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Technology can help lock out fake certificates

Tuesday September 17 2019

By JOHN WALUBENGO
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We are approaching twenty years into the new millennium, the so-called digital millennium, and yet one area of our lives remains extremely stuck in the analogue age.

The way universities and colleges issue certificates for their various degree awards is still as manual as it were a thousand years ago when the first university was created.

The traditional way of issuing certificates remains the analogue, by way of collecting a hard copy that is signed by both the vice chancellor and the academic registrar - and appended with a seal from the university registrar’s office.

These manual documents always look nice and authoritative. However the truth of the matter is that they can easily be minted from tricksters based at our not so famous Nairobi River Road.

Several certificate printing mills have been busted over the years from River Road but their ability to imitate degrees from globally-famous universities remains, complete with graduation gowns and pictures. This assures them of continuous business.

A prospective employer would not be able to differentiate between a PhD certificate from the real Oxford University and the fake one from this notorious street.

Indeed they must do due diligence by getting in touch with Oxford University in the UK, but the verification process is time consuming and fraught with data protection procedures.

Easier and more efficient

Clearly there must be an easier and more efficient way for those issuing certificates (universities), those receiving the certificates (graduates) and those verifying the certificates (employers) to collaborate and achieve their objectives in a digital framework.

Blockchain technology is simply an immutable digital infrastructure that keeps a record of history. That history may be money (e.g. Bitcoin), it could be land transactions or any other event of interest that requires enhanced integrity.

In our case, educational transcripts and certificates of graduates would be a perfect candidate for hosting on a Blockhain infrastructure.

In such a system, the Commission of Higher Education (CUE) would play a leading role in what would be a private blockchain system.

All the private and public universities would form a consortium, each of which would be in charge of running their local node or server that is digitally identified and issued with credentials from CUE to participate in the blockchain.

Using these digital credentials, the respective universities can then subsequently issue digital identities to the graduating class and write their academic details or transcripts onto the private blockchain.

When the graduate meets a prospective employer, they would simply share their digital identity, thus providing consent to the employer to access and verify their credentials online.

Universities can actually get paid for each verification query that hits their servers from prospective employers.

Such a system would eventually wipe out the River Road printing mills since the manual certificates they print out would not have a corresponding entry on the online blockchain infrastructure.

It is perhaps high time we redesigned our certificate issuance system across all levels of learning.

Mr Walubengo is a lecturer at Multimedia University of Kenya, Faculty of Computing and IT.

Email: [email protected], Twitter: @Jwalu