October 2018

LIGHTest Use Case - Using a Trusted Infrastructure to Verify Transcripts

By Andre Boysen, LIGHTest Advisory Board Member

So here’s the problem…You’re a university student who is trying to apply to another university. Simple? Sadly it’s not as simple as university_1 producing a transcript that university_2 can verify.

At the moment a student will have to go to their university and ask for a transcript which is followed by identification of the student and the degree by the university as a minimal assertion. The piece of paper will have a university seal on it which acts as the trust stamp. The problem however is whether another university will believe that trust stamp is real as the data could be easily faked or altered.

University_2 may well not believe the degree is real so they go back to university_1 to make them verify the assertion again, usually line by line. By this point the assertion has been completed twice and the inefficiencies are huge.

The first stakeholder is university_1 who wants to defend their brand and ensure fake degrees aren’t being asserted by liars who would trade on the universities name. The second stakeholder is university_2 who wants to make sure the basis of entry for the student is factual and correct. Initially they are in the place of receiving the degree to verify but once the student finishes, they find themselves in the same situation as university_1. For the third stakeholder, the user/student, they have the hassle of trying to navigate this process, which gets really hard across borders and languages. 2 different institutions with rules that won’t always match up, especially if it’s cross border. The gaps will be expected to be fulfilled by the user and cultural and regulatory differences such as mapping degrees, marks, and language all play a part.

The way it runs now is via a point to point network. The consequence is that trust has be generated and re-verified one transaction at a time, which is highly inefficient. The trust minted as paper claim and marked with a seal is lost as soon as it leaves the registrar’s office.

What does trust mean in this context? A university examining a transcript from another institution has three strict requirements. 1. The transcript came from a recognized university. 2 The transcript data has not been altered. 3 The transcript is being presented by the person it belongs to. There are other requirements in ranking and mapping the courses and marks to the existing syllabi, beyond the prima facia transcript.

What we need is a trusted infrastructure to trust each other’s claims – first time every time. All of that paper checking and people in the process can be removed. And the fake claims are thwarted from the outset.

The benefits of having a trust infrastructure is the network effect. The benefits of the network effect increase with the number of universities that are in the network. Universities have a mutual interest in trusted infrastructure because they each produce transcripts and evaluate transcripts from their peers.

Another use case for trusted infrastructure is industry. Industry has a problem when students take their transcripts to get a job – is the degree real, has it been altered? The university has a privacy concern, too – is it the real student asking for the employer to verify the degree, and is it a real employer?

Students, employers and universities all have an interest in this trusted university degree infrastructure. Lower costs, lower transaction hassle, and trusted claims. Those who need to consume claims are willing to pay because it will lower their costs and increase the trust. Perhaps students could pay something too. A tiered pricing model which is low cost for university and slightly higher for industry is one way to go. Those organizations in turn could assess a fee to the student as they do today or forgo it altogether because the cost is so much lower than the current model.