Why self-sovereign identity will increase university demands for a future in lifelong digital credentials
By Fraser Edwards, co-founder and CEO at cheqd, in partnership with Monokee and RANDA Solutions
In the modern era, university students find themselves caught between two worlds. One where their life is still on paper — and another, where their classes, finances, and assignments are all digitized. With an avalanche of data, apps, and online forms, faculties are forcing students to waive their privacy rights unnecessarily to simply register as a student. It is fair to say that most of the time, students and teachers feel like their identity is out of their hands and is scattered across the internet in both paper and digital forms.
Graduates currently live in a world where they can use a digital train ticket to travel to their interview, yet still, be required to carry a physical university degree certificate as proof of qualification. The graduate, through pure instinct, will unknowingly overshare and follow what is asked of them by their new employer. The rules are being set for students by employers and education boards, whether they like it or not. From online submissions to autofill, privacy is becoming even more complex, as many faculties and new employers aim to keep valuable data within their reach.
Self-sovereign identity (SSI) is a decentralized technology that puts individuals back in control of their data. Imagine if a university graduate wanted to share their new digital degree certification with an employer. With SSI, they can send it to the employer instantly in a digital format. Once received, the employer will know only the details the graduate wished to share. When this occurs, the degree still needs to be appropriately verified through official channels. Currently, the graduate would have to send a scanned physical document. However, with SSI, the graduate can send a digital credential already signed by the university, seamlessly guaranteeing the data is correct.
SSI also has the potential to aid in mitigating fraudulent degree claims. CNBC reported that 40 percent of job seekers have lied about their university grades whilst applying for jobs. This not only harms the employer but also the value of the university degree. With SSI, the grade the employer sees will have the university’s approval upon being received, adding a further level of security to the hiring process, by aligning verified credentials alongside a person’s identity, in a digitally encrypted wallet.
Digital credentials are a highly pragmatic form of identification for students studying for qualifications. When a student finishes university, they receive a paper with a breakdown of marks, known as a transcript. In some institutions in the United States, these transcripts are withheld if a student has not paid their outstanding debts. SSI has the potential to aid in preventing faculties from withholding qualifications from students with debt payments by encrypting unrelated parts of a student’s identity. This will help to lower discrimination based on financial status and allow them to earn a higher salary and pay off their outstanding debts in due course.
Unlike a modern-day transcript, a digital credential has the potential to embrace modern technology. It could feature multimedia examples of a student’s work, acting as a living, breathing digital portfolio. This credential could even aid the university experience for students throughout their studies by transferring course credits and making it easier to apply for overseas opportunities. It would transform qualifications to be paperless, private, and universally recognized whilst also aiding in taking personal data away from the faculty and placing it in the hands of the owner.
SSI could be used at universities for another purpose: mitigating data breaches. In March 2022, the University of Essex suffered a significant data breach that leaked the personal information of “more than 400 students.” The data revealed included both contact details and dates of birth. Students trusted the university with their personal information, and this incident highlighted that a student could hand over their most sensitive data, the framework of their existence, and then lose it through no fault of their own. This data breach highlights the importance of society finding a safer, more ethical way to prove identity.
Privacy has always been hard to integrate. It is in a company’s interest to accumulate personal data due to its value in society. The solution is to offer privacy to protect the value of a company’s product or service. SSI can help prevent universities from experiencing data breaches, making it a worthy undertaking of cost at a bureaucratic level and from a student’s perspective.
Indeed, in the past five years, there has been a severe rise in university degree fraud in the UK. The Guardian recently stated that “85 fake university websites have been taken-down in five years.” Fewer people will be willing to spend exceptional amounts of money and time on a qualification that loses its value to fraud. Universities must address these issues that threaten their integrity. Using digital credentials will benefit the student and future employers, who can begin forming meaningful bonds with trusted faculties.
With many examples of identity fraud impacting critical institutions, the European Union (EU) has formed a ‘digital transformation strategy’ in an attempt to combat identity theft and create a safer society by “giving citizens control of their data” and helping to “fight disinformation online.” Seeing a governing body propose digital identity l highlights the need for change within government-led institutions. This will seek to change the global attitude around digital identity by showing other leading organisations how SSI can benefit faculties and future employers across the globe.
“Companies need to ensure students know what they say they know” a comment made by LaDuca, a company known for crafting bespoke dance shoes in central London. The apparent demand for digital credentials is mounting across all industries, especially from companies looking to employ individuals who fit their culture. Thankfully there are global organisations who are beginning to answer the call.
Digital credentials in action
RANDA Solutions, a Tennessee-based organisation, led by CEO Marty Reed, has been searching for a solution to the issue of cross-state teaching in the United States for the past 20 years. On the problems faced by teachers, Kimberly Wilson Linson, Director of Credential Ecosystems, said: “if you are a nurse in Pennsylvania, you can go to West Virginia and be a nurse. Teachers do not have that ability to move across state lines” RANDA Solutions uses digital-based credentials to help teachers transfer states via their Teacher Wallet. A Teacher Wallet is a decentralised digital wallet, which holds a teacher’s necessary paperwork and certifications. Teacher Wallet helps to reduce teacher shortages and improve the quality of employment by catalysing freedom of movement and hiring processes across both U.S. and global borders.
The current system in the U.S. is working against teachers. As Kimberly explains, “every state requires similar credentials, yet applicants still have to go through this process of having those credentials verified repeatedly.” Technology and society are outgrowing the paper-based bureaucracy we have come to expect. Education is feeling exceptional growing pains because of this shift. There is value to be had in digital credentials. With companies working and investing in changing the industry for the benefit of their workforce – the adoption of meaningful solutions is poised to accelerate in the coming years.
For universities, having a basic framework for achievements and how they interact with one another is vital. Throughout a student’s time at university, there are plenty of moving parts; extracurricular, exams, practical projects, and self-care. Every aspect of life is being played out, and the framework for all these achievements must be there.
Monokee is an Italian-based start-up highlighting the importance of building the back end for a future in digital credentials. They plan to “integrate the customer needs” by creating a flowchart connecting individuals’ qualifications and achievements across their many years in education, offering a concise and formal timeline of everything the individual has achieved throughout their studies in the form of a digital credential.
The education sector has always had a strong use case for putting an end to paper-based practices. However, there is still a long way to go before we can fully embrace credentials in the digital world; there is plenty more to build and learn.
Many parts of the education sector are causing a breakdown of privacy protection and freedom of movement. However, there are companies, such as RANDA Solutions and Monokee, who are laying the groundwork to change our education systems—allowing these systems to work for our society once more.
Digital credentials provide the answer to many pressing issues in education. However, its delivery into mainstream sectors via self-sovereign identity will determine its present value to an ever-growing tech-focused society.
About the author
Fraser Edwards (CEO), has a rare skillset, blending technology and business acumen and rarer experience. He has deep consortium and self-sovereign identity knowledge. He’s led the Known Traveller Digital Identity (KTDI) project with the World Economic Forum and Dutch and Canadian governments amongst the stakeholders. He also has blockchain payments expertise through architecting cross-blockchain payments on the Jasper-Ubin project with the Singaporean and Canadian Central banks. Fraser has patents in cross-ledger payments. His career has been a series of unique challenges, one after the other and he is thrilled to be taking on the adoption of self-sovereign identity as his next.
DISCLAIMER: Biometric Update’s Industry Insights are submitted content. The views expressed in this post are that of the author, and don’t necessarily reflect the views of Biometric Update.
biometrics | cheqd | decentralized ID | digital identity | education | fraud prevention | self-sovereign identity | students | verifiable credentials