Blockchain is a relatively new technology with world-changing potential. It was first implemented in Bitcoin in 2009. At the most basic level, a blockchain is a ledger that is maintained by many separate computers, which are called nodes. Information, such as a Bitcoin transaction, is recorded in a piece of code called a block and broadcast to a network of nodes. Once a predetermined amount of information is recorded in a block, computers called miners work on connecting it to the rest of the blocks in the Blockchain.

In order to add a block to a Blockchain, you need to add a number called a hash. This hash depends on the data in the block and the hashes of the blocks before and after it in the chain. Since hashes are interdependent on each other, changing one hash means you must recalculate the hashes for every block in the chain or leave clear evidence it was tampered with.

Additionally, each node maintains its own copy of the blockchain, and nodes vote to determine which copy is valid. To change a blockchain, you’d have to control the majority of the nodes on the network in order to win this vote. Because of hashes and decentralized nodes, users of blockchain know with near certainty that the data in a chain has not been tampered with after it was added. This is extremely useful in a variety of fields. For example, industries from diamonds to food are using Blockchain to make supply chains more transparent, and there is discussion about fusing Blockchain with 5G cellphone networks for increased security.

Perhaps one of the most impactful ways blockchain could be used is smart contracts: blocks of code that execute an action on behalf of a company or individual once prerequisites are met. Examples of smart contracts include automatic payments once products are delivered and automatically charging loan repayments from a customer’s bank account. Their main advantage over traditional they don’t require any human intervention or trusted third party once the contract is added to a blockchain.
One industry that blockchain could impact is academia and higher education, which is what we’ll discuss today. Specifically, we’ll look at blockchain’s potential impact on academic credentials and research collaboration, as well as how academic institutions could shape blockchain in return.

Transcripts and Academic Credentials

One area of Academia that Blockchain could improve is sending academic transcripts and diplomas. Currently, most universities and other institutions that require transcripts or diplomas ask for an official copy sent directly from the students’ school. Unofficial transcripts sent by the student could easily be faked since their origin can’t be verified. Sending transcripts takes time that university administrators could be spending on other tasks, so most universities charge a fee each time a student sends a transcript. I’ve taken concurrent enrollment classes while in high school and have had to send university transcripts for college applications.

Contacting schools and paying fees was an annoying inconvenience, and it would be even more difficult a few years after leaving school, when I might have forgotten my University ID or login information. Getting a transcript or diploma could be even harder if a students’ school has shut down. Transferring academic credentials would be easier for everyone if students could just send their transcripts directly instead of having to go through the school. Unfortunately, this would open the door to fraud, as students could change their transcripts and diplomas, or make fakes.

If only there were a way to store a transcript or diploma so that employers and universities could verify it was legitimate without having it sent directly from the institution that issued it. . . Oh wait! Blockchain can do that! A decentralized blockchain would allow students and employers to access their transcripts and diplomas without going through their university. Since data can’t be deleted from a blockchain, no one would need to worry about credentials being tampered with. Additionally, students could always access their credentials even if the institution that granted them shut down.

To prevent students from putting a fake transcript in the Blockchain, universities could be given login credentials known only by the registrar’s office. This could also serve as a check against diploma mills: fake schools that offer a “degree” for a flat fee and little to no work. Currently, there are X diploma mills in the United States. Often, degrees from these fake institutions listed on resumes are overlooked by employers.

If blockchain diplomas became the norm, and government only gave IDs to post to the Blockchain to trustworthy institutions, degrees from diploma mills that weren’t able to access the Blockchain would be immediately suspect. Additionally, a Blockchain database could make it significantly easier to combine and verify credentials from multiple institutions. In the current system, each University maintains its own unique transcript. If you want to transfer credit from multiple universities, you must contact them each individually. Activities such as summer camps or online courses that are outside the traditional academic curriculum may not have any official certification associated with them. Nontraditional courses that do offer certification don’t have a standardized method of sharing credentials, but they could easily be added to a blockchain database.

Some Universities, including MIT have already implemented blockchain transcripts and diplomas. MIT is continuing research and improve their Blockchain-based digital diplomas. Hopefully a similar system is adopted by many more universities.

