The value of industry-university partnerships in blockchain and crypto development

Blockchain and crypto can provide a rewarding and fulfilling career option for students

Over the last five years, education around blockchain and cryptocurrencies has become part of globally accessible curricula. In fact, 56% of the world’s top universities now offer at least one blockchain course — significant growth beyond the days where ‘hype’ dominated industry discussions and led to surging coin prices.

However, data tells us we must expedite the teaching of financial technologies, including blockchain and crypto, otherwise we face a growing skills gap. For instance, almost one-third of businesses told Deloitte that a lack of blockchain talent is holding back their technology strategy. Although the answer to this problem seems straightforward, we must be careful not to pursue a ‘quick fix.’ Instead, we need a sustainable approach to engaging academia and enriching students’ careers in the industry.

This calls for greater work and collaboration between universities and industry. By working together, we can provide opportunities for student talent to access the industry, conduct research and play a role in future innovation — all the while closing the growing skills gap.

Following best practice

Success is not dependent upon a partnership alone, but being able to demonstrate clear value within curricula and research papers. From an industry perspective, it’s critical to find the balance between encouraging students into the industry without acting overtly in your own interests. As seen with the advent of the internet, the best collaboration often comes from enabling students to develop and hone their blockchain skills and interests, and be ready to use these in real-world business environments. That said, there are partnerships of this kind already in existence which other universities and industry players can mirror and benefit from.

In less than two years, Ripple’s University Blockchain Research Initiative (UBRI) has grown to nearly 40 leading university partners around the globe, supporting more than 200 research projects and 95 new or modified courses across 16 countries to date. The programme educates and arms students with the technical tools and skills needed to demonstrate the significant role fintech can play in solving the world’s biggest financial problems.

Its work with University College London (UCL), for instance, has supported the launch of the INATBA COVID Task Force, which brings together the global blockchain ecosystem to identify deployable solutions that address governmental, social and commercial challenges caused by COVID-19. Most recently, UBRI’s work with UCL has led to blockchain students exploring the evolution of blockchain technology and the strides made to address sustainability issues by way of a machine learning-based scientific literature review.

Creating a more representative industry

Critically, the value of these partnerships can extend beyond initial research support and student engagements. Collaboration between industry and academia can help to address much wider industry challenges, too – such as diversity and inclusion in fintech. Traditionally, finance and technology has been predominantly white and male, and research suggests change is slow to materialise. By encouraging students to participate in the fintech ecosystem – whether it’s through the medium of careers fairs, podcasts or clubs – universities and industry can present the rewarding career opportunities ahead of them in blockchain, cryptocurrency or similar.

UBRI, for instance, is long ahead of this growing skills gap through its work with historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to help foster a fintech industry that’s representative of the diverse thought, background and experiences needed to build the workforce of the future. Last year, Ripple entered into a five-year partnership with Morgan State University to develop curricula and host academic courses and conferences through its Center for the Study of Blockchain and Fintech Innovation.

While in the UK, UBRI has been working with the University of Oxford’s Foundry on delivering courses in python, data science and machine-learning, encouraging more women into the field of emerging technologies. Ultimately, the future of blockchain technology rests upon creating the most diverse pool of engineers possible, and industry-university partnerships like UBRI are making this a reality.

 Driving change together

The World Economic Forum predicts the skills professionals will need by 2022 will have shifted significantly. In fact, by 2030, we’ll need to reskill one billion people in order to take advantage of industry 4.0 technologies like AI, blockchain and cryptocurrencies.

And yet, while we’re certainly heading in the right direction by engaging talent at the university level, it’s clear that this work needs to be accelerated. With a growing need for talent to enter the industry to keep the wheels of innovation turning, industry and universities need to work together to engage with a broader set of students.

As in the case of UBRI, this means demonstrating the opportunities within blockchain education, the enriching career path on offer, and how it can be accessible for students of all cultures and creeds. Only through this mutual endeavour can we establish a positive future for blockchain whereby the technology delivers on its potential.

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