The advent of technology has changed the face of the education sector globally. Rapid penetration of the internet has facilitated the push towards online education. This has gained further momentum during the COVID pandemic as online education became the norm. Leveraging emerging technologies such as AI, ML, and big data among others has increased both access and reach of educational institutions manifold. However, it has ushered in a growing wave of privacy concerns and challenges to the authenticity of the documents and credentials shared on the webspace. According to Forbes magazine, there is an old, but fast-growing degree mill industry doing business for an estimated $7 billion a year worldwide from fraudulent diplomas, degrees, and transcripts. In India, these concerns are no lesser with instances of fake certificates, job scams, and related aspects cropping up frequently. Against this backdrop, blockchain as a technology can be a game-changer in ensuring the genuineness of degrees by maintaining a digital record.
Indian case study:
The Enforcement Directorate of India has recently filed a charge sheet under the anti-money laundering law against Himachal Pradesh-based Manav Bharti University and its promoters in a case linked to the alleged sale of fake degrees. The university has allegedly issued 36,000 fake degrees over 11 years for prices ranging between Rs 100,000 to Rs 300,000 (US$1,362-4,085). In March this year, Odisha police unearthed a fake certificate scam and arrested 19 people relating to the case. More recently, 700 Indian students, hailing from Punjab, are under the scrutiny of the Canadian government after being duped by unscrupulous education consultants back home, who had handed over ‘fraudulent college admission letters’ to enter Canada. So, the problems are real that are affecting the lives of hundreds of students with cross-border ramifications. No wonder, the Trends in Education Frauds in India report for 2020 says that fake degree submissions constituted nearly 28 per cent of education discrepancies in India. Universities issuing counterfeit degrees and job aspirants submitting fake academic and experience credentials are not only confined to India. It is rather a global phenomenon.
Blockchain in education:
Apart from fake certificates, blockchain technology can also be leveraged for knowing the validity of different credentials. For instance, records, certificates, and credentials which we acquire have different longevities. Some, like ID cards, are valid for a specific period; others, like skilling certificates, require constant renewal. Also, there are records like certificates that have validity across the lifetime of the data subject. Regardless of the longevities, the documents need to be embedded with a high degree of assurance, enabling trustworthy interactions when exchanged. And this is possible due to the distinct features of blockchain. Firstly, it ensures a decentralized, transparent, and secure system. Each transaction (data) is recorded on multiple nodes, creating a distributed network that is difficult to hack or manipulate. Secondly, it creates a digital and decentralized platform for issuing and storing credentials. Such a feature allows the formation of a repository of digital records. Blockchain technology also enhances data privacy and ownership, by providing individuals control over their data through the use of self-sovereign identities. The stakeholders can choose who can access their data. Given the complexity of data privacy regulations, educational institutions can comply with norms by leveraging blockchain technology. Therefore, it has plenty of scope in the education sector for trust, security, and credentialing of educational records.
Digital records & credentialing:
Educational institutions across the world work in silos with very less centralization of data. Centralisation is only seen in a specific sector without any information sharing within sectors. No central authority in a vast country like India has access to all the students’ credentials for studying in different educational institutions. In this scenario, blockchain can be leveraged to create a repository of digital certificates. Such a repository can be used by various stakeholders including government agencies, enterprises, staffing firms, and educational institutions for authenticating the genuineness of certificates. It can streamline the credentialing process by providing a digital and decentralized platform for issuing and storing credentials. Such blockchain-based digital certificates can also help students access and share their credentials easily with employers, other institutions, and third-party verification services, eliminating cumbersome paperwork, which demands time and resources. Currently, the University Grants Commission (UGC) is planning to set up a National Academic Depository that will centralise all records of students under one platform.
Data privacy & IP protection:
While institutions can utilize blockchain technology to create a decentralized and immutable ledger of credentials and make the verification process easy, these credentials can be anchored on the blockchains securely, preventing the chances of tampering. It will establish trust among all the stakeholders. For instance, the U.S. Congress enacted the Family Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) in 1974 to protect the privacy of students attending government schools. This act allows parents access to their children’s educational records and give them rights to request record amendments and control the disclosure of personally identifiable information. Similarly, the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) of Europe puts the onus of data privacy of students on educational institutions. The National Education Policy of India is also considering similar norms concerning data privacy.
Moreover, educational institutions store vast amounts of sensitive data including records, financial information, and research information. Blockchain technology protects the data from unauthorized access, duplication, manipulation, and sharing..
Fillip to edtechs & cost savings:
Edtechs has emerged as one of the important pillars of the education system globally. In India, this segment plays a critical role in upskilling human resources, increasing the reach of quality education in rural areas apart from enhancing the usage of technology. However, the rapid adoption of such technology platforms has also given rise to instances of fraud. Such frauds can be regulated with the help of blockchain technology. Moreover, blockchain can transform data recording, storage, and sharing process from paper to digital ones. Currently, many educational institutions face issues like verifying the authenticity of academic credentials such as degrees, diplomas, certificates, and examination mark sheets as it is time-consuming and vulnerable to errors owing to its paper-based approach. Leveraging blockchain, these processes can be automated, reducing dependence on manpower and paper-based processes.
Collaborate with technology partner:
Deploying blockchain by educational institutions, however, needs the necessary infrastructure, training of staff, and ensuring interoperability across systems. These challenges can be dealt with by hiring technology providers who maintain global standards. Players such as Dhiway Networks, a blockchain technology company based out of Bangalore, can make the process easy for educational institutions. The company offers digital solutions such as #MARKs against fake certification. In addition to verifiability, this tool gives the issuing authorities the capability to track and trace any educational certificate digitally, making remote validation a reality.
Be it schools or universities, educational institutions, irrespective of their scale and size, can deal with challenges like verification of credentials, preventing fraud, and ensuring data privacy by using blockchain technology. Collaboration with the right technology partner can ease this process to a great extent.