Digital leap in the transfer of study credits: data on studies completed elsewhere can now be transferred electronically across borders
Metropolia University of Applied Sciences staff and students will start a new era in 2023. Among the first Finnish higher education institutions, Metropolia has introduced an electronic service based on the EMREX solution. It can be used to recognise studies completed elsewhere as part of a degree completed in Finland.
Metropolia needed to improve its efficiency and reliability when the study information system Peppi was updated. The updated version of Peppi now includes the EMREX system, which enables the sharing of study information in an electronic, machine-readable format. This way, studies completed elsewhere can be made part of the degree without manual work phases.
EMREX is widely used, for example, in Norway. Educational institutions around the world are free to join the user network of the system. The network includes all Finnish higher education institutions. Although the change in the Peppi service itself is small from the user's perspective, the reform is expected to revolutionise the recognition of studies completed elsewhere. The use of the EMREX system is constantly expanding to more countries.
The new service makes the credit transfer process easier, particularly when the student returns from the exchange to Finland or to their home institution abroad. Until now, the credit transfer process has been laborious for different parties and has relied heavily on paper documents and the students' own activity. The amount of work and the possibility of errors have been high, and requests for supplementary and additional information are frustrating for both students of the digital age and representatives of the educational institution.
– Until now, the student had to, in practice, attach a large number of documents to their credit transfer application, and the processor has then used the documents to verify the completion of the credits. The processing and certification of these attachments has been arduous craftsmanship, says expert Tapio Ekholm, Project Manager at Metropolia.
Metropolia's Student Counsellor Mari Rupponen agrees. They expect the reform to make things easier not only in their own work but also in the everyday life of the students.
– At present, even the majority of the applications may have to be returned to the student, or the student counsellor may have to retrieve the information when there are deficiencies or incorrect information in the application. For example, the student may have submitted a screenshot of the electronic transcript of records of the target institution as an attachment to the application, but the image is limited so that the student's name is not visible in it. The paper certificate received from the place of exchange may have wrinkled or been damaged along the way, Rupponen says.
Photo: Metropolia University of Applied Sciences
More reliable data and significant savings in time use
The transition to EMREX significantly reduces the time use required by the credit transfer process. In addition to the smooth processing of study attainment data, Tapio Ekholm emphasises that EMREX increases the reliability of mobile data.
– When the data comes into the system from a certified location, such as a Norwegian higher education institution, it is directly readable and more reliable. The data stored in their systems cannot be destroyed or changed on the way. The centralised data repository of our higher education institutions, Virta, operates in a similar way. In other words, when an application for credit transfer is submitted to the processor, they can be sure that the data in the system has already been verified and certified by the recorder.
Tapio Ekholm got the idea of EMREX's possibilities for transferring study attainment data almost 10 years ago. After three years of planning, commissioning and testing, the expectations are high, and the atmosphere is enthusiastic. Ekholm has an encouraging message for future higher education institutions.
– At Metropolia, we’ve instructed teachers and other application processors to carry out the reform, and next, we’ll communicate it to the students. I believe that when the first users try the new approach, the word spreads rapidly and the reception is positive.
Part of a broader Nordic collaboration
The Metropolia reform supports the broader European objective of developing digital services by facilitating and automating data transfer between countries.
A smoother credit transfer process with EMREX is a good practice that also attracts interest outside the higher education sector. The Studying in another Nordic country and the Baltic countries project co-ordinated by the Finnish National Agency for Education wants to increase awareness of Metropolia's good practice. The project works in close cooperation with the Digital and Population Data Services Agency and the Cross-Border Digital Services programme of the Nordic Council of Ministers.
- It’s clear that there are no major technological barriers to such international data transfers. However, international legislation is needed, such as the EU regulation on single digital gateway and funding, so that changes can be made. In this, our role is central, says Senior Adviser Cecilia Leveaux from the Nordic Council of Ministers.
It is essential that solutions that work with Nordic and European solutions and policies are used instead of individual solutions.
Recognition of exchange studies will be simplified at Metropolia
In January 2023, Metropolia University of Applied Sciences introduced an electronic system among the first Finnish higher education institutions to facilitate and simplify the credit transfer process.
One of the main objectives of the reform is to improve the student's user experience. Until now, the credit transfer process has been difficult and time-consuming for both students and higher education institutions.
In the current situation, information on studies completed elsewhere has been examined with various applications, documents and attachments together with representatives of the school. In practice, the service provides the student with additional security, as the student controls their data and can choose which attainment data they want to share with different actors.
Data transmitted by the service is also more likely to be correct and reliable when it moves directly between systems, without intermediaries. At the same time, the processing and recording of data in the student register will be speeded up as higher education institutions receive the data directly in a machine-readable format, says Project Manager Tapio Ekholm.
Nordic countries at the forefront of European digitalisation
The Nordic Council of Ministers wants public digital services in the Nordic and Baltic countries to be among the best in the world. The region will lead European digital development with its own example. The aim of the Council of Ministers' work is to establish the Nordic countries' position as the most sustainable and integrated region in the world by 2030.
The Council of Ministers' key strategic initiative, the Cross Border Digital Services (CBDS) programme, promotes the interoperability of cross-border digital services through a number of projects. The Nordic countries, the autonomous regions of Greenland, the Faroe Islands and the Åland Islands as well as the Baltic countries are involved. The work is based on common European reforms such as the regulation on the single digital gateway (SDG), the European Interoperability Framework (EIF), the principle of single sign-on of official data (SSO) and the common European identification and authorisation system (eIDAS).
One of the implementations of the CBDS programme is the Studying in another Nordic country or the Baltic region project led by the Finnish National Agency for Education. The project works in close co-operation with agencies, ministries and other actors promoting digitalisation. The project has identified good practices. The most recent one is the reform of the fully electronic credit transfer process introduced at Metropolia University of Applied Sciences. The smoother study recognition process through EMREX supports the broader European goal of developing digital services by facilitating and automating data transfer between countries.
The Nordic Council of Ministers is responsible for the funding and political steering of the project. Among other things, the Council of Ministers forms an overall picture of the level of European digitalisation by mapping architecture solutions that facilitate international tourism, studying, working and business in the region. It presents best practices to national authorities and encourages them to make use of them.