8 Benefits of Verifiable Digital Certificates for Educational Institutions
Cases of fake credentials are on the rise. In January 2018, the BBC reported that thousands of UK nationals had acquired fake academic credentials from a “diploma mill” in Pakistan, many of whom claimed to be NHS consultants and nurses. In 2019, a 49-year-old Singaporean man was jailed for using fake degrees to land jobs at 38 different companies which each paid a monthly salary of SGD9,000. And most recently, an investigation in 2020 revealed that 1 in 3 Pakistani pilots had fake licenses.
The threat of forged credentials is devastatingly real. Reputation, trust, and the health and safety of people are at stake and we must always be vigilant against such fraud. But the question remains – how will employers even know if a degree certificate a potential candidate provides them with is genuine from the get-go?
Enter OpenCerts, Singapore’s solution to this problem.
WHAT IS OPENCERTS?
OpenCerts is an open-source schema developed by GovTech Singapore in cooperation with the OpenCerts Consortium.
Developed in 2018 and powered by the blockchain network, Ethereum, OpenCerts supports the publication of cryptographically protected credentials. In layman terms, the OpenCerts schema is used for issuing and authenticating tamper-proof, digital academic certificates. OpenCerts is an open-source schema where educational institutions can easily verify digital copies of every single academic certificate that has been or will be issued using this schema. The Ethereum Blockchain, being a public ledger that is not owned nor maintained by any centralised entity, ensures that the records made on it is not altered or destroyed.
Since its development, at least 13 of Singapore’s tertiary institutions including the National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University, and Singapore Management University, have begun issuing certificates using the OpenCerts schema.
HOW DOES OPENCERTS WORK?
So, how does the OpenCerts create digital, verifiable, certificates? Here’s a simplified step-by-step breakdown of the process.
Step 1: Creating the certificate
When a digital certificate using OpenCerts is created, a hash (unique ID) for the document will be generated. The hash is generated based on the contents inside the certificate, so any changes to the certificate’s content will generate a different hash.
Step 2: Issuing the certificate to the OpenCerts blockchain
The certificate’s unique hash will then be published onto, and the certificate issued, to the blockchain. The certificate will then be distributed by the education institute to its students.
Step 3: Authentication or Revocation
If students or employers want to verify the authenticity of the digital certificate, they will drag and drop the OpenCert file into the online verifying portal.
The verifying portal will first check if the OpenCert file has been issued on the blockchain.
The verifying portal will then hash the OpenCert file’s contents and compare it to the original hash that was previously appended on the blockchain in Step 1.
If both hashes match, a verifying portal will indicate that the OpenCert file is authentic and it hasn’t been tampered with.
If the hashes don’t match, the certificate will fail its authentication and the verifying portal will indicate that the uploaded certificate is not verified. The verifying portal will also provide the reasoning for failing to be verified, such as changes were made to the contents of the OpenCerts file or if the certificate hadn’t been issued by an educational institute on the blockchain to begin with. A certificate that failed the verification checks indicates that it is likely to be a fake degree.
BENEFITS OF USING OPENCERTS
The benefits of using verifiable degree certificates can be appreciated by 3 groups of stakeholders: Students, Educational Institutes, and Employers.
Benefits for Students
- Easily stored and retrieved
OpenCerts digital certificate and transcript can conveniently be downloaded from students’ emails as a .opencerts file and stored on their computer like a normal digital file. Students no longer have to worry about searching for lost paper certificates for a job interview.
Building on the previous point, the digital nature of the OpenCerts file allows students to store their certificates forever, meaning that students will no longer have to worry about expensive replacement fees for their lost paper degree certificates.
As an example, replacement fees for physical academic certificates from tertiary institutions in Singapore can cost up to SGD100 or USD72. When compared to OpenCerts, the cost for creation and issuance of a each OpenCerts file is nearly negligible.
- Curating a digital portfolio of achievements
The days of physically laminating, filing, and storing hard copies of certificates and official transcripts are over. Students will be able to curate multiple degree certificates from different institutes digitally, as well as maintain a verifiable record of all their achievements for their prospective employers.
- International mobility
With an OpenCerts file, international students can effortlessly share their credentials with foreign employers, immigration offices, and universities. These parties will be able to conveniently access and verify the certificate by simply dragging and dropping the OpenCert file into the verifying portal like that provided by Accredify to determine if the degree certificate is authentic or not. Within seconds, the results of the verification be will displayed. As such, OpenCerts significantly improves international mobility by allowing critical documents to be verified without any delay.
Benefits for Educational Institutes
- Cost reduction
Using an OpenCerts provider helps education institutes substantially cut down the costs associated with printing physical certificates. These costs includes the material expenses and time and effort spent sourcing of printing services. Some of Accredify’s customers have cut down the amount of manpower and time spent on preparing degree certificates by up to 30% when they transitioned to OpenCerts.
- Remove the risk of forgery and fraud
Universities will be able to avoid tarnishes to their reputation for having alumni who changed the contents of their degree certificate or created fake degrees for job applications. With OpenCerts and tamper-proof degree certificates, universities will have one less worry on their minds when convincing employers of the authenticity of their graduates’ certificates.
Benefits for Employers
- Employer assurance
With OpenCerts, companies will no longer have to worry about the risk of employing individuals with fraudulent credentials. Hiring managers can conveniently download the .opencerts file via e-mail and verify it in the verifying portal available on the education institute’s website. With a simple drag and drop of the OpenCert file into the verifying portal, employers can check and be assured of the authenticity of their applicants’ credentials.
- Affordable and time-effective
Instead of spending large sums of money to use notaries or employ background screening services to ensure the authenticity of degree certificates and achievements, employers can simply verify the .opencerts file for free on the education institute’s website.
In the same vein, using third party verifying services are extremely time consuming as it may take up to two weeks to a month for the verification of job records or academic credentials to be complete. With OpenCerts’ tamper-proof degree certificates, authentication is instantaneous.
HOW DO I ISSUE AN OPENCERTS FILE?
To date, GovTech has only provided the open-source schema and a verifier portal for authenticating documents on the OpenCerts’ website. There isn’t a quick and easy way for education institutes to create and issue OpenCerts file without having to dive deep into all its intricacies as well as to maintain, upgrade and secure the system.
However, there are some private system providers in the market, one of them being Accredify. If you’d like to take a tour of how our product works and how it can help you create verifiable digital certificates and credentials, feel free to reach out and schedule a demo with us.
Authenticating documents such as digital certificates used to be a manual and time-consuming process. But when the necessary technology and software is available, numerous stakeholders can benefit from a world where document management is simple and secure.
Headquartered in Singapore, Accredify is a SaaS company that supports organisations in their document lifecycle management and ensuring their documents are easily verifiable. With a dedicated team that embraces the highest standards of customer service, security, legal compliance, Accredify’s objective is to be the trusted solution for managing and verifying documents anywhere and anytime.