Transcripts – The State of the Matter | digitalLEARNING Magazine
July 2013

Transcripts – The State of the Matter

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Sankaran

(Dr Sankaran Raghunathan, Dean, The National Management School, India, is an expert in transcript or document security matters)

One issue that is being addressed across countries in higher education is the secure generation, distribution, and, subsequent verification of transcripts. Traditionally, transcripts are printed on paper and delivered to students. In order to secure the transcript, universities started the use of a security paper to print the transcript on, hoping that a secure media also secures the data. The cost of such a secure paper is passed on to the student.

Verification of transcripts issued by universities poses its own logistical nightmares. Employers who receive transcripts from graduates or universities who receive transcripts from applicants need to have these paper transcripts verified for authenticity. Such verification is done directly with the issuing university; this is time consuming and expensive. Employers engage third-party agencies for such verification. The issuing university needs to devote resources to process requests for verification.

In order to avoid such verification requests, universities established the practice of taking the request for transcripts from students and sending the transcripts directly to the final recipient; this way the receiving university or employer gets the transcript directly from the issuing university and therefore further verification become redundant.  However, the issue of securing the paper transcript still remains. In spite of using security paper for transcripts, tampering and fraudulent transcripts could not be avoided.

Drawbacks

The EDI system can only work when the member institutions harmonise their systems to generate, send and receive transcript data in a particular format. Therefore, the EDI system works well only within a system of universities within a state system. Recipients outside the system therefore are unable to participate.

The Central Repository method suffers from the general flaws of any centralised system – the need to have a huge infrastructure, security of such a central database, sharing of student records by universities with a third party are not insignificant issues. The very weight of  such a repository brings it down.

The eTranscript or PDF transcript system, while elegant in its electronic automated process for handling requests from students and generating transcripts and directly distributing the transcript to the end recipient suffers from one fundamental flaw of requiring the originating university to share the student record with the third party which uses the software system to generate the PDF transcript. Legislations such as the FERPA in the United States prohibit such sharing of student records with third parties. In addition, this system also requires high expenditure on new software systems and hosting infrastructure.

Imagine a situation where universities can generate transcripts either on ordinary paper or electronically in a very secure format that cannot be  tampered with; distribute this secure transcript without the need for sharing the data with any third party; with the transcript so issued being verifiable at any time or place via the Internet without recourse to the original database or the issuing University.

The solution that meets all these requirementswill be discussed in the next part.

Strategies prevalent across various countries:

  • Some countries, especially China, and more recently some European countries have established a centralised repository of transcripts. Universities in those countries send the student data to this repository that issues
    transcripts and verifies them as well. The Groningen Declaration is an attempt by European Consortium to bring uniformity across countries for such a centralised repository. The National Student Clearing House in the US has about 1,200 universities that have subscribed to this centralised repository.
  • Electronic Data Interchange (EDI or EDX) is a system used by most US university systems, at least within each state, to send transcripts in a pre-determined format electronically upon the request for the issue of transcript
    by a student.
  • eTranscripts or transcripts in PDF format generated by a computer system and sent electronically via the Internet
    to the end receipientdirectly at the request of the student is another trend. eTranscript vendors provide the software or the service for this.

An apt solution for universities should:

  • Avoid sharing of student records with any central repository or third-party
  • Not require investment in any new infrastructure either for generation or distribution of transcripts
  • Enables generation of tamper-proof transcripts on ordinary paper or electronically
  • Not require any additional spending on media
  • Verification of transcript should be simple, universal, and not require access to the original database
  • Be less expensive to implement in terms of time, effort and money
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