In August of 2023 EFF announced the Tor University Challenge, a campaign to get more universities around the world to operate Tor relays. The primary goal of this campaign is to strengthen the Tor network by creating more high bandwidth and reliable Tor nodes. We hope this will also make the Tor network more resilient to censorship since any country or smaller network cutting off access to Tor means it would be also cutting itself off from a large swath of universities, academic knowledge, and collaborations.

If you have already started a relay at your university, and want help or a prize LET US KNOW.

We started the campaign with thirteen institutions:

  • Technical University Berlin (Germany)
  • Boston University (US)
  • University of Cambridge (England)
  • Carnegie Mellon University (US)
  • University College London (England)
  • Georgetown University (US)
  • Johannes Kepler Universität Linz (Austria)
  • Karlstad University (Sweden)
  • KU Leuven (Belgium)
  • University of Michigan (US)
  • University of Minnesota (US)
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US)
  • University of Waterloo (Canada)

People at each of these institutions have been running Tor relays for over a year and are contributing significantly to the Tor network.

Since August, we've spent much of our time discovering and making contact with existing relays.  People at these institutions were already accomplishing the campaign goals, but hadn't made it into the launch:

  • University of North Carolina (US)
  • Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (Mexico)
  • University of the Philippines (Philippines)
  • University of Bremen (Germany)
  • University of Twente (Netherlands)
  • Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (Germany)
  • Universitatea Politehnica Timișoara (Romania)

In addition, two of the institutions in the original launch list have started public relays. University of Michigan used to run only a Snowflake back-end bridge, and now they're running a new exit relay too. Georgetown University used to run only a default obfs4 bridge, and now they're running a non-exit relay as well.

Setting up new relays at educational institutions can be a lengthy process, because it can involve getting buy-in and agreement from many different parts of the organization. Five new institutions are in the middle of this process, and we're hopeful we'll be able to announce them soon. For many of the institutions on our list we were able to reaffirm their commitment to running Tor relays or help provide the impetus needed to make the relay more permanent. In some cases we were also able to provide answers to technical questions or other concerns.

In Europe, we are realizing that relationship-building with the per-country National Research and Education Network organizations (NREN) is key to sustainability. In the United States each university buys its own internet connection however it likes, but in Europe each university gets its internet from its nation's NREN. That means relays running in the NRENs themselves—while not technically in a university—are even more important because they represent Tor support at the national level. Our next step is to make better contact with the NRENs that appear especially Tor-supportive: Switzerland, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Greece.

Now that we have fostered connections with many of the existing institutions that are running relays we want to get new institutions on board! We need more institutions to step up and start running Tor relays, whether as part of your computer science or cybersecurity department, or in any other  department where you can establish a group of people to maintain such a relay. But you don’t have to be a CS or engineering student or professor to join us! Political science, international relations, journalism, and any other department can all join in on the fun and be a part of making a more censorship resistant internet! We also welcome universities from anywhere in the world. For now universities from the US and EU make up the bulk of the relays. We would love to see more universities from the global south join our coalition.

We have many helpful technical, legal, and policy arguments about why your university should run a Tor relay on our website if you need help convincing people at your university.

And don’t forget about the prizes! Any university who keeps a Tor relay up for more than a year will receive these fantastic custom designed challenge coins, one for each member of your Tor team!

Front and back of the tor university challenge coins, the front has three cute onions jumping rope on a purple background with gold trim and the back has the words "Tor University Challenge"  on a gold background with purple trim

The beautiful challenge coins you can get for participating in the Tor University Challenge

If you have already started a relay at your university, and want help or a prize LET US KNOW.