After years of work by teams across Europe, 2022 was the year in which the Erasmus Without Paper (EWP) became a concrete reality. Many Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) transitioned to digitally exchange Inter-Institutional Agreements and Learning Agreements. In this article, we will look back at the main accomplishments of the past year.
The seamless exchange of data among IT systems that facilitate Erasmus+ student mobility, is at the core of what EWP wants to achieve. After years of preparations, 2022 marked an important milestone in realising this digital reality. It was the year when HEIs needed to switch to digital inter-institutional agreements and learning agreements. This article provides an overview of the most important developments in 2022, and already looks ahead to 2023.
Governance: a community-driven approach
During the first semester, the EWP+ Consortium worked together with DG EAC, to design a governance structure. The structure taps into the collective intelligence of the EWP community and ensures transparency, as well as inclusive decision-making. This is essential to safeguard the core objective of achieving meaningful digitalisation for both students and HEIs.
The final structure, approved by the European Commission, centres around different bodies which represent all key stakeholder groups participating in a digitalised Erasmus+. Their role is to provide conclusions, impressions, and feedback from their experience as users or experts and share their perspective on digitization advances. Each body focuses on a set of goals and is tasks to best mobilise their expertise and knowledge of student mobility and the digitalisation of higher education.
As a vital part of the community, we invite all interested universities to take part in the EWP+ user groups. These groups will offer insights into the community needs and sentiments, suggest solutions, and help benchmarking.
These user groups provide specific feedback and suggestions per type of infrastructure (system they use to connect to the EWP+ network), making it possible to understand very clearly what is happening at all levels.
Interoperability reinforcement plan & assessment report
In 2022, it also became evident that additional effort was required to put an end to the considerable difficulties experienced by some of the end users aiming to switch to fully digital inter-institutional agreements (IIAs) and learning agreements (LAs).
To respond to this need, the EWP+ Consortium developed theInteroperability Reinforcement Plan (or Action Plan). The Action Plan sets out the full interoperability of IIAs and LAs as the highest priority for the EWP+ Network for the remainder of 2022.
The plan proposed a set of actions grouped under three main clusters: a more regulated environment, no end users left behind, and enhanced cooperation with third-party providers.
The first set of actions already led to the concrete results described in the EWP+ Assessment Report (see below), with more updates due in January.
EWP+ Assessment Report
To assess the state of play as of October 2022, EWP+ issued The Erasmus Without Paper Assessment Report, taking stock of current EWP+ data exchanges. It aimed to improve the collective understanding about how well EWP+ works. The main conclusion is that while EWP+ works, some connections still present problems.
According to the report, an overwhelming majority of the target population (higher education institutions holding an ECHE charter implementing student mobility) is already connected to EWP+. Additionally, the number of inter-institutional agreements (IIAs) and learning agreements (LAs) concluded over the network, increased over the last couple of months (coinciding with the Action Plan).
The main area of remaining difficulties is with the exchange of IIAs. Comparatively minor and much less frequent issues affect LA data exchanges. Looking at HEIs relying on third-party software to connect to the EWP+, eleven out of sixteen third-party providers pass the IIA readiness assessment. There are about 320 higher education institutions that connect to EWP+ via providers but who cannot ensure adequate exchanges of IIA data (at the time of the publication of this report).
Moving forward, the key focus is to support these providers that are still struggling. The Action plan adds three new Relationship Managers to the EWP+ team. Their main role is to liaise with these parties to facilitate work and information exchange. The EWP+ Dashboard technical team continues to monitor progress of non-compliant nodes closely, while new tools will soon allow monitoring errors affecting data exchanges in EWP.
EWP+ Communication: a digital approach for a digital community
2022 saw the introduction of the EWP+ communication strategy, acting upon the need to have regular and transparent updates for the higher education community, technical partners, and policymakers. The main social media channels used areTwitter,LinkedIn, andYouTube.
About twenty-nine articles aimed to inform, simplify and support the community with all aspects of the EWP+ journey. New series sprung from our minds, such as Meet the EWP+ Team, and articles aiming to explain the technical building blocks of the EWP+ Network (such as APIs).
Finally, the launch of the European Student Card Initiative Portal provides a new official gateway to find information about ESCI and its building blocks. Moving forward, the ESCI Portal will be the primary source to get all major updates on the EWP+ outputs. TheEWP+ competence centre (also known as the knowledge base) remains available, for in-depth documentation about the ESCI building blocks. This includes the different options to connect to the EWP+ Network, tutorials on EWP+ Dashboard or Erasmus+ App, step-by-step guidelines for the onboarding process and frequent news updates.
