Swiss University Rolls Out Blockchain Pilot Project to Fight Fake Diplomas

Swiss University Rolls Out Blockchain Pilot Project to Fight Fake Diplomas

by September 21, 2019

The University of St. Gallen has unveiled a new pilot project for a blockchain-based system that certifies diplomas and verifies their authenticity. The university’s CIO Harald Rotter told CNN Money Switzerland he hopes to issue about 200 tamperproof certificates by next year.

“The first idea began last year, at the beginning of 2018. I saw that it could be necessary and it could be a valid use case to transfer or to make easier to validate our diplomas based on a digital process on blockchain,” Rotter said.

Currently, it can take a company several days to check and verify a candidate’s credentials. With the new system, that process could be reduced to just a few seconds, Rotter said.

For the project, the University of St. Gallen has partnered with Swiss blockchain startup BlockFactory. The university will use BlockFactory’s Certifaction solution that enables educational institutions to create immutable certificated that are registered on the Ethereum blockchain.

Explaining the certification process, Rotter said:

“[Students] will get a PDF [file] from the university that reflects the diploma. Then [the university] transfers that PDF to our business partner. We add security parameters to make it more secure, and our business partner takes care to write the hash to the chain. Our university will get back to you with a new PDF, and that PDF is usable for validation.”

In the long run, the goal would be to deploy the system university-wide, Rotter said.

The University of St. Gallen isn’t the first higher education institution in Switzerland to use blockchain to fight fake diplomas. The University of Basel was actually the first Swiss university to do so, partnering with BlockFactory’s blockchain project Proxeus in 2018.

By September 2018, more than 100 students of the University of Basel had received certificates registered on the Ethereum mainnet blockchain.

According to Rotter, other universities are also exploring the use of blockchain.

“I know from various universities [in Switzerland that are testing blockchain],” he said.

“[The University of] Basel was the mastermind, in my perspective. Prof. Dr. Schär [of the Center for Innovative Finance of the University of Basel] was the first one to do this service, to establish and develop this service with our business partner. He gave us the idea and we followed his track.”

Besides universities in Switzerland, several other education institutions around the world have experimented with blockchain. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which began issuing graduate certificates on a blockchain app in 2017, has since delivered over 2,000 blockchain-based credentials.

In June, a Canadian tech institute said it will grant digital diplomas to more than 4,800 graduating students. The Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT)’s class of 2019 will receive the blockchain-based documents along with their traditional parchments.

Fake diplomas and embellished work experience are a big and global problem. In 2015, the New York Times reported on a billion-dollar industry consisting of 3 300 “diploma mills.” These were fake universities that sold certificates for all levels of degrees, worldwide.

A recent BBC investigation found that one online platform operating from Pakistan sold more than 200,000 fake certificates in 2015, making US$51 million that year alone.


Featured image: Graduates, via Pixabay.