When the European Digital Student Service Infrastructure project was launched back in autumn 2020, 16 partners of the consortium which included universities, student service providers, companies, NRENs and research institutions joined forces to connect and harmonise the operation of the already existing digital initiatives, such as MyAcademicID, the EWP network, the Erasmus Dashboard etc. into a fully comprehensive infrastructure to provide students and Higher Education Institutions with an interoperable Erasmus+ mobility management scheme. An integrated infrastructure to allow Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to expose authenticated student data in a seamless and secure way.
At the time, the digitalisation of the Erasmus+ programme was gaining momentum. While one cannot deny that its path was paved with hurdles and roadblocks (some still present), the EDSSI consortium believed in the necessity to move towards complementing and further developing an interoperable infrastructure.
During the two years of operations, the EDSSI project reached important milestones which were crucial in further progressing the European Student Card Initiative. Indeed, it is safe to assume that without the pioneering endeavours of the EDSSI project, we would still be lagging behind in making the Erasmus Without Paper (EWP) network compatible with the new Erasmus+ programme, or left alone in the struggle of making administrative processes paperless.
Facing challenges head on, one at a time
What is more, the time and resources (human and financial) invested were fundamental in tackling some technical challenges identified by the HEI community. For example, it was widely acknowledged that authentication and authorisation, two main pillars of the Erasmus+ digitalisation, were concerning issues that demanded the utmost urgency. To this end, the EDSSI project introduced the Single Sign-on solution: higher education students and staff can now authenticate themselves and access the majority of mobility services and information available with a single login, regardless of their geographical location or the type of their HEI.
Furthermore, once it became clear that the European Student Identifier (ESI) would be one of the cornerstones of student identification in the digital environment of the Erasmus+ programme, the consortium partners (in close collaboration with the European Commission – DG EAC) embarked in an intense advocacy work to mainstream the deployment of the ESI, all the while ensuring its availability to all Erasmus Charter Holder Higher Institutions in Europe. The so-called “IdP of last resort”, developed by EDSSI consortium members GEANT and University Jaume I, was precisely aimed at making sure that no university nor students were left behind. Nowadays, all HEIs in Europe are able to allocate ESI to their outgoing Erasmus+ students. As a result, easily identified during the mobility process, they are able to authorise themselves when using the Erasmus+ digitalisation tools.
An additional challenge laid in the plethora of systems co-existing across the network. What would be the point of creating an infrastructure if the said infrastructure was unable to retrieve information related to Erasmus+ study mobility management from different systems? The success of the European Digital Student Service Infrastructure relies on its interoperability component, which is translated into: on the one hand, updated and validated APIs; on the other hand, the establishment of a single point of entry of HEIs to the infrastructure through the forward-looking Registration Portal, soon allowing HEIs using third party providers or in-house IT systems to manage their connection with the EWP network.
Such technical developments to the infrastructure were carried out following the continuous feedback and expertise provided by the community, particularly during regular meetings of the ESCI working group, and the technical providers fora.
A truly inclusive digital infrastructure
In the HEIs ecosystem, not everyone has the capacity to handle technical solutions due to inadequate budget. Inclusivity was yet again at the forefront of the EDSSI consortium when the Web Service component was integrated in the infrastructure to support those HEIs lacking the capacity and resources to purchase or develop their own mobility management system. During the lifespan of the project, the Web Service platform underwent further enhancements and transformed to a microservice centred system, culminating in the introduction of the Student Service Providers´ Erasmus Dashboard Module (SSP Module).
Nowadays, it is undeniable that student services can make or break the mobility experience. Oftentimes, a remarkable gap exists in the way Erasmus+ students access student services in their host universities as opposed to their local peers. The innovative SSP Module was precisely conceived to close this gap and shorten the distance between SSPs and IROs (and through the latter, students), thus making it easier for IROs to collect information about the services available in each city/university and share it with their students. To showcase the new module, still in its pilot version, and engage with this stakeholder group, the EDSSI consortium organised the first Student Service Providers Forum.
Committed to community support
Finally, the enhancement of the infrastructure and the achievements reached mean nothing without a supported community. Special attention was hence paid to the production of high-quality, easy-to-consult resources, which include a revamped Knowledge Base as well as multiple interactive training sessions. Moreover, a helpdesk was established to process the queries – more than 5 000 – received from HEIs in need, The management of the helpdesk turned out to be an herculean task and the lessons learnt informed the design of the new ESCI Service Desk that has taken over operations, since April 2022.
To new beginnings…
Once the vision of a few committed organisations, the European Digital Student Service Infrastructure is now a reality and stakeholders had the opportunity to witness first-hand the outcome of the project last May when over 150 participants from 22 European countries convened in Thessaloniki for EDSSI final conference.
The legacy of the EDSSI project however will be maintained alive. In fact, this is not the end of the European Digital Student Service Infrastructure. Started last autumn, the EDSSI L2 project is officially taking over from September 2022 onwards and will focus on making possible the usage of (digital and interoperable) European Student Cards, and on exploring ways of applying the eSignature or eArchiving building blocks in the Erasmus+ mobility management.
Stay tuned for more details about the new EDSSI L2 project.