The Erasmus Without Paper (EWP) initiative has recently undergone a significant transformation aimed at enhancing its digital infrastructure. The Interoperability reinforcement plan, which was in action for six months from September 2022 to February 2023, sought to address critical issues and streamline the digitalisation of the Erasmus+ program. This article reflects on the key deliverables and impacts of this plan.
Addressing the Challenges
One year after the expected implementation of the Erasmus+ inter institutional agreements and learning agreements, feedback and data showed that many Higher Education Institutions were still facing challenges. To address this, the interoperability reinforcement plan focused on three main pillars: A more regulated environment, ensuring user support, and fostering collaboration with third-party providers.
The release of the EWP assessment report was a turning point in the interoperability reinforcement plan. The report aimed to give full clarity to institutions on the problems facing the network and rebuilding trust within the community by demonstrating how problems are being addressed. It gave an honest picture of the plan's progress and established a social contract with end-users regarding future steps, in which stronger quality assurance and the EWP governance would help continuously improve the infrastructure.
Regulating the Environment
The creation and approval of mandatory business requirements are vital for the correct implementation of EWP by the various technical teams. These are essential criteria voiced by users and the European Commission (as the Erasmus+ programme owner). These requirements are critical for the successful functioning of the EWP network.
Despite some initial challenges and divergent views among third-party providers (3PP), mandatory business requirements have helped to clarify the business side of things. They have been positively received, contributing to a more rule-based EWP environment.
The expansion of the testing protocols is also a key step towards establishing an industry-compliant testing framework. The consortium analysed the strengths and weaknesses of the existing processes and planned a way towards a more stringent and significant testing process that helps ensure a sensible and sustainable pathway for ensuring continued and seamless electronic exchange of data.
The services of the ESCI Service Desk expanded for interoperability issues and support to third-party providers. The tickets were vital in identifying issues and understanding user challenges. The service will continue to monitor performance and guide technical activities. Notably, third-party providers, despite some having confusion over specifications in the past, seldom engaged the helpdesk, which remains open for their queries. Hopefully, this confirms that developers now have full clarity on specifications.
The town hall meetings were particularly well-received as they provided an interactive space for users to voice their concerns and questions, fostering an open dialogue between responsible parties and end-users.
Enhancing Cooperation with Third-Party Providers
The EWP+ consortium organised technical workshops with third-party provider teams to address interoperability issues impacting EWP’s critical nodes. These workshops, coupled with proactive debugging, were central to achieving quick and positive changes. Proactive debugging refers to the approach of finding and fixing bugs in software before they cause issues or errors. The technical workshops played a crucial role in creating a more positive and trusting atmosphere among the technical teams.
Additionally, the establishment of a relationship manager role was key to fostering enhanced cooperation. They meet regularly with third-party providers and universities to further enhance understanding and integration into the EWP network. The team members have played an important role in guiding the transition towards a more rule-based EWP network.
Impact and Moving Forward
The interoperability reinforcement plan has had a significant impact, particularly in eradicating structural interoperability issues for end users. The plan started with providing clarity towards the community about the state-of-play, and taking immediate actions to address the most crucial bottlenecks in the network. While some deliverables have immediate impacts, others lay the foundation for future improvements. The plan has proven to be a significant step towards establishing 1) a more regulated, 2) user-centric, and 3) cooperative environment for the Erasmus Without Paper initiative.
The interoperability reinforcement plan has marked a turning point in the digitalisation of the Erasmus+ program. By focusing on regulation, end-user support, and cooperation, the plan has paved the way for a more efficient and seamless EWP infrastructure. As the initiative continues to evolve, it is imperative to build on the successes of this plan and continue to address the challenges that lie ahead.