Na­tional Aca­demic De­pos­i­tory is now op­er­a­tional

The Na­tional Aca­demic De­pos­i­tory changes the way de­grees are pre­served, the way ver­i­fiers ac­cess aca­demic data of an ap­pli­cant

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The Na­tional Aca­demic De­pos­i­tory (NAD), the coun­try’s elec­tronic de­pos­i­tory for aca­demic records and doc­u­ments, is now op­er­a­tional, vir­tu­ally of­fer­ing de­mat ac­counts for stu­dents en­abling them to keep track of their aca­demic achievements and ac­cess to ver­i­fiers too so that they can es­tab­lish the ve­rac­ity of an ed­u­ca­tional claim made by, say, a job ap­pli­cant. The NAD is a plat­form that holds all cer­tifi­cates, de­grees, awards and other aca­demic awards earned by stu­dents, in an elec­tronic for­mat so that these stu­dents can ac­cess them at any point of time, and at the same time en­sure that the cre­den­tials are not dam­aged or forged.

The two se­cu­ri­ties de­pos­i­to­ries in the coun­try, the Cen­tral De­pos­i­tory Ser­vices (In­dia) (CDSL) and the Na­tional Se­cu­ri­ties De­pos­i­tory Ser­vices (NSDL), through their re­spec­tive sub­sidiaries - CSDL Ven­tures and NSDL Data­base Man­age­ment - were man­dated to op­er­a­tional­ize the NAD. It was the ex­pe­ri­ence of the coun­try’s two de­pos­i­to­ries in run­ning se­cu­ri­ties de­pos­i­to­ries for nearly 20 years that the gov­ern­ment thought that their sub­sidiaries should be en­trusted with the project. The NAD is ex­pected to cover around 1500 ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions in the coun­try and their 40,000 plus af­fil­i­ated col­leges. It is prob­a­bly the first of its kind in the world. This ini­tia­tive brings to­gether in­sti­tu­tions at dis­parate lev­els of IT ma­tu­rity to par­tic­i­pate in the na­tional dig­i­tal aca­demic de­pos­i­tory ecosys­tem.

DIG­I­TAL DE­GREES

Joydeep Dutta, ED and Group CTO, CDSL, says the NAD is op­er­a­tional wherein de­grees, cer­tifi­cates and awards are stored se­curely, dig­i­tally on the plat­form and can be ac­cessed at any given point of time in a se­cure man­ner. He says ev­ery cer­tifi­cate/ award data that is avail­able on the plat­form is dig­i­tally signed and pre-ver­i­fied by the is­su­ing aca­demic in­sti­tu­tion. Those who want to ver­ify the same can ac­cess the plat­form upon au­tho­riza­tion by the stu­dent and a fee is paid through a pay­ment gate­way. “This will make the task of em­ploy­ers, back­ground check­ers, con­sulates and uni­ver­si­ties, who wish to check the ve­rac­ity of the ed­u­ca­tional qual­i­fi­ca­tions of an ap­pli­cant, much eas­ier,” says he.

Be­sides ed­u­ca­tional cer­ti­fi­ca­tions, de­grees and mark­sheets, the NAD can also hold pro­vi­sional cer­tifi­cates, skill cer­tifi­cates, tran­scripts, convocation cer­tifi­cates and trans­fer cer­tifi­cates, is­sued by aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions in a dig­i­tal for­mat. “Cer­tifi­cates from 10th stan­dard are ex­pected to be avail­able in the NAD,” says Dutta.

“We have al­ready signed up over 220 aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions and boards who are in var­i­ous stages of up­load­ing / up­dat­ing awards in the elec­tronic for­mat in the NAD sys­tem. We have a cu­mu­la­tive count of nearly 30 lakh awards in the sys­tem, which can be ver­i­fied by the in­sti­tu­tions / com­pa­nies who are reg­is­tered,” says Dutta.

VER­I­FI­CA­TION PROCESS

Dutta men­tions that the whole ver­i­fi­ca­tion re­quest process - re­quest by ver­i­fi­ca­tion agency, con­sent by the stu­dent con­cerned, pay­ment of ver­i­fi­ca­tion fee and the dis­play of the fi­nal im­age to the ver­i­fier - can be com­pleted in min­utes, which other­wise would take months, es­pe­cially when a ver­i­fier is in a dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tion than the univer­sity con­cerned. Stu­dents too stand to ben­e­fit as all their aca­demic cre­den­tials are avail­able in one plat­form and dig­i­tally, says he.

The ma­jor ben­e­fit of this fa­cil­ity is the near to­tal elim­i­na­tion of fake or forged doc­u­ments/cer­tifi­cates. Be­sides, there is no prospect of any pos­si­ble loss of the doc­u­ments/cer­tifi­cates and no re­quire­ment of at­tes­ta­tion.

APOSTILLE

The elec­tronic process to au­to­mate Apostille au­then­ti­ca­tion of the award doc­u­ments con­firm­ing the orig­i­nal­ity by the ex­ter­nal af­fairs depart­ment of the cen­tral gov­ern­ment, after ob­tain­ing the au­then­ti­ca­tion from the con­cerned state gov­ern­ment de­part­ments as re­quired, is also be­ing eval­u­ated to be im­ple­mented in the NAD. Coun­tries which are a part of the Hague Con­ven­tion falls un­der Apostille au­then­ti­ca­tion. There are des­ig­nated au­thor­i­ties in ev­ery coun­try to is­sue Apostille cer­tifi­cates to le­gal­ize a doc­u­ment. The min­istry of ex­ter­nal af­fairs in con­junc­tion with the state gov­ern­ments cur­rently use out­sourced agen­cies in this process. In the cur­rent process, stu­dents need to ap­proach one of the agen­cies with the doc­u­ments and re­quired iden­tity and ad­dress proof. The Apostille doc­u­ment can be ei­ther picked up where it is sub­mit­ted or de­liv­ered to the stu­dent ad­dress or ver­i­fier.