EWP+ Service Desk: tackling need for speedy feedback and support
In April, the new EWP+ Community Service Desk became operational. The Service Desk supports requests from students, HEIs and technical people about the EWP+ Dashboard, the Erasmus Without Paper Network, the Erasmus+ App and the Online Learning Agreement (OLA). Since September, support for MyAcademicID is also a possibility. Besides looking for support, visitors can also submit tickets with suggested changes or improvements to help the EWP+ Consortium in their continuous efforts to make the ESCI infrastructure as user-friendly as possible.
From October 2022 onwards, all users experiencing interoperability problems with exchanging data via EWP+, can raise an issue at the ESCI Service Desk. This is regardless of the system they and their partner use. Service Desk agents will contact the involved technical teams and aim to facilitate the solving of the issue. This expansion and improved synergy with third-party service desks is essential to be able to support all EWP+ end users in a comprehensive and timely manner. Furthermore, it allows for a better overview of where problems arise and what works without problems.
Throughout 2022, the Service Desk received 1324 tickets related to student issues, and 3297 non-student requests. Most questions in the non-student category concerned the EWP+ Dashboard (40%), while about 20 percent issued a ticket specifically about the IIA functionality and 9 percent about LAs. On the student side, the vast majority had questions about the Online Learning Agreement (90% of all student tickets).
EWP+ Dashboard: enhanced EWP+ Dashboard became available
We are pleased to inform you that since Monday 12 December, an enhanced version of theEWP+ Dashboard is available. The enhancements were long-awaited since the first sneak preview during the EGD Spring webinar. Both the User Interface (UI - this is what you see when using the Dashboard), and the User Experience (UX - the experience that a person has as they interact with every aspect of the application) have been improved substantially.
This upgrade is the culmination of months of work which aimed to improve the experience of all Dashboard users. And while your EWP+ Dashboard will look completely different, OLAs, IIAs, user accounts and all your other work remains available in the new version. Compare it with a major upgrade of your PC/laptop operating system: after this upgrade you still have access to your holiday pictures and documents.
Considering that around 75 percent of all ECHE holders are relying on the Dashboard to exchange their data via EWP+ for student mobility, we are approaching this transition with both excitement and caution.
During the transitional phase, users can submit feedback via a survey to ensure that the community voice is heard, and any issues encountered are addressed as well as further improvements mapped. A link to the survey is available in the homepage of the EWP+ Dashboard.
Our goal is to ensure a smooth transition for all the users and to make sure everyone has enough time to feel at home in the new interface, which is why theprocess will be gradual. More support material can be found in the Competence Centre.
EWP+ Stats Portal: identify which of your partners use EWP+
When dealing with the online renewal of inter-institutional agreements (IIAs) and learning agreements (LAs), one question you must have asked is: what tool is my partner using? TheEWP Stats Portal became available in 2022 and unlocked information on which tool and provider each higher education institution (HEI) is using. It allows IT administrators to search with institution name, Erasmus code, city, country, etc. letting you quickly see which tool your partner is using.
The EWP+ Stats Portal contains statistics (coming from providers) about the number of IIAs and LAs shared and approved via EWP+. With those numbers rapidly increasing, the EWP+ Stats Portal can support National Agencies to map the status quo and reinforce their monitoring efforts. In the future, we aim to add even more functionalities to increase the transparency on the readiness of each partner to smoothly exchange the data or be aware that e.g., technical testing is still ongoing.
Looking at 2023
Much has been achieved throughout the past twelve months. The EWP+ Consortium focused on putting in place adequate support, governance, and technical measures. This to ensure EWP can meet both the needs and expectations of the higher education community. The findings from the Assessment Report help illustrate how to tackle long-standing interoperability issues in a pragmatic and decisive fashion.
This is the next step for the EWP+ project and will enable most of the Higher Education Institutions to successfully conclude new IIAs and LAs through EWP+. We crossover into 2023 with renewed optimism after seeing the progress made during the last months.
Providers of third-party software need to become fully compliant with the EWP requirements and specifications. Any institution still experiencing technical problems in exchanging data with one or more of their partners, should report this to the expanded ESCI Service Desk. This will aid the EWP+ Relationship Managers, who came aboard as part of the Action Plan.
The key goal in 2023 therefore is to ensure that no-one is left behind and effectively addressing the problems HEIs may still be facing regarding data exchanges in EWP. This should allow to achieve the EWP+ vision and goals, leading ever more students to benefit from and fully enjoy the Erasmus+ opportunities.
Together with the European Commission and making full use of the new governance structure, EWP+ will continue to improve the user-friendliness and functionality of the EWP+ network and its building blocks. This is necessary to enshrine the trust of the community and be able to move forward. Proposals for new features in 2023 will be - after being approved - fully tested before being made available to the whole community. This will lead to the full digitalisation of the Erasmus+ mobility workflows for both students and HEIs. And that has been the primary goal of EWP from the beginning.