As the demand for highly skilled developers, engineers, and innovators in the blockchain and cryptocurrency arenas is rising faster than Bitcoin, itself, many higher education institutions are stepping up to the plate offering courses, clubs, research lab opportunities, and even degrees.
How Is Higher Education Keeping up with Blockchain?
It is no longer a question of if blockchain will impact the way institutions function, but rather how and to what degree. Blockchain technology is being explored in far more than just the cryptocurrency world, with governments, healthcare, charitable organizations, fashion, agriculture, and more poking around to see how blockchain might be able to solve existing challenges.
With that in mind, it’s no surprise that blockchain has made its way into the higher education system. Blockchain technology is already in use at some institutions in the form of digital credentials, and that’s just the beginning.
The demand for talent in the blockchain and cryptocurrency sectors is pushing many universities to develop related curriculum. Students are well aware of the market and have been a large part of that push. According to CNBC, a student at Stanford convinced 12 other students to petition for crypto courses in 2018. The curriculum created in response filled up and had a waiting list of “more than 50 people.”
Blockchain-based credentials, though still not a mainstream concept, are somewhat old news. Back in February, BTCManager reported on Credly, a leader in digital credentials. Even before that report, several institutions had tested the concept. Central New Mexico Community College delivered blockchain-based diplomas in December 2017. MIT also issued blockchain-based diplomas in 2017 following a test program in 2015.
The University College London and the University of Nicosia have also achieved the feat. Just this month, the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) announced they had successfully delivered their first blockchain-based diplomas, which are accessible to graduates for sharing with any third party they choose via an app. The degrees are verifiable via SmartDegrees, a startup based in Spain. It only seems logical that more universities will follow suit.
Regarding blockchain and higher education, BTCManager detailed several ways blockchain could improve the higher education system, particularly regarding finance.
At this point, it seems quite likely that many of those solutions, as well as solutions for a wide range of industries looking to blockchain for answers, could come from higher education institutions. Research labs are becoming established parts of many learning centers, many of which are networking with industry leaders, developing prototypes, and collaborating across disciplines.
Here is a look at what some institutions are doing to meet the need for talent in blockchain and crypto. By no means is this a comprehensive list, and institutions are listed in no particular order.
Stanford’s approach to blockchain and cryptocurrency includes courses, research, and less formal organizations, like the Stanford Bitcoin Club and the Stanford Blockchain Collective. Classes being offered at Stanford include “Cryptocurrencies and blockchain technologies” in Fall 2018; Cryptography in Winter 2019; and a “Free online cryptography course open to the public.”
Launched by computer scientists at the university, the Center for Blockchain Research (CBR) invites students, faculty, professionals, and other interested persons to collaborate in the mission to take blockchain where it has yet to go. The CBR does outreach and hosts conferences. The organization receives funding from the Ethereum Foundation, Protocol Labs, the Interchain Foundation, OmiseGO, about Stiftung, and PolyChain Capital.
The Stanford CodeX Stanford Blockchain Group edits the first law journal publishing research on blockchain technology in relation to the legal field, Stanford Journal of Blockchain Law & Policy. The journal publishes peer-reviewed articles, along with essays.
The Columbia Blockchain Alliance is the university’s private group of employees, students, and alumni that aims to bring blockchain to multiple disciplines, along with spurring discussion and innovation about the technology. There’s also the Columbia Entrepreneurship Blockchain Studio that encourages and supports experiments and inquiries into blockchain technology. The Cryptography Lab is another component of the crypto community at Columbia.
In July 2018, the university partnered with IBM to form the Center for Blockchain and Data Transparency. In addition to exploring the “policy, trust, sharing and consumption of digital data when using blockchain and other privacy-preserving technologies,” the Center will “incubate business ideas from entrepreneurial students, faculty and members of the startup community.”
University of Nicosia
One shining example of blockchain integration into higher education appears to be the University of Nicosia (UNIC). Based in Cyprus, UNIC lists several “firsts” on their website regarding cryptocurrency, the blockchain, and higher education. Some of these are: first university to accept Bitcoin for tuition payments, first to offer a cryptocurrency course, first to provide a digital currency degree, and early to deliver and store academic credentials on blockchain.
The first course of the program is free and is taught by Andreas Antonopoulos and Antonis Polemitis, both widely known for their Bitcoin knowledge. The course is open to anyone looking for an introduction to digital currency and consists of twelve online sessions. Certificates of completion for the course are issued and verifiable via the Bitcoin blockchain.
To understand MIT’s take on blockchain and cryptocurrency takes little more than knowing that, like it’s Athena project in 1983, which gave students access to computers well before most people had access, MIT gave their undergraduates access to Bitcoin in 2014. They have a Digital Currency Initiative, which aided in creating three courses: Cryptocurrency Engineering and Design; Shared Public Ledgers: Cryptocurrencies, Blockchains, and Other Marvels; and Entrepreneurs without Borders. Course descriptions can be found here.
MIT also offers a six-week online program, “Blockchain Technologies: Business Innovation and Application” for $3,000. The course primarily discusses blockchain regarding economics. Successful completion earns learners a certificate from the MIT Sloan School of Management.
Like the University of Nicosia, MIT has explored digital credentials, with its Digital Certificates Project. In 2015, the project successfully issued certificates to various alumni and employees who were involved in the project. In 2017, this idea had gotten the attention of software development company, Learning Machine, and in partnership with the MIT Registrar’s office, the app, Blockcerts, was created and used to send 111 diplomas to graduates. Blockcerts uses the Bitcoin blockchain and allows students full access to their records as well as allowing employers to verify authenticity without having to go through the institution.
University College London
With Britain reported to be in position to be a significant player in the future of blockchain and cryptocurrency, it is no surprise that University College London’s Centre for Blockchain Technology (CBT) has an impressive range of initiatives. From their Blockchain Startup Observatory, established relationships with authorities like the Bank of Canada and the Federal Reserve of Cleveland, a network of industry alliances, outreach, and an emphasis on multi-disciplinary involvement in discussion and development, the CBT had done a lot since its beginnings in 2015. In 2017, graduates of the MSc Financial Risk Management program were invited to receive a Bitcoin blockchain-based diploma via Gradbase Limited.
European University of Madrid
A private university in Spain, the European University of Madrid, offers a postgraduate program focused on blockchain and Bitcoin. It spans six months and covers the basics, legal issues, security, and project development. Per the website, 89 percent of graduates have a job in less than a year from graduation.
University of Edinburgh
Aimed at getting a running start, the Blockchain Technology Laboratory focuses on solving blockchain-related issues and ensuring that the “maximal potential of the technology can be realized expediently.”
Duke currently offers a blockchain course as part of its law program and another as part of the business program. Additionally, students run an organization called Duke Blockchain Lab that consists of former and current students and professors. Their mission is to educate people on blockchain and “revolutionize the way we exchange value.”
As can be seen from this limited list, blockchain is making its way into universities and colleges, and that momentum will only increase as blockchain secures a stronger hold on how society functions. It is encouraging to see many of these institutions reaching out beyond their walls to include the greater community, whether via groups or free classes, and this, too, seems to be a sign of the promise blockchain holds.