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Canada joins network to improve the international exchange of student data

Registrars group signs the Groningen Declaration on behalf of universities and colleges.

By BECKY RYNOR | March 9, 2016

The transmission of student transcripts and other personal data from one institution to another can be onerous, costly, precarious and “a pain,” according to University of Toronto PhD candidate Jessica Robin. “In my experience with two Canadian universities, every time you need to send (transcripts) to another organization, be it another school you are applying to or a granting agency, you need to manually request the transcripts, sometimes pay a fee and they are sent by mail,” she said. “It’s a very slow process and it can be costly.”

Whether applying to grad school at the U of T, where she is studying cognitive neuroscience, or with various applications within grad school, Ms. Robin has been through the process numerous times. She said mistakes and lost transcripts can be common. “I had ordered transcripts from one school to be sent to another school for a grant application that I was doing and they just never came,” she said. “I never found out any more details, but it ended up being fine because of a wonderful graduate student secretary in my department who intervened. But for a few days it was very stressful.”

A solution to that stress and hassle may soon be at hand. The Groningen Declaration Network on Digital Student Data Portability, formed in 2012, aims to modernize and improve the international exchange of transcripts, diplomas and applications by creating digital hubs and networks between academic institutions and other organizations worldwide. Canada became a signatory to the declaration in May 2015 via the Association of Registrars of Universities and Colleges of Canada.

“We don’t want Canada to be left behind,” said Kathleen Massey, university registrar and executive director of enrolment services at McGill University. She also chairs the ARUCC Groningen and Student Mobility Task Force. “It’s about making it easier for Canadians to transmit their credentials within Canada and abroad and to have them fairly recognized in a timely fashion.”

Ms. Massey said the current methods used by many postsecondary institutions are outdated, require too much manual labour, cause delays that are stressful for students and alumni, and they’re vulnerable. “So much of it is paper-based that it’s open to fraud,” she noted. “We want to correct that … by making sure that there is a direct electronic exchange of information between the postsecondary institutions through secure networks and hubs.”

Hubs for the exchange of transcript information already exist provincially, such as the Ontario University Application Centre, ApplyAlberta and Quebec’s Bureau de coopération interuniversitaire. Ms. Massey said a swift, secure national and international network is critically needed.

Melissa Pool, registrar at McMaster University and a member of the ARUCC Groningen task force, said many other countries – the U.S., the U.K., Australia and the Netherlands, for example – are already actively pursuing these partnerships and networks. “In the U.S., there’s the National Student Clearinghouse,” she said. “If you have a number of universities connected to it, and it connects with a hub for Chinese universities, suddenly you have hub-to-hub connectivity and the universities are speaking with each other much more quickly and easily.”

The benefits could be wide-ranging, not just for students applying to colleges and universities, but also for alumni and postsecondary institutions. “Our students and alumni are applying for jobs in Canada and around the world,” Ms. Massey said. “There are [also] students applying for immigration status who must provide an official diploma or transcript to support that.”

What’s more, she added, “Many of Canada’s postsecondary institutions are interested in increasing the number of international students. We should support this by making it easier for credentials to be transferred electronically, safely, securely and quickly.”

ARUCC planned to conduct a survey of postsecondary institutions in late February “to gauge readiness and willingness to move forward with developing a fully connected national electronic and secure record data-sharing network to support student mobility,” said McMaster’s Ms. Pool.

“Commitment at the institutional level will be necessary because implementing this national network will require some local institutional resources, particularly if the institutions are not already exchanging student information electronically,” she said. “Fortunately, many are already and some have been doing so for decades. As a nation, we’re starting from a strong foundation.”

The task force will go through the survey results this spring and make recommendations to be discussed in June by ARUCC, the Pan-Canadian Consortium on Admissions & Transfer, and the Canadian Postsecondary Electronic Standards Council User Group. It’s a tall order, but not getting on board would create a roadblock to student mobility, Ms. Massey warned. “The question is, will Canada be part of this and make sure the opportunities are available to our students and our alumni, or will we be left behind?”

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