In this case study we describe how the University of Warsaw implemented EMREX to support internal mobility in Poland.
University of Warsaw is the evaluation partner in the EMREX project and was not originally planning to implement EMREX. However, the encouraging experiences of the other partners convinced the University of Warsaw to implement EMREX to be used for internal mobility in Poland.
Implementation follows the recommended EMREX architecture and consists of two components, EMREX Client and National Contact Point (NCP). They are both integrated with a student portal (so NCP in fact is not national). The technical development of the first simple use scenario – transfer of a transcript of records as PDF document embedded in a structured XML file – took only a few weeks.
The key findings:
- There are different scenarios and use cases where EMREX can prove useful.
- Solution can be scaled up more easily when there is a national contact point with student’s data, but when it is missing you can still scale up implementing EMREX as part of the Student Information System used by many education institutions.
- Some policy changes are needed in institutions to make EMREX fully effective.
Poland has a rich program of internal mobility, called MOST (Polish word for bridge). It is based on the rules similar to Socrates/Erasmus but is limited to students of Polish Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) who want to spend one or two semesters at other Polish HEI. Program is coordinated by UAC (University Accreditation Commission) established in 1998 by the Conference of Rectors of Polish Universities. In academic year 2015/2016, 534 students from 28 HEIs spend semester or two in another Polish HEI.
The main goals of UAC’s activity are:
- creation of an accreditation system of courses of studies at universities,
- creation and implementation of the standards of the education quality at universities,
- enhancement of the education quality,
- recognition of the HEIs ensuring high quality of the education,
- promotion of student mobility both in a national and international dimension.
Program MOST is carried since 1999. It involves 20 Polish public universities, members of UAC, and 8 associated HEIs. It covers over 400 fields of studies. Over 6000 students took part in the program since its start. Statistics for academic year 2015/2016 give some idea of the scope of the program:
- 2967 study offers,
- almost 1000 students registered in the admission system,
- 501 students qualified for studies at I and II level,
- 33 students qualified for doctoral studies.
USOS is a student information system developed by the consortium MUCI of 50 Polish HEIs. 15 of these institutions are involved in MOST. If the Polish partner integrates USOS with the EMREX platform mobile students from these institutions will be able to easily transfer their transcripts of records from USOS installation at host institution to USOS installation at home institution. The effect of scale will be immediate. If the system proves useful internally, going international will be an easy next step.
More challenging than software development are changes in institutional administrative procedures. Testing them internally can be a useful proof-of-concept.
Polish team decided to extend its role in the project and build EMREX components for Polish institutions using USOS.
EMREX IN POLAND
Poland does not have a national repository of student achievements, so it is not possible to use one National Contact Point. Also every HEI has a separate authentication system. Having multiple NCPs, one for each HEI, seems to be the most appropriate option. This is yet to be decided how the list of NCPs will be updated in the EMREX Registry which keeps the binding information (PUSH or PULL protocol).
Implementation of EMREX in Poland, developed by MUCI, is incorporated into USOSweb which is a web portal used by all students and staff members of the institution in their daily academic activities. Every HEI in Poland which runs USOS has its own installation of USOSweb. For reference, you might take a look at the installation set up in the University of Warsaw https://usosweb.uw.edu.pl.
The Client’s implementation is part of USOSweb. A student initiates the EMREX exchange on a dedicated USOSweb page. He has to first log in to USOSweb of the home institution.
USOSweb fetches the list of NCP servers from the EMREX Registry and displays it to the student. The student selects the NCP server of the other Polish HEI (host institution of the student’s internal mobility). A unique ID is generated for this request (session Id) and a database entity is stored to track it. Then the user is redirected to the NCP URL with the return URL parameter referring back to a proper USOSweb page at the student’s home institution.
NCP endpoints are also implemented in USOSweb installations. When an NCP request is received it is first validated. If it is correct, a unique identifier for this request is generated, and all the details of the request are stored in a database entity related to this identifier. These details may include request headers, IP addresses, etc. and are stored primarily for debugging purposes. The request has been received, but it is still not known who the user is. Once the user accesses the NCP-related USOSweb web page, he is asked to sign in.
Once he does, the NCP request gets bound to this user (user ID is stored in the request entity). This relationship is permanent (if the user signs out and signs in as a different user, he won’t be able to access this NCP request anymore).
Then the user is presented with the list of his courses and (optionally) is allowed to select any subset of them.
The user clicks the SEND button and is redirected to the next page where he can see PDF and XML files produced by the NCP and can initiate the transfer to the home institution by clicking the EXPORT button.
The appropriate NCP response with the EMREX ELMO document is constructed. Immediately after the documents are ready, a POST request is being sent directly from the user’s browser to the EMREX Client.
The user is redirected to the home USOSweb subsystem and presented with the results of the EMREX ELMO processing. If the verification process goes well, the received EMREX XML document with the embedded PDF is stored in the home institution USOS database.
Suspicious import requests would need to be approved by an authorized staff member (the attached PDF document should be useful in this case).
The developed solution is tested in USOS DEMO installation with anonymised data. It can be used by any internal and external testers.
Implementation of the EMREX Client and NCP for USOS will be made available for Polish HEIs from the MUCI consortium in December 2016 as part of the official distribution of USOS version 6.2.1. It will be available in production as soon as this version is deployed at the HEI from the consortium.
Lessons learnt and conclusions
- Implementation of the EMREX Client and the NCP point as part of the student portal USOSweb was intuitive and took only a few weeks.
- The challenging part of the implementation was the proper interpretation of student achievements – courses, grades and ECTS points – stored in the USOS database , and generation of the transcript of records as XML and PDF in the EMREX ELMO format.
- Even the more challenging will be the reverse process – mapping the data on courses, grades, and credits obtained from the ELMO XML file into the tables of the USOS database. As for now the XML with embedded PDF is stored as one database object.
- The most challenging part will be the change in institutional policies and European regulations. Neither student nor institution should be obliged to store or transfer paper versions of documents when electronic ones are available.