Ripple has widened its University Blockchain Research Initiative (UBRI) to Japan, onboarding both Kyoto University and the University of Tokyo.
The UBRI is a global partnership between Ripple and universities which aims to foster innovation and academic research into blockchain, cryptocurrency and digital payments. Ripple provides partnering universities with funding and expertise while aiding with the introduction of blockchain and cryptocurrencies into university curricula. Universities independently select their research areas.
Ripple is already well-established in Japan. It has previously launched SBI Ripple Asia (SRA), a joint venture with Japanese financial services company SBI Group, one of the biggest fintech investors in Japan. Last year, SRA launched blockchain remittance network MoneyTap, which is based on Ripple’s xCurrent software. This year 13 Japanese banks invested in the MoneyTap venture.
The UBRI was launched last year and counted Stanford University and UC Berkeley, amongst its initial participants. Following its latest expansion into Japan, the UBRI now counts 33 university participants, across 14 countries.
When Ripple announced the initial support for 17 universities, it said it was committing $50 million to that group via the UBRI, to be allocated amongst the program’s participants. For instance, the Australian National University received $1 million to develop courses surrounding the legal implications of blockchain.
It’s unclear what additional financial resources have been committed since then.
The ethics of academic sponsorship
Of course, this partnership raises issues concerning the impartiality of the research conducted by the universities. The Atlantic reports that non-disclosure agreements between corporate sponsors and academics are commonplace, as are demands that research remains in the property of the sponsor rather than the university. Its investigation focused on biotech.
The Atlantic also raised concerns with respect to corporate influence on curricula development. For instance, corporations can pay $5000 to the Department of Food and Sciences at Purdue University for the privilege of having a say in its curricula.
Other blockchain sponsorships
Ripple isn’t the only example of academic corporate sponsorship in the realm of blockchain and cryptocurrencies. Though it likely sponsors the largest number of universities.
The IC3 initiative joins together researchers from Cornell University, UC Berkeley, University College London amongst others. IC3 openly advertises for corporate sponsorship to aid their research into smart contracts and cryptocurrencies. Current partners are clearly disclosed and include IBM, Intel, Microsoft and J.P. Morgan. Ripple is not a participant.
Another blockchain example is MIT’s FinTech@CSAIL, which is a partnership between academics and fintech companies. Each company member contributes the same amount of funding, which is pooled. Partners vote on which projects proposed by researchers to fund in a given year. Ripple is a member of FinTech@CSAIL.
IOHK which is the organization that launched the Cardano cryptocurrency, established a Blockchain Technology Lab at the University of Edinburgh.
Corporate sponsorship requires disclosure and transparency, so that the research conducted by the university is impartial. To date, disclosure seems reasonable.
Some believe that research should benefit the whole industry by introducing new technologies rather than purely providing the sponsor with a competitive advantage. But often that’s not the case.