Gaining momentum: Digital Student Data Portability and the Groningen Declaration

Gaining momentum: Digital Student Data Portability and the Groningen Declaration

Digital Student Data Portability (DSDP) has for many years been an important topic at the EAIE. During the 2010 EAIE Conference in Nantes, an EAIE Task Force was established to identify and promote ways to digitise student data in order to further facilitate internationalisation of higher education. Those following the subject, may look at 2013 as a point where developments that have been brewing since 2007 – the year of the first EAIE session with ‘DSDP’ content, in Trondheim, Norway – start to gain momentum.

Here are some highlights of this pioneering journey and an update to a previous blog post on the subject.

From Beijing to San Francisco

Two very successful meetings took place last April in Beijing and in San Francisco, bringing student data portability to the agenda and minds of international educators around the globe. In Beijing, China’s Higher Education Student Information and Career Center (CHESICC) hosted the second annual seminar of (national) central digital student data depositories worldwide, following the founding seminar, known as the Groningen Declaration seminar, in April 2012, in Groningen. The seminar aimed at expanding the number of signatories to the Groningen Declaration worldwide and starting a number of pilots to demonstrate the feasibility and viability of global digital student data portability. And that is exactly what happened: five organizations, all in a (semi-)official capacity, signed the Declaration on 9 April 2013: Australia (VETASSESS), France (AMUE), Italy (CINECA), Mexico (SEP-RODAC) and Romania (UEFISCDI – RMU). This brought the total number of signatories in Beijing to 16, including 5 central student data administration systems from EU member state.

One week later, the outcomes of the Beijing meeting were made public to the world at the 2013 AACRAO Annual Meeting in San Francisco. AACRAO was the ideal place to showcase the outcomes of the Beijing meeting to a large community of experts – registrars, student admissions officers, evaluation services, recognition bodies, from the US and beyond. In addition to that, AACRAO stepped in as the 17th signatory of the Groningen Declaration. Leonard Engel, EAIE Executive Director, who recently joined the Groningen Declaration’s Executive Committee, expressed his admiration for the DSDP and the Groningen Declaration because both started out as grassroots movements, and have achieved so much in such a short span of time. Mike Reilly, in his AACRAO Executive Director’s Update of 24 April, clearly indicated AACRAO’s commitment to the Groningen Declaration movement. And finally, in its report on the AACRAO meeting, China’s CHESICC delegation stated the following:  “This meeting contributes to strengthen the acquaintance of our country’s higher education data management for international associates. Meanwhile, the meeting will be of vital significance to study advanced experience and method from international students’ information management and improve China students’ ability on information management as well as high quality service.”

Full steam ahead

At the 9th annual ERACON conference, held in Poznan, Poland in May, a round table session was held on Erasmus without Paper. The moderator, Luciano Saso, Deputy Rector for International Mobility and Erasmus Institutional Coordinator at Sapienza University, Rome, sketched in his presentation Dreaming of Erasmus without Paper, two potential models: Integration of institutional Student Information System (SIS) with international (exchange) Student Information System (ISIS), ie. SIS-communications taking place between the HEIs; or the creation of a European platform for exchange students, capable of communicating with all SIS, to be put into effect by the European Association of ERASMUS Coordinators (EAEC) – the organisers of the ERACON conference.

On 12 June, at the EUNIS Conference on ‘Opening Up Education’ in Riga, Latvia, Ricardo Ferreira, policy officer at the European Commission’s Education and Culture Directorate-General on Skills and Qualifications Strategies, presented on Opening Up Education, sharing the directions the EC is currently contemplating. In September 2013, the EC will publicly announce its new policy in a Communication, so right now is the time to contribute by giving your feedback.  Although the communication may not be primarily concerned with digital student data as such, it does provide important building blocks. In his presentation, Mr Ferreira calls the improvement and updating of digital infrastructures for education and training, including connectivity, as one of the policy aims, and the following items are specifically mentioned: upgrade ICT infrastructures and connectivity; open quality frameworks; and interoperability open standards.

At EUNIS, I highlighted the Groningen Declaration and its relevance for higher education and sketched a possible business model, with critical acclaim coming from Simone Ravaioli (chair, DSDP) and Mariana Losada, Head of European and International Affairs at AMUE(Agence de Mutualisation des Universités et Établissements). Going by the tweets received during the session, participants quickly grasped the relevance of the Groningen Declaration, all the more so because of the viewing of a short passage from the movie L’Auberge espagnole, where protagonist Xavier from France runs into the doldrums of having to fill out endless paper based Erasmus application forms at his French home university.

On 25 June a meeting on Erasmus without Paper was held in Gent, as a logical next step in accomplishing this. Erasmus without Paper is a project the EAIE has been involved in right from the beginning when, in Brussels in December 2012, the EAIE President Hans-Georg van Liempd suggested an advocacy role for the Association by disseminating the project. This poster gives an overview of the project and of the parties involved.

What does this all mean for you?

At institutional level, student administrations may want to consider shifting away from paper based admissions procedures, implementing instead a fully digitised process. This happens already in many countries at the national level, but the admissions process should extend to include incoming foreign students, enrolling through a self authentication process, instead of the time consuming and costly verifications that institutions currently face. Implementing student data portability on a global scale would bring considerable cost savings: enrolling foreign students costs 10 times more than enrolling national students, because of the efforts student administrations have to incur, the long processing time, and the inevitable risk of no shows because of the delays while verifications are pending.

Erasmus students could be the first to benefit. The Erasmus without Paper consortium (headed by Luciano Saso), brings together over 10 organisations – including Erasmus coordinators, national and international university consortia, software developers, and student data depositories – and is discussing the preparation of a proposal on the subject matter. See Luciano Saso’s presentation at the ERACON conference last May.

At the EAIE Annual conference in Istanbul in September 2013, mobility, digital student data portability and the Groningen declaration will be further discussed at the session ‘Flagships in sync: common keels that make mobility fly’. Discussions will continue in a more informal setting at the ACE/DSDP Reception also taking place during the conference.