Ready for take-off: the Groningen Declaration Network

Ready for take-off: the Groningen Declaration Network

‘Ready for take-off: calls, funding, pilots, upscaling’: with this inspiring title, the Groningen Declaration Network (GDN) held its fourth annual meeting in Malaga, Spain this past May. So just what is this network all about? It’s actually simpler than it may sound with a name which many struggle to pronounce. The aim of the GDN is to develop a global network bringing together centralised student data depositories, higher education institutions, and all other stakeholders in the Digital Student Data Ecosystem to make digital student data portability (DSDP) a reality. 

We live in a world where so much of what we do happens online – from booking airline tickets to bank transactions to shopping – and yet we still deal with something as important as diplomas and educational attainments the traditional way: on paper.

With continually rising numbers of student mobility, with more and more students earning credentials from more than one higher education institution, often in more than one country, and with ever-increasing instances of fraud, particularly document falsification, we need to find a way to overcome these challenges. Global usage of data in digital format would be safer, more economical and sustainable, and more user-friendly.

Calls, funding, pilots and upscaling

The Malaga meeting gathered 84 enthusiastic experts from 24 different countries to explore ways to work together in order to advance the common agenda, hear about pilot schemes that are already in place, and discuss ways to extend the use of digitalised student data.

There were many excellent presentations, including a keynote on education data use by Dr Stéphan Vincent-Lancrin, Senior Analyst and Project Manager at the OECD, and an intervention about electronic data from Giuseppe Abbamonte, Director for Media and Data at the European Commission – DG Connect.

A signing ceremony took place, where 16 organisations became signatories of the network. These new signatories included Universities Australia; ARUCC, the Association of Registrars at Universities and Colleges in Canada; Academic Information Centre of Latvia/Latvian ENIC-NARIC; Groningen University, Stanford University, the University of Málaga, and the University of Texas at Austin; as well as the IERF, the International Educational Research Foundation.

As someone fairly new to the details behind the GDN name and one of the least technically-minded people you could meet – which meant that some of the more technically-oriented sessions went over my head – I found it very interesting to pick up on some of the main concerns expressed by participants.:

• Very much to the forefront was the mention of privacy requirements and the need for transparency, access and consent in the handling of student data. The student should be at the centre of this process.
• Terminology is also an issue. As is the case whenever we work in an international environment, we need to be aware of the importance of language and ensure that we are using clearly defined terminology and that the terms we use are understood in the same way by all concerned.
• Interoperability (aligning standards) is another issue. If the idea is to create a global network, the different standards existing in various parts of the world have to be sufficiently aligned to allow for reliable, efficient transfer of data that complies with the minimum standards everywhere.
• Similarly, many people underlined the importance of working within a framework to set up a system such as this. The GDN provides that framework.
• Finally, participants recognised the need to create greater awareness of the network and its aims, to create ‘pull’ in order to achieve those ambitions.

Ready for take-off

What is clear is that, despite still being in its infancy, the GDN has made huge strides forward, thanks in no small measure to the dedication and enthusiasm of Herman de Leeuw, founding father and secretary of the GDN, and Victoriano Giralt, the current GDN President.

The EAIE has supported this initiative from its beginnings and, after attending the Málaga meeting, I’m confident that DSDP is well on its way to becoming a global reality.

For further information, visit the GDN website.