Today universities are not the lofty ivory towers they once were. Temporary employment is a widespread problem at universities in the western world with many academics working on fixed-term or part-time employment contracts. This situation is even more prevalent at many of the best universities where most academics on insecure employment contracts stand little chance of obtaining full-time, long-term employment. Incumbent stakeholders within the university system benefit from such a model as the threat of unemployment is used to boost productivity whilst at the same time keeping salaries low. Temporary academic employment is however only part of the problem and has been compounded by the expansion of university administrations at the expense of academic staff. Professors are forced to increase their output, often at the expense of quality, and spend less time in direct contact with students. Students, in turn, are expected to pay higher tuition fees if they wish to study directly with a professor and many end up having to shoulder increasing debt as a result. Higher education today thus faces the problems of expanding administrations, poor fixed-term employment opportunities, and a rising student debt. What can be done about it?
As of June this year, a group of academics from Oxford in England have plans to launch the world’s first “blockchain university”. The team, led by Dr. Joshua Broggi, aim to democratize the traditional structure of higher education using blockchain technology and smart contracts. It is envisioned that students enrolled at Woolf University will check-in with a tutor for a predefined subject or course and by doing so execute a smart contract. Smart contracts eliminate and automate administrative tasks such as students’ attendance, credits, refunds, quality control and essay submissions, thereby freeing resources and offering tuition fees that can compete with many of the world’s best universities and colleges. Woolf university founders argue that students will inevitably pay less and will be able to study directly with university professors. For example, fees at Woolf colleges in the US are projected to cost $16800 per year compared to an annual fee of $53000 at some of the more “traditional” US universities. Payment for courses will, in turn, be effected using WOOLF, an ERC20 compliant token distributed over the Ethereumnetwork. At present, WOOLF tokens are said to be fully pre-mined, and 109 tokens will be created during the token sale. Pricing and details of WOOLF token availability have yet to be released
In contrast to other online universities, tutors at Wolf University will adopt an Oxbridge course and collegiate structure in which students will be provided with individual tutorial-led modules either on- or offline. Woolf’s light-paper suggests that the personal attention given to the student in personal one-to-one tutorials is a more effective teaching method than the massive open online courses (MOOC) offered by other online universities. Whether this is the case remains to be determined, however, the project’s current design is being marketed as a “decentralized, non-profit, democratic community” for tutors and that the use of blockchain technology will “provide the contractual stability needed to complete a full course of study”.
Wolf university founders are currently seeking full degree-granting powers in the European Union. They envision that the use of blockchain will suffice to enforce regulatory compliance and provide a high degree of data security for accreditation in Europe. Ideally, Woolf University would facilitate a “Woolf student in Madras with a Woolf tutor in New York earning an EU Woolf degree”.