Researchers set sights on a new standard for issuing, sharing, and verifying academic credentials
IRVINE, Calif. – April 23, 2019 – While digital technology has started to transform education by enabling new learning pathways that are customized to each individual’s needs, the way that educational institutions issue and manage academic credentials has not changed much. Nine leading universities announced today that they have formed the Digital Credentials Collaboration in order to create a trusted, distributed, and shared infrastructure standard for issuing, storing, displaying, and verifying academic credentials.
“Currently, those who successfully complete a degree from an institution must go back to that institution—sometimes by mail or even in person—each time there is a need to verify the academic credentials earned,” said Sanjay Sarma, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) vice president for open learning. “This can be a complicated problem, especially if the learner no longer has access to the university. Such is the case with many refugees, immigrants, and displaced populations.”
The universities working on this effort include Delft University of Technology (The Netherlands), Harvard University Division of Continuing Education (USA), the Hasso Plattner Institute (University of Potsdam, Germany), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (USA), Tecnologico de Monterrey (Mexico), TU Munich (Germany), UC Berkeley (USA), UC Irvine (USA), and the University of Toronto (Canada).
“Alternative Digital Credentials (ADCs) fill an important gap between learning and work-relevant skill verification. The adoption of an ADC system will allow universities to achieve greater alignment with the demands of both students and local economies, making universities more accountable for what they produce,” said Gary W. Matkin, Ph.D., Dean of Continuing Education and Vice Provost of Career Pathways at UC Irvine. “Young adults are demanding shorter, relevant education that they can put to immediate use. Industry hiring practices will increasingly depend on digital searches for job candidates and ADCs will make those competencies easier to discover.”
Using technology that relies on strong cryptography to prevent tampering and fraud, and shared ledgers to create a global infrastructure for anchoring academic achievements, the researchers plan to build upon earlier research and pioneering efforts by their institutions — including MIT’s pilot program for issuing all of its graduates a digital version of their diploma that is verified against a blockchain.
One of the driving forces behind this shared effort is the interest by universities to utilize the advances brought by these new technologies in a way that prioritizes the needs of learners. Digital credentials allow learners to maintain a compelling and verifiable digital record of their lifelong learning achievements that may include badges, internships, bootcamps, certificates, MicroMasters and stackable combinations, as well as traditional degrees—all of which they can easily share with employers or other institutions. Institutions can record and manage the achievements of their learners in a way that is easy, safe, inexpensive, and minimizes the risk of identity fraud.
“We are well positioned in academia to use cutting-edge technology to empower learners to advance their careers and education with credentials in the palms of their hands,” said Hans Pongratz, senior vice president for IT-systems and services at Technical University of Munich (TUM).
The team has now set their sights on the evolution and governance of a shared standard. “Digital credentials are like tokens of social and human capital and hold tremendous value for the individual. The crucial opportunity we have today is to bring together institutions that share a commitment to the benefit of learners, and who can act as stewards of this infrastructure,” said Philipp Schmidt, director of learning innovation at the MIT Media Lab.
“Our shared vision is one where academic achievements, and the corresponding credentials that verify them, can open up new pathways for individuals to become who they want to be in the future,” said José Escamilla, director of TecLabs Learning Reimagined at Tecnologico de Monterrey.
To learn more about this project, visit digitalcredentials.mit.edu
About UCI Division of Continuing Education
The University of California, Irvine Division of Continuing Education (DCE) provides lifelong learning
opportunities to thousands of students worldwide each year – fulfilling the school’s
60-year curriculum platform to connect degree programs to the world of work and achievement after
graduation. The Division offers a broad range of certificate programs, specialized studies, and
sequential courses to local, regional and global markets through online, on-campus and on-site
delivery. A leader in the open education movement, the Division offers free
Online Open Courses (MOOCs) and content through the
UCI Open initiative.
For more information about UCI Division of Continuing Education, visit ce.uci.edu.
About the University of California, Irvine
Founded in 1965, UCI is the youngest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities.
The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier
research, innovation, and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 36,000
students and offers 222 degree programs. It’s located in one of the world’s safest and most
economically vibrant communities and is Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing
$5 billion annually to the local economy. For more on UCI, visit