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Blockchain university launched by Oxford academics

The world’s first ‘blockchain university’, Woolf University, is being launched by a group of Oxford academics. It will be organised via an app, allowing individual students to connect with academics through methods such as one-on-one Skype tutorials and eliminating the need for a physical campus.

On its website, it is described as a “borderless, educational society” that is “meant to disrupt the economics of higher education”. Its developers labelled it as “Uber for students, Airbnb for academics”.

Academics will be able to advertise their services on the app, whilst students can select modules that would eventually enable them to acquire credits towards undergraduate degrees, placed on the blockchain.

The University will follow the Oxford collegiate system. The first college, Ambrose College, will be formed by 30 academics, primarily Oxford staff or alumni and is set to launch towards the end of 2018.

The university aims for 80% of its faculty members to be doctorate holders from universities ranked in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings top 200. Tutorials and lectures will be conducted over Skype or similar platforms, with students writing two essays per week.

There will be full three-year courses; two tutorials a week, over three eight-week terms. Admission to Ambrose College will be granted through interview, similar to the Oxford application systems currently in use, although all future colleges will be able to set their own admission requirements.

Jonathan Duquette, academic adviser for for Woolf and research fellow at Wolfson College, Oxford, told Times Higher Education: “In the very beginning what we will be offering is a series of classes for students at existing institutions to come and have an experience with us as Oxford academics.

“Hopefully in time, Woolf University itself will gain in prestige, and we hope that in 10 years from now a qualification from our university is enough to be formally recognised.”

Its developers labelled it as “Uber for students, Airbnb for academics”

In terms of pricing, it is estimated that the cost per tutorial could be between $150 and $400, totalling at an annual cost of $19,200 if the higher prices are put in place.

However, Joshua Broggi, Woolf’s director and a junior research fellow at Wolfson College, has told Cherwell that they are “intending to offer our future degrees to on-site students in the UK at a rate which is below the 2018 home fees rate of £9,250 per annum, and to keep class sizes to one or two students.”

One-to-two tutorials at Ambrose may instead be offered for $250, making the annual fee $12,000, or £8,540. This would allow for academics’ incomes to be between $48-96,000. Students and academics will be connected through “smart contracts”, handled on the app.

Broggi told Times Higher Education: “The advantage of working with blockchain is that we can automate a range of administrative procedures and reduce overhead costs.

“Our ultimate aim is for this to be a driver of job opportunities and security for academics, as well as a low-cost alternative for students.”

On its website, Woolf University says that of the funds raised, 35% will go to the university’s core leadership, 25% to academics who will build the first college on the blockchain, and 40% will go towards “various aspects of institutional development and promotion”.

Woolf hopes to provide solutions to the various problems now faced by academics; not only low salaries but the issue of short term contracts that are rife throughout Russell Group universities.

According to Broggi, 63% of the faculty and over 80% of researchers are temporary at Oxford, having “adverse consequences for their families, for their quality of life, and for their finances.”

This new platform seeks to more efficiently employ and allocate academic resources, whilst providing academics with stable employment options, greater security and control over their contracts, “distributing money more transparently, democratically and justly”.

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