is neither the only nor the most important purpose for which the Blockchain has been developed. The Blockchain can store all kinds of vital information that needs to be protected.
Among the many new use-cases for the Blockchain, one that is starting to attract the attention of mass media worldwide is storage of university diplomas. Throughout 2017, two cases resounded in the news: MIT and Greek universities. In January 2019, one new case captured international attention: Bahrain. The website of the University of Bahrain has started inviting people to follow the news regarding its new Blockchain Diplomas (http://www.uob.edu.bh/). The reports are being broadcasted by StartUp, Bahrain’s Homepage and its Twitter account.
According to StartUp Bahrain, there has been an agreement between the University of Bahrain and Learning Machine, a company that presents itself as a “world leader in blockchain-secured digital records”. Learning Machine uses “Blockcerts”, a public, open software that grants access to the Blockchain’s data and lets users view graduate diplomas on mobile devices as well as on PCs.
Riyad Hamzah, President of the University of Bahrain expresses on the subject: “We at UOB are delighted to be the trailblazers in using blockchain in the Mena region in order to better serve our students.” Also, Cameron Mirza, Head of Strategy at the University of Bahrain has shared his opinion: “The potential of blockchain goes far beyond cryptocurrency and its potential use within education is both fascinating and exciting” (sources: https://startupbahrain.com, https://twitter.com/startupbahrain/status/1083308731813806080).
Bahrain is a country that has the official name of “Kingdom of Bahrain”. It is an island country in the Persian Gulf. The sovereign state comprises a small archipelago centered around Bahrain Island and is situated between Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Bahrain’s population is 1,234,571, according to last national data of 2010. Recent estimations suggest there must be about 1.5 million inhabitants in Bahrain. Throughout the past decade, Bahrain has been known as a nation that politically welcomes digital advances. Now they are following solid examples set by MIT and Greek universities.
THE EXPERIENCE WITH BITCOIN NETWORK AT MIT
Last year, Chris Jagers, co-founder and CEO of Learning Machine had shared the information about the Massachussets Institute of Technology: “MIT has issued official records in a format that can exist even if the institution goes away, even if we go away as a vendor… People can own and use their official records, which is a fundamental shift”.
This information has been confirmed by an official publication on MIT’s website that indicates diplomas will be accessible through a mobile application: “The App is called Blockcerts Wallet, and it enables students to quickly and easily get a verifiable, tamper-proof version of their diploma that they can share with employers, schools, family, and friends. To ensure the security of the diploma, the pilot utilizes the same blockchain technology that powers the digital currency Bitcoin.”
Jagers has indicated that “MIT began issuing diplomas on the Bitcoin blockchain (BTC) through its Blockcerts platform in an attempt to distribute academic credentials while ensuring resistance to tampering and immutability… The software Learning Machine developed, uses the Bitcoin blockchain, but it’s not the only blockchain around… Bitcoin remains the gold standard for Learning Machine’s purposes because it prioritizes security over other qualities like speed, cost, or ease of use… We believe it’s still the right choice for official records that need to last a lifetime and work anywhere in the world” (source: http://news.mit.edu/2017/mit-debuts-secure-digital-diploma-using-bitcoin-blockchain-technology-1017).
CARDANO BLOCKCHAIN USED IN GREEK UNIVERSITIES
An initiative similar to MIT’s has been seen in Greece but implemented at a higher scale thanks to the Great National Research and Education Network (GRNET), an entity that hosts participation of a high number of public and private universities within Greece. GRNET has been developing a pilot project with the company IOHK, the organization in charge of developing Cardano’s protocol, in order to complete a system that verifies graduate diplomas on the Cardano Blockchain.
An article by Steemi-news announced last year stated, “Given IOHK’s historical ties to academia, it is not surprising to see the company working on a pilot project involving universities. Registering degrees on a blockchain eliminates paperwork and makes it easy to check if someone actually holds a degree.”
The article also explains that, in the case of Cardano, plain text with raw data related to personal identity and degrees, will not be put on the Blockchain in order to protect data privacy. Security and integrity of people will be a priority: “In order to protect the privacy of students, GRNET plans to put only a cryptographic hash of a diploma on the blockchain. This will avoid publishing an entire degree on the blockchain. We can not put plain text on the blockchain because diplomas and transcripts are personal information. We only put hashes; we can put entire diplomas and transcripts, but they will still be encrypted” (source).
UNIVERSITY OF BAHRAIN CHOOSES BLOCKCHAIN
At UOB, President Hamzah says, “As Bahrain positions itself as a technology first country and makes significant progress towards the national 2030 economic vision, I am excited that UOB is playing its role as a pioneer of blockchain and as the regional leader in embracing technology to better serve the country. I would like to also acknowledge support received from colleagues from the Information and Government Authority in Bahrain as advocates of this project.” Head of Strategy Cameron Mirza adds, “From the publication of our transformation plan in 2016, we made it clear that as a University we need to embrace disruptive technology in order to improve our organizational effectiveness and to improve the student experience. Through this collaboration with Learning Machine, I am both excited and confident we can accomplish both.”
There is one universal fact: universities are seen as the pinnacle of knowledge, objective thinking and scientific rigor. Of course, to some extent this is only an ideal as universities are, at their core, human organizations. But the degree of respect and trust they symbolize is not being put in doubt by majorities. Therefore, having universities show trust in blockchain technologies means a lot for those who believe in their future. Bitcoin and Cardano are establishing a robust precedent of real world use with the blockchain while serving universities. Undoubtedly, this precedent will knock on the doors of more and more institutions henceforth.
What do you of universities using blockchain to store such valuable documents?