Blockchain in Academic Research.

In addition to improving how academic transcripts are sent, Blockchain could greatly impact how academic research is shared and conducted. Currently, many researchers choose not to share the data they collect. In a 2011 survey of over 1000 scientists by researchers from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, 46% of respondents didn’t share any of their data electronically, and only 6% of respondents posted all their data online. Conversely, over 80% of respondents said that they would use other researchers’ data if it was easily accessible. We can see that scientists want to use shared data but are unwilling to share their own.

A 2013 study by researchers from UCLA surveyed 43 respondents asking what conditions would need to be met for them to share data. The two most stated conditions were rights to publish results from the data before anyone else and the assurance that they’d receive proper acknowledgement from anyone using the data. If data were shared through a blockchain database, it would be more difficult to plagiarize.

Since information in a blockchain can’t be tampered with, it would provide a clear record of who posted research data. Agreements on who gets first publishing rights could also be posted to the database, which journals could track to make sure those agreements aren’t violated. Alternatively, smart contracts could be used to withhold papers that use a certain dataset until the initial gatherers of the data have a chance to publish. By tracking who owns what datasets and storing agreements, blockchain could increase trust and collaboration.

Blockchain Courses

A third way blockchain could impact higher education is by being the subject for new courses research projects. Blockchain could impact all industries from cell phone networks to healthcare, and its influence is growing quickly. According to, demand for software engineers with skills in Blockchain grew by 517% in 2018, and 9% in 2019. According to Fortune Business Insight, the global blockchain market was valued at 2.01 billion dollars in 2019 and is expected to reach 69.04 billion dollars by 2027. Someone will need to train the developers who will create blockchain based infrastructure, and who’s better to do that than universities? Many schools are already working to fill this need. lists 51 universities that offer blockchain related degrees and 249 universities that have courses in blockchain. But with nearly 3,000 4-year universities in the United States alone, there is still a long way to go to give all students access to blockchain related education.

How Academia will Impact Blockchain

Although blockchain has amazing potential and will transform many industries, it will likely take decades for those transformations to take effect. Harvard Business Review likens it to TCP/IP, the protocol that underlies the internet. Both technologies are foundational, meaning widespread adoption would change the economy as a whole. However, adopting these technologies on a wide scale requires coordination over large numbers of institutions. TCP/IP started with single use applications of the technology like email, then expanded to localized networks and internet substitutions for existing technologies. Only then could companies like eBay, Google, and Skype use the internet to disrupt industries. This process took over thirty years, and in that time, saw many important innovations coming from universities.

For example, John Vittal created the first email system with the ability to reply to and forward messages while working at the University of Southern California (USC) in 1975. When Paul Mockapetris created DNS, the system that gives websites URLs, in 1983, he was also working at USC. Like TCP/IP, blockchain will likely take decades to truly transform the world. There are many improvements that would make it more impactful.

For example, it’s currently impossible to cancel a cryptocurrency transaction, even before the transaction is complete. Current smart contract code has bugs and oversights that allowed hackers to steal millions of dollars on multiple occasions Like TCP/IP, blockchain will probably benefit from many innovations made at universities. Already, some schools are beginning to conduct important research on Blockchain. For example, Stanford’s Center for Blockchain Research recently published papers on methods hackers could use to get around current crypto-currency security, how blockchain could be used in elections, and a new system that could support 10,000 times as many transactions as bitcoin currently does. Cesare Fracassi, a blockchain researcher at the University of Austin said that academic researchers have “the luxury of thinking more long term” than researchers in industry, who are concerned with immediate profit. Harvard Business Review estimates that it could take decades before Blockchain has truly transformative effects on society and the economy. A long-term view will be necessary to work towards those impactful but far off applications.


Blockchain has world-changing potential. It could impact academia by increasing sharing of research data, being the subject of new courses, and revolutionizing how academic credentials are shared among institutions. However, there is a lot of research that needs to be done for Blockchain to reach its potential, and academia will be at the forefront of the field.

Author's Bio: 

I am a computer science professor. Being a tech enthusiast I keep close tabs on trends and will be glad to share and discuss the latest wrapups in the field with the community.