Can student data go truly digital?

Can student data go truly digital?

Those of you who have been working in marketing and recruitment for several years will have seen a change in attitude and behaviour from printed to online materials. The marketing mix nowadays supports web over print, allowing prospective students to find all relevant information online, allowing them to download brochures onto their electronic devices. The next step in the chain of prospective students is the admissions process. Can this go paperless too?

Why does the prospective student still have to send a certified copy of his or her degree and the transcript of records, sometimes accompanied by a certified and costly translation of all these documents in order to enrol in another institution? If all data is stored in the database of the institution where the student graduated and in many cases also stored in a database at country level, why is this information not yet accessible to the prospective institution? These and related questions were discussed during the recent seminar, Digital Student Data Portability Worldwide 2013 in Beijing, China. Organised by DUO, the Education Executive Agency of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science in the Netherlands and the China Higher Education Student Information and Career Center (CHESICC), the seminar brought together experts on digital student data from countries around the world.

Verification of student records in China

Founded in 1991, CHESICC specialises in college enrolments, student records, qualification certificates and employment information services for students of higher education institutions. CHESICC is the only organisation in China for the verification of Higher Education Qualification Certificates (HEQCs). With over 720 million records and 100 million registered qualification certificates from the past 22 years, the system holds an enormous amount of information. According to Ning Xiaohua, Vice-Director CHESICC, all this information is verified and used by admissions officers for direct enrolment in China. Students and institutions can upload PDF files, mail them directly or even scan the QR-code for upload on their mobile phone and paste it into their resume. The use of the system has decreased illegal enrolment and it assists those students who have lost their official transcripts in the past due to earthquakes and other natural disasters.

World Education Services in the USA has already started using the system. They refer prospective students to the website, then the student authorises CHESICC that the information can be sent to their preferred institution directly. The institution then receives the information, currently still in paper format, but many institutions are looking to receive it electronically in future, in a form that is secure, verified and safe.

European and US equivalents

DUO launched a similar database in November 2012 for the Netherlands, which currently holds four million records of secondary and tertiary education. Most data is from recent graduates but more data from the past will be uploaded into the system on a regular basis. To date, more than 100 000 citizens have used the system. Citizens can grant permission to others, such as higher education institutions, to check their data and files. The next step is to connect the register with other registers abroad.

In the USA, the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC), a non-profit agency, serves 3300 colleges and universities, representing 96% of all US higher education institutions and 110 million students. The NSC performs more than half a billion electronic student record verifications annually, over two million degrees are confirmed each year and more than 1.7 million enrolment verifications are performed. Transcripts are requested for more than one million recipients a year and it is estimated that NSC has so far saved higher education institutions in the US nearly 400 million dollars. The services are free for higher education institutions; data providers do not pay, those who request data have to pay for the service.

International collaboration

NSC and DUO will start a pilot this year. Institutions from the USA can obtain information from the database of DUO and vice versa, but only after the graduate gives a written consent to allow others to verify his or her qualifications. So it is an exchange of information and no data will be stored in the other database. The service is free for higher education institutions; foreign commercial entities such as businesses have to pay for the service. The end ideal is that the student, applying to an institution in the other country, does not need to send certified paper copies of the degree and of the transcripts to the other institution, but simply needs to agree that the institution is allowed to check the data in the system. This will speed up the admission process by days, weeks or even months, and it will save a lot of paper and time for the admissions officer. 

There is currently much enthusiasm among the specialists in the field. The ultimate goal is to have a global web-portal and online verification system of academic credits and qualifications supported by national systems connected through online interfaces. It is very important that the decision makers at institutional level, such as vice-rectors, directors of international offices and others who monitor, direct and are responsible for the whole chain of the admissions process and of the registration of student data, learn about these initiatives and that support is provided towards the governmental and non-governmental stakeholders and shareholders.

More information on Digital Student Data Portability can be found on the EAIE website. There will also be updates on the topic provided during the EAIE Conference in Istanbul this September.

Hans-Georg van Liempd
Tilburg University, the NetherlandsHans-Georg is Managing Director at the Tilburg School of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Tilburg University, the Netherlands, and is also former President of the EAIE.