Progress

Activities within the framework of the DEQAR CONNECT project have been and are continuing in full swing, despite pandemic related restrictions. So far, all meetings and activities have been taking place virtually since the start of the project (March 2020).

DEQAR CONNECT focuses on two of the EHEA key commitments, supporting quality assurance and recognition inside the EHEA, and consists of two strands:

1. Expand coverage to EHEA countries currently under-represented in DEQAR

DEQAR experts provide peer support for project partner quality assurance agencies, to help them choose and implement the most efficient system to upload reports, answer questions and overcoming obstacles where necessary. In order to streamline this, the following meetings have been held, steps have been undertaken:

  • DEQAR CONNECT Kick-off webinar for QA agencies – May 2020.
  • Matching of the DEQAR experts (8) with the agencies, based on the mentors’ field of expertise, agencies’ needs and their internal information system complexity – May 2020.
  • Experts (mentors) started offering consultancy to “their” agencies (online), since June 2020.
  • Experts themselves have been meeting on a monthly base to discuss each agency’s progress in relation to the project, share advise about supporting mentees in overcoming obstacles and draw common grounds on the questions and dilemmas raised by the agencies, since June 2020.
  • Virtual peer support meeting for QA agencies – September 2020
  • Site visits were planned to take place until the end of the project. The on-site peer-support visit depends on when the peers can travel and when agencies can receive visitors again, as the Coronavirus situation evolves.
  • DEQAR Masterclass (webinar) – September 2021. All EQAR registered agencies were invited to this webinar to discover the latest on DEQAR.

2. Enhance connectivity by exploiting existing synergies and exploring new opportunities to use DEQAR data

The connectivity strand focuses on the following initiatives:

  • ENIC NARICs – integration of DEQAR API in their workflow
    After an ENIC NARIC webinar in May 2020, ENIC-NARICs partners (CIMEA, CNRED, France Éducation international and Nuffic) started working on how to best establish connectivity with DEQAR. Three of them have already tested/piloted the connection and will fully develop it later, while the last one is planning the DEQAR connectivity together with their next (internal) system update. More about ENIC-NARIC integration here.
  • Europass – creating a compatibility layer
    One of the specific DEQAR CONNECT activities is to create a compatibility layer for Europass and its Digital Credentials Infrastructure (EDCI), so that DEQAR data would feed directly into the Accreditation Database underlying the EDCI. The implementation of this interface has been planned further with the Europass team at the European Commission and the DEQAR developers.
  • Higher Education Data Interoperability
    A (virtual) Roundtable on Higher Education Data Interoperability was held in September 2020. Following that, EQAR has continued its cooperation with various other European initiatives in the field of HE data in order to work on better connecting existing systems and data sets. As a first concrete problem domain it was agreed to tackle the question of higher education institution identifiers. Based on a number of agreed use cases, a technical group has been working on the requirements for an enhanced approach to identifying higher education institutions in Europe. These are currently under discussion and concrete proposals will be made on that basis.
  • A link with EBSI/ESSIF
    The EU is piloting a technical architecture for digitally issued education diplomas as part of the European Blockchain Service Infrastructure (EBSI) and the European Self-Sovereign Identify Framework (ESSIF) initiative. This pursues the same goal as the Europass Digital Credentials Infrastructure (EDCI), but on a different technical platform. It could be expected that Europass as a brand will eventually support both underlying technical platforms.EQAR has explored the use of DEQAR data on QA/accreditation with the convenor of the Diploma Use Case and other key architects of the ESSIF. In EBSI, accreditation itself would be represented as a digitally-signed verifiable credential (VC). Based on a software solution currently developed with EU support, EQAR has been exploring to automatically issue VCs based on the data available. EQAR is currently participating in the program for early adopters of EBSI led by the European Commission, and will be supporting several university led initiatives in their efforts to issue digital credentials.

More about the European Blockchain Services Infrastructure (EBSI)

The Commission is working with EU Member States (and beyond) to build EBSI. Through this infrastructure, Blockchain technology will entirely transform the identification of verifiable credentials in Europe,

Read more

especially across borders based on principle of ‘Self-Sovereign Identity’. A multi-university pilot is now showing us how it will look in practice.

Since 2018, 29 countries (all EU Member States, Norway and Lichtenstein) and the European Commission have joined forces to form the European Blockchain Partnership (EBP). They have committed to working together towards realising the potential of blockchain-based services for the benefit of citizens, society and the economy.

Using blockchain, citizens can set-up digital wallets and manage their identity – and other – credentials across borders. Citizens can also gain digital control of their educational credentials, significantly reducing verification costs and improving trust in documents’ authenticity.

As of 2020, EBSI is deploying a network of distributed blockchain nodes across Europe, supporting applications focused on selected use-cases. EBSI is the first EU-wide blockchain infrastructure, driven by the public sector, in full respect of European values and legislation.

The Early Adopters programme

The first production-ready version of EBSI will be released towards the end of 2021. This release will be the result of large-scale, pan-European collaboration between Member State’s representatives and Commission services and agencies.

In 2021, 22 projects (among which EQAR) were selected to become part of an incubator programme, known as the EBSI Early Adopters, helping the first EBSI users and their partners imagine, build and launch their pilot project(s).  The EBSI team gave each project’s private and public sector partners early access to the EBSI pre-production environment and invited them to develop their own pilot project(s) addressing a specific business or government use case involving the exchange of verifiable credentials.

In early 2021, the Early Adopters programme started working directly with Member States to implement EBSI use cases (Self-Sovereign Identity (SSI), Diplomas, Traceability and Trusted data sharing) and build an ecosystem with some really outstanding real-life examples that will lead to the full rollout of EBSI.

In addition, and transversal to both strands, the objectives of the DEQAR CONNECT project are:

  • To support the activities of the BFUG Thematic Peer Groups (TPG) on QA and on Recognition, or of their succeeding bodies in the post-2020 BFUG working structure.
  • To enhance DEQAR’s visibility and relevance among all stakeholders.

To this end EQAR is preparing Policy Briefs; Europe-wide, country specific and domain-based reports on topics following Bologna Thematic Peer Groups’ priorities, based on insights gathered through DEQAR. More about the Policy Briefs.

EQAR also organises a Conference for the Bologna working structures on QA and recognition “From Data to Policy – Linking Quality Assurance and Recognition”. This conference aims to offer policymakers knowledge that will support better informed approaches in higher education and enrich the understanding about the dynamic and vivid higher educational landscape in the EHEA. More about the Conference.

Furthermore, DEQAR is promoted at many external and all internal events, as well as through social media, newsletters etc. More about the PR.