Demystifying the European Student Identifier (ESI) – Chapter I.

A success story about how to deploy the ESI at the Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest

The deployment of the European Student Identifier (ESI) is one of the key elements of the digitalisation of the Erasmus+ mobility management processes. Enabling this attribute will facilitate international student mobility and trans-national cooperation of Higher Education Institutions. With the help of this identifier, relevant data that is necessary for e-management will be at the fingertips of both the coordinator/administrator and the student throughout their Erasmus+ experience. 

It’s vital for the successful deployment of the ESI that effective collaboration and streamlined communication exist between the unit responsible for students mobility coordination and the unit in charge of identity management.

Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) in Budapest is one of the first universities within the EUF network to complete the deployment process of the ESI. In the following interview, Ms. Orsolya Posch, deputy head of the central Department of Erasmus+ and International Programmes (ENPO), along with Mr. David Ritter, director and chief information officer, Directorate of Informatics, walks us through the steps followed, the challenges faced and reminds us about the importance of the ESI.

Q: Who initiated the deployment? What did you do exactly?

Orsolya: The process was initiated by the central Department of Erasmus+ and International Programmes (ENPO) to contribute to the digitalisation of our Erasmus+ project management flows.

We basically sent an email to the Directorate of Informatics, Mr David Ritter, and explained to him the importance of the deployment of the ESI and included relevant links from the GEANT and EUF Wiki pages detailing what should be done.

The deployment was specifically important to us because ELTE is the leader of the Erasmus+ App project, and to be able to test the new functionalities of the App, we had to enable the ESI before the new Erasmus+ App launch event

We started the coordination at the end of August and we enabled the ESI in mid-September. Altogether it took us two/three weeks to facilitate the deployment procedure.

Q: Was the request you received about the deployment of the ESI straightforward for the first time?  Is there any extra information that would have made your work easier?

David: The IT department received the information from two independent channels: one from the ENPO and the other one from the KIFÜ, the Hungarian National Research and Educational Network (NREN). These two sources of information were parallel but explained the same request. 

The description of the task was clear and straightforward and we didn’t need any additional info to start the implementation. After we received the request, it took us three working days to complete the task. We have been working with eduGAIN for more than 10 years. In our case, many of the attributes required by the ESI were already enabled. 

If the institution has no working identity provider, I believe that this is a more complicated procedure, that is why I would suggest that other HEIs take a look at this as soon as possible, to be sure they are able to deploy the ESI in a certain period of time.

Q: What was the biggest challenge of the procedure? How did you overcome it?

O: The biggest challenge was to find the best possible way to describe our request to the IT department. It took us overall two weeks to collect the information and draft the email for the IT dept. 

We compiled the email from multiple sources, like the MyAcademicID website, the information page of GÉANT for ESI, the (Hungarian) NREN (KIFÜ), and the ESI test site. 

In our case it was easy to find the right department, the one responsible for identity management. However this might not be the case for other universities, so that adds an extra challenge. 

D:  Since our system provides an interoperable environment, we didn’t face any particular problem.

Q: How would you describe the optimal process of deploying the ESI at a university? Who does what and in which order?

O: The optimal process would be as follows: 

Step 1) the process is initiated by the IRO (or any unit that works with student mobility) at the institution level by finding the right unit that works with identity management and by providing the necessary instruction for the correct deployment of the ESI. Next, 

Step 2) the technical task – the publication of the necessary parameters towards the eduGAIN federation (ndr. in case the institution has such software) – is done by the IT department.

Step 3) share the news with the stakeholders (students, coordinators, student organizations or any other relevant unit at the university).

However, I believe that, for the optimal process to occur, it is essential to establish good cooperation between the IRO and the IT department. This will ensure a quick and effortless process. 

In the digitalisation efforts of the Erasmus+, it is vital to have effective, well-functioning communication channels between these units as a strong base for all these developments.

D: From the IT point of view, the process strongly depends on the infrastructure and solutions at the disposal of the institution that wants to deploy the ESI. For example, if someone has proper Identity Providers (IdP) and working operation solutions, it is not a difficult job. On a scale from 1 (not difficult) to 7 (very difficult), I would rate the difficulty to 1 or 2. If this is not the case, the institution would have to work much harder and take more time to integrate some other systems. In this case, the difficulty would be around 5. 

Regardless, I can say that all the information is accessible to everyone and the procedure is clearly described in the technical documents, which include a clear step-by-step guide explaining how to use the different attributes and reach the goal (ndr. the ESI deployment).

Q: Why do you think it is important to have the ESI at the university?

O: In my opinion, enabling the ESI is key for the seamless student data flow during the Erasmus+ mobility period. Particularly, this is important for the proper functioning of the Erasmus+ digital tools, including the Erasmus+ App. 

Furthermore, it is essential for the creation of the App’s Digital European Student Card. When we informed our students about the fact that the ESI was operational, they were excited to hear about this new feature and all the positive implications that go along with it. 

The European Student Identifier is truly a landmark towards digitalisation, inclusion and equal access.

D: I think the interoperability and the accessibility are very significant aspects for the entire EHEA. ESI is primarily important for cooperation and co-working in the near future.

To learn more about the European Student Identifier, how to follow in ELTE footsteps and successfully implement the ESI, please refer to the links below:

Photo by Ivan Samkov from Pexels