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Blockchain University – ‘Think uber for students, Airbnb for academics’

Chris Hagerman
Image of a a woman taking an online course, sitting at a desk using her laptop for Blockchain University ‘Think uber for students, Airbnb for academics’ blog post
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What comes to mind when you think about the future of work? Automation? Telework? For me, it’s the gig economy, especially in Higher Education. In Canada, more than 50% of academics work on short term contracts. Though similarly qualified and doing much the same work as their colleagues in the tenure stream, adjunct faculty receive a fraction of the pay and few benefits. They also have minimal job security. Most expect this segment of the academic workforce to expand as digital technologies continue to rattle the Ivory Tower. But what if technologies such as blockchain gave academics stuck in the gig zone a way to refashion the higher education market in their favour?

One group of Oxford-trained academics is working on just such a disruption. They have formed the world’s first blockchain university. Woolf University aims to shift the balance of power from institutions to instructors, while expanding access to quality, Oxford-style tutorial education. To this end, Woolf employs Hyperledger Fabric to automate administrative processes for institutional governance, enrollment, record-keeping, and compliance. It uses Stellar smart contracts to manage payments directly between instructors and students, who connect via a ‘tuition bidding pool’ – an online marketplace where instructors post course offerings and students shop for courses. Efficiencies keep tuition costs relatively low. The tutorial model offers instructors a good work environment and the bidding pool gives them control over workload and compensation.

Woolf University faces many hurdles – starting with accreditation. But if successful, it could change the academic job market, undermining tenure and forcing universities to revise employment practices. It might also provide a path for higher education to shift resources from administration to instruction. This could improve learning outcomes and reduce costs to consumers and governments.

And what of the world beyond higher education? People in sectors shifting to gig work could adapt this model to take control of their terms of employment. If so, we might have to rethink our expectations about the gig economy and its impact on the future of work.

Chris Hagerman
Chris Hagerman

Chris Hagerman is a recovering academic with a background in the history of ancient and modern imperialism. He’s pretty sure someone, somewhere said that past is prologue and he’s keen to see if the saying holds as he applies his experience as a historian to the work of foresight. In his spare time, he writes, makes paddles and skis, and acts as butler to two charming daughters.

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