Blockchain technology has become a very popular topic for college students to study. So it didn’t take long for universities to form alliances with corporate donors to create centers for blockchain study.

The infusion of corporate support gives the participating colleges the capital to rapidly expand blockchain class offerings. In turn, the corporate partner gains access to a wide talent pipeline of blockchain college graduates.

Most centers for study will likely replicate proven models of academic-industry collaboration and design curriculum, data sharing and conferences with a firm focus on the big picture, Eric Ghysels, an economics and finance professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, tells ThirtyK.

University-corporate collaborations have themselves become the subject of academic studies that have parsed best practices and success factors.

The latest example of such a partnership came this week when Columbia University and IBM announced the creation of the Center for Blockchain and Data Transparency. Its stated goals include fostering original research on blockchain security and policy as well as nurturing blockchain-related startups and cementing New York as a pivotal player in the new industry. Funding details were not disclosed.

Long Game

“Everybody in the business agrees that the blockchain is a fundamental shift in how business will operate,” says Ghysels, who rallied support at UNC for the separate University Blockchain Research Initiative announced last month. Supported by a $50 million commitment from blockchain platform Ripple, the initiative includes 17 universities around the world.

“We knew we had to rethink how we approached MBA classes in light of these new developments,” he says. And we knew that this was a huge opportunity to think about new research. This was a concerted effort on the part of [UNC’s] Kenan-Flagler business school to jumpstart initiatives in this new ecosystem.”

Already established centers for artificial intelligence and ecommerce have created a useful template for structuring academic-corporate partnerships, says Ghysels. He expects the UBRI will follow the model of concentrating on projects and research that neither schools nor companies could likely accomplish on their own. One early win is integrating blockchain into MBA classes of all types, he says.

Rapid Start

University-corporate collaborations have themselves become the subject of academic studies that have parsed best practices and success factors. Analysis published in the MIT Sloan Management Review outlines four winning types of collaborations ranging from tactical, problem-solving “workbench” projects to long-range concept development. Meanwhile, a report commissioned by the Science|Business Innovation Board, a Belgian nonprofit, says sustained collaborative success is buoyed by clearly outlined benefits for companies and schools, a shared vision and by expecting strategic projects to yield insights in five to 10 years.

Ghysels says university-corporate initiatives can solve real-life problems in the process of tackling long-term projects. Ideas pioneered in university labs and classes need a dose of real life to translate their insights into strategies. Pouring reams of real-life data into university-developed models both tests and proves (or not) the models and yields information for companies, he says.

Meanwhile, both universities and companies are likely to gain quick returns by creating centers of gravity for blockchain professional and technical education. Blockchain, related technologies and financial technology classes are chronically oversubscribed, says Ghysels

Joanne Cleaver
Joanne Cleaver is a Chicago-based freelance, business and lifestyles journalist based. Her work has appeared in a number of national and regional publications. Earlier in her career, she was the deputy business editor at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.