UCC and its staff have found themselves at the crux of a European Commission-led initiative which is set to simplify the mobility of students between Higher Education Institutions (HEI’s) in Europe. The scheme has been brought forward due to the ever-increasing number of students who move between European third-level institutes for educational and leisure purposes. The first stage of the initiative began in June 2016 and was completed in August of this year. In the background of the European Student Card (ESC) plans are Claire Crowley, an IT analyst, who has been a project manager for the ESC, and Paul Moriarty, who is the acting head of Student Experience for UCC. Recently, both Claire and Paul were able to talk to the University Express, explaining everything to do with the European Student Card and UCC’s involvement.
As mentioned previously, the levels of student-crossover between European universities has been steadily rising over the past number of years. In that time, some difficulties that students have experienced have been noted. According to Paul Moriarty, one the biggest problems associated with travelling to other universities is simply all of the bureaucracy involved. The introduction of a ESC will help to alleviate the burden that students have been subjected to in the past. Students who move abroad to study will have access to European Student Identifiers, allowing all ESC students to be uniquely identifiable across all HEIs taking part in the initiative. According to project manager, Claire Crowley, this will broaden “the range of student services to allow students to avail of services in other HEIs, without the need to be a registered students in them.” According to Claire, the ESC will bring a number benefits which will include; discounts for students in other HEI’s, more resources being accessible with greater ease, and, for HEI’s themselves, the ESC should diminish time-consuming administrative tasks, which will then their own costs.
The first stage of three has just been completed and the UCC IT analyst tells me how this process went. “It focused on the creation of the unique student number – European Student Identifier or ESI – and a unique student card number – European Student Card Number or ESCN,” Claire explains. “These numbers are created and stored on the local information system of the institution in which the student is registered (NB: UCC has not sent any student data), and can also be sent externally, pending the permission of the individual student, to a platform called the ESC-Router. This platform will host basic student data, the minimum required, in line with GDPR requirements, and creation of a Portal over this platform allows the student to log on to see what services can be made available to him/her in the various institutions.”
For UCC students, they don’t need to worry about having to carry two student cards around with them, as the ESC will simply consist of placing a logo on the bottom corner of our current UCC ID card for those who want it. In time, however, the UCC student card will be altered in a way which will incorporate the ESC automatically. There are still two stages to go in the project and the timelines suggests that, for most students who are currently studying in UCC, they will unfortunately miss out on the new initiative as the end date for completion is being targeted at sometime in 2022.
Nevertheless, the project still offers the benefits for future generations of students around Europe and therefore is something that UCC should be proud of, according to Crowley. “This project has the support of Professor John O’Halloran and we intend to participate in the follow up project phases also. My take on this is that it’s important that we continue to be part of it, as this is going to be implemented in Europe one way or the other, so our direct involvement allows us to have a voice and a role in shaping how it will be implemented”, Claire says.
UCC has received positive attention from Europe and across the globe due to their involvement in this initiative and this is fantastic according to Paul Moriarty, the head of Student Experience in UCC. “I really do think that this is a big deal and maybe people haven’t realised it yet. We are piloting this with three other colleges from Germany, France and Italy, and I can tell you that UCC is at the top table on a European stage driving this project forward. This has brought the college into conversations at meetings like the Bologna Process. There are decisions and suggestions being made by someone like Claire and we are being listened to and valued by all those involved.” The influence that UCC has had in this initiative cannot be overemphasised. The fact that Ireland will be the only native English-speaking country in the EU following Brexit, means that there could be many more opportunities like this down the line, and this is reiterated by Paul. “I really do think that UCC can and will be involved in other European projects in the future. You know yourself that when you look at a team of people who you have relied on in the past and they have been successful that you’re likely to want them (UCC) to be involved again. It’s been a great PR exercise for us and we should be proud of what we’ve done. Sometimes we in Ireland might feel like we’re on the periphery a bit when it comes to Europe but it’s something that I’ve really noticed of late at meetings that the rest of Europe are really glad to have us involved and I think it’s important that we realise that.”
According to Mr Moriarty, students will soon be able to obtain some of the early benefits of their student cards by getting the ESC logo on it, free of charge, and this is available through the Student’s Union. As mentioned above, the ESC should be rolled out in full by approximately 2022, however, there is good news for those at UCC. As we have been involved with the project from the start, it is hoped by the head of Student Experience that all UCC students will automatically have access to the ESC in about 18 months, including all of its benefits.