Blockchain degrees: How academia is incorporating the technology in education


Nobody’s earning master’s degrees or PhDs in blockchain… yet. But the day might soon be coming, as a growing number of mainstream colleges and universities begin offering courses and programmes focused on distributed ledger technology.

While the earliest blockchain experts were often self-taught, programmers and entrepreneurs later found education tracks at blockchain conferences or online classes at organisations such as the Linux Foundation or IBM. EdX now features courses that allow students to earn certificates in blockchain from the University of Hong Kong, the University of California-Berkeley or the University of Queensland. Other online learning sites such as Coursera, Udacity and Udemy also offer crypto courses.

However, it’s still early days for more extensive blockchain curricula.

“Universities in the past have been notoriously slow to pick up on new technologies; by the time committees are formed, programmes are designed, and courses are listed, the technology they’re teaching is already obsolete,” the site Accounting Degree Review reported. “It took long enough for universities to establish accounting information systems degrees, and even those are still a lot more rare than conventional tax, finance, and auditing specialisations.”

The site lists 11 institutions – Cornell, Duke, Georgetown, MIT, NYU, Princeton, RMIT, Stanford, UC-Berkeley, the University of Illinois and the University of Nicosia – that are offering a variety of courses focused on blockchain. It adds: “Quite simply, any university business school or computer engineering school that doesn’t offer courses, and eventually whole programmes, in blockchain, [is] going to be left behind. More importantly, their students will be left behind in the job market.”

According to a review by Coinbase in August, “42 per cent of the world’s top 50 universities now offer at least one course on crypto or blockchain”. The company’s findings came from a survey conducted with London-based ad-tech company Qriously of 675 students in the US, along with interviews and research into the course offerings of leading educational institutions around the world.

“Students are flocking to classes on cryptocurrency and blockchain — the ‘distributed ledger’ technology that makes decentralised financial systems work — motivated in part by a hot job market for graduates with training in those fields,” Coinbase reported. “Universities, in turn, are forming research centres and adding more crypto-related courses, in part to meet rising demand and also because they now see cryptocurrency as an area worthy of serious academic study.”

Blockchain was listed as the number-one fastest-growing skill in the US freelance job market by Upwork earlier this year (although it’s interesting to note that blockchain did not appear in Upwork’s third-quarter update). Compared to demand in 2017, blockchain by the middle of this year had seen year-over-year growth of more than 2,000 per cent, Upwork reported.

“Blockchain… shows huge potential for businesses, causing a spike in demand for experts familiar with the technology,” Upwork said in announcing its second-quarter skills list.

In addition to the universities listed above, other schools now offering classes in blockchain or cryptocurrencies include Columbia, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, the National University of Singapore, Northwestern, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, UC-Los Angeles, UC-Santa Barbara, the University of Copenhagen, the University of Edinburgh, the University of Maryland-College Park, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Sydney and the University of Texas-Austin.

For now, US colleges are most likely to offer such courses – only 27 per cent of international universities currently do so, the Coinbase survey found.

“Academia isn’t known for moving quickly,” Coinbase said. “But professors say that the maturation of blockchain and cryptocurrency and their adoption by businesses and other groups over the last few years has made it clear that it’s a field with the potential for wide-ranging impact. And that’s causing universities to take it seriously.”

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