InAcademia – Online student validation for retail and commercial services

Many organisations offer students and staff special discounts or deals. From student railcards, offers on everything from clothes to concert tickets, to free or discounted software and services, students get numerous benefits as long as they can prove that they are students – usually by showing a student card.


But how do you provide these discounts or offers online? Requiring students to scan and email a student card takes effort (and exposes students to the risk that they might share much more information than is necessary) and then those scans have to be manually checked and verified, making offering special deals time consuming and costly. Often it is too difficult to check IDs so either offers aren’t available on-line or they can be open to abuse.


Wouldn’t it be perfect to give discounts to students and be sure that the user is actually a student? Wouldn’t it be great that if you’re an Identity Provider you’d only have to connect once to the community of Service Providers and not be bothered again for access or discount services?


Now we have a solution to help bring Identity Providers, Students and Suppliers together. In collaboration with national research and educational networks (NRENs) GÉANT introduces InAcademia, a service for validating a user’s affiliation with an academic institution. 


InAcademia – Leveraging the power and reach of eduGAIN

Identity federations have been well established in Higher Education. Within these frameworks, services and institutions handle authentication requests and exchange user profile information to facilitate a user getting access to a service. The whole process is highly standardised and the institutions, the services and the federation operator all allow the trusted exchange of this identity information. Interfederating with eduGAIN expands the capabilities of these services to link more and more services and Identity Providers increasing the value of the service. For large scale academic Service Providers the benefit of federating and interfederating clearly outweigh the costs but for small organisations like local concert venues or bookshops how can they justify the cost and complexity? How can we make it simpler for these types of providers?


Because of this need for a lightweight, easy-to-use service GÉANT decided to implement InAcademia. The idea was to develop an easy-to-use academic validation service. Giving the services easy access to the high quality affiliation of a user, while at the same time making sure neither the service nor the institution has to invest a lot of effort in the exchange of that information. 


How does it work?

InAcademia is using the eduGAIN infrastructure to make validations possible. By implementing the service via an InAcademia button in the website of the service provider InAcademia is taking care of the specific affiliation validation request. This request of course does not contain any personal data. If this specific service is allowed to use the InAcademia service and if it is eligible to receive the requested affiliation, InAcademia will make the next step. InAcademia will ask the user to prove his affiliation by authenticating using his institutional account. In the request to the home organisation, the InAcademia service will only ask for an affiliation, nothing else. Assuming the user is able to authenticate, a matching affiliation is provided and the user consents to releasing that information to the website, the InAcademia service will then confirm the affiliation in a boolean fashion. The information which is released is limited to validating that the person is a member of the institution and his/her status. 


Benefits for an identity provider

Offering users access to special services or discounts is a clear benefit to them but can Identity Providers justify the hassle you need to go through when connecting a specific Service Provider? By using InAcademia there is no need to manage specific Service Providers anymore – the whole world of student benefits is opened to your users in one step.  


Benefits for a service provider

The benefits for a Service Provider are clear. InAcademia will provide service providers a quick, easy, reliable and secure way to verify identities. Just by adding a small link to the supplier’s website the student can verify themselves and the supplier is provided with an authentication code to confirm the student’s status in real-time. There is no need to request and check photographs of IDs or check email addresses against lists of valid institutions. Everything happens either during registration or checkout on your website. This makes validation simple, quick and cost-effective – opening up the academic world as a new and exciting market. 


Which comes first – the identity or the service?

As you can understand there might be a slight chicken and egg problem arising. As long as no Identity Providers have committed to the service there will be hardly any Service Provider interested in signing up. And vice versa, if there are no Service Providers interested, why bother and signup for InAcademia?


Well, the interest is large and the potential is big! If you have an eduGAIN federated Identity service then allowing access for InAcademia is simple and quick so please sign up as soon as possible. Enlighten your work and make your affiliates happy without being involved on a daily basis. InAcademia needs your help! 


The plan and the timing

Currently InAcademia is in a pilot phase. InAcademia needs both chicken and eggs! So the project currently is talking to all kinds of Service Providers and would love to connect as many Identity Providers as possible. For most of the Service Providers it is an easy job to connect to the service. This can be done almost immediately. The pilot phase of the project will last up until early 2018. During that time the financial and support organisation will be shaped and put into place. There is no doubt about the potential success of this great service.


For more detailed information please have a look at ​

CONNECT25_banner.jpgThis ​article appeared in 

CONNECT Is​sue #2​​​​​​​5​​