Following other universities, the University of St. Gallen announced to launch an Ethereum-based verification system to prevent degree fraud and simplify verification processes.

If you want a PhD, you can choose between years of hard work, sweat, and tears, or you can pay money to some degree mill and print out your degree yourself.

Not everyone chooses the challenging route. When investigators in 2010 called the degree of Tang Jun – former president of Microsoft China – into question, they found his degree required no classroom attention and had cost him as little as $2,595 in tuition fees. One year later several of his fellow high ranking senior executives were caught up in degree scams as well.

Academic fraud is a reality – not only in China but everywhere. Fake diplomas are a challenge for recruiters and educational institutions alike. That’s why the University of St. Gallen now wants to leverage blockchain technology to verify academic certificates.

Blockchain provides a low-cost verification system

Harald Rotter, CIO of the university, explains the institution has been planning a blockchain project to validate diplomas since the beginning of 2018. This way, the university wants to use blockchain’s transparency characteristics to prevent fraud and speed up the verification process.

The latter will save the university time and money, as recruiters frequently call up the university and ask for a diploma verification of a job candidate. This process can be time-consuming, as a university employee will have to check the university archives for a particular diploma.

A blockchain-based system can enable recruiters to verify diplomas by themselves, in a straightforward process: Each university graduate receives a diploma in PDF-form. Upon graduation, the university will send this diploma to their business partner BlockFactory, which will transfer it to the Ethereum blockchain and create a hash code. The secured PDF will be returned to the university and handed to the student.

Anyone can then verify a degree via a simple drag-and-drop function at BlockFactory’s website. Rotter confirms that this reduces the time spent to verify a degree from sometimes several hours to just a few seconds.

Implementing the system is neither expensive nor technologically sophisticated, explains Rotter. The university will pay for the implementation out of its IT budget. Sending PDF documents to a blockchain is not a challenging process; however, automating the system will be more difficult, says Rotter.

Other universities have rolled out similar systems

The University of St. Gallen plans to launch its system in mid-October. Basel university is running a similar system, and universities in other countries have taken the same steps – for example the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) and the University of Bahrain.

Likewise, in Malaysia, the Ministry of Education has turned to blockchain technology to combat degree fraud already back in 2018. The ministry has launched a degree issuance and verification system called e-Scroll for Malaysian universities.

E-Scroll is based on the NEM blockchain. According to the ministry, NEM was chosen because of its unique features regarding authenticating and managing traceability. At the participating universities, a QR code is printed onto the certificates which can be used to verify the authenticity of a degree via a website.

The efforts of these universities indicate that it won’t take long until blockchain has found its place in the educational landscape. It provides a transparent, low-cost and easy-to-use application for degree verification, which adds value to universities, degree holders and recruiters.

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