MAIN FEA­TURES

Dutta says CSDL Ven­tures and NSDL Data­base Man­age­ment have pro­vided the hard­ware, soft­ware and net­work­ing sys­tem as well as se­cu­rity sys­tems for the plat­form. The aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions / boards / eli­gi­bil­ity as­sess­ment bod­ies are re­quired to se­lect ei­ther of the two de­pos­i­to­ries for en­ter­ing into legally en­force­able agree­ment for uti­liz­ing the ser­vices of the NAD.

Stu­dents and ver­i­fi­ca­tion users are free to se­lect ei­ther of the de­pos­i­to­ries to reg­is­ter on to NAD. Be­sides, there is porta­bil­ity wherein all awards would be avail­able on both de­pos­i­to­ries - the stu­dents and ver­i­fiers can switch among the de­pos­i­to­ries if they are not sat­is­fied with the ser­vices ren­dered.

Dutta lists some of the fea­tures of the NAD: “Firstly, the de­pos­i­tory is op­er­a­tional in a fully on­line mode. Se­condly, it al­lows lodg­ing of aca­demic records in a dig­i­tal for­mat, main­tain­ing the in­tegrity of ac­cess to the data­base and of the awards lodged in the data­base. The maker/checker fa­cil­ity for the in­sti­tute strength­ens the ac­cu­racy of the awards up­loaded into the sys­tem by the in­sti­tute of­fi­cials. Then it al­lows stu­dents to re­trieve their lodged aca­demic awards at any time and prospec­tive em­ploy­ers and ver­i­fiers to ver­ify the au­then­tic­ity of the claims of an ap­pli­cant with prior ap­proval of the ap­pli­cant. Be­sides ev­ery­thing, the sys­tem main­tains the au­then­tic­ity, in­tegrity and con­fi­den­tial­ity of the doc­u­ments stored.”

All the in­sti­tu­tions listed by name by the Univer­sity Grants Com­mis­sion will be cov­ered by the NAD. Among them will be cen­tral uni­ver­si­ties, cen­tral higher ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions and in­sti­tu­tions em­pow­ered by an act of Par­lia­ment or state leg­is­la­ture to grant de­grees, cen­tral higher ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions award­ing diplo­mas, state uni­ver­si­ties and deemed to be uni­ver­si­ties and pri­vate uni­ver­si­ties ap­proved by the UGC, etc.

STAKE­HOLD­ERS

The NAD will have as its stake hold­ers, stu­dents/other award hold­ers, aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions/boards/eli­gi­bil­ity as­sess­ment bod­ies, ver­i­fy­ing en­ti­ties like banks, em­ployer com­pa­nies (do­mes­tic and over­seas), gov­ern­ment en­ti­ties, aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions/ uni­ver­si­ties/ boards/ eli­gi­bil­ity as­sess­ment bod­ies, UGC / MHRD and the two de­pos­i­to­ries.

Ac­cord­ing to Dutta, CDSL Ven­tures has con­ducted sev­eral aware­ness ses­sions in dif­fer­ent cities to pro­mote the con­cept and ben­e­fits of the NAD.

CHAL­LENG­ING TASK

He says the task that is set for the NAD is chal­leng­ing. “There is this ques­tion of rev­enue loss for the uni­ver­si­ties as they used to charge a fee for ver­i­fi­ca­tion of cer­tifi­cates. We found a so­lu­tion to this ap­pre­hen­sion and we de­cided to in­cor­po­rate the charges that the uni­ver­si­ties levy for the ser­vice in our com­mis­sion, and in ad­di­tion a nom­i­nal con­ve­nience charge is levied by the de­pos­i­tory as agreed upon by the aca­demic in­sti­tu­tion. But, see the ben­e­fits. The whole ver­i­fi­ca­tion process would be­come real-time and would be af­ford­able to a larger num­ber of stu­dents. It would be­come has­sle-free for stu­dents, who typ­i­cally have to go from one place to an­other and of­ten fall prey to touts. Also, they can get the ver­i­fi­ca­tion done from any­where in the world,” he says.

There are also tech­no­log­i­cal chal­lenges that the NAD had to face. While some of the uni­ver­si­ties had a ro­bust tech­nol­ogy in­fra­struc­ture, many of them lacked sys­tems that can work seam­lessly with a sys­tem that was de­vel­oped for the NAD. Many of them use very old and out­dated data­base sys­tems or even spread­sheets. “To over­come these chal­lenges that re­sult from this mul­ti­plic­ity of plat­forms, sys­tems and pro­cesses, we have cre­ated a lot of ‘con­vert­ers’ to make the data uni­form and in an up­load­able for­mat.” says he.

The UGC / MHRD has ad­vised the aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions to not only do prospec­tive up­load of the awards but over a pe­riod of time up­load legacy data as far back as the data is avail­able in the in­sti­tute records. This is a big chal­lenge for many in­sti­tutes since the unique iden­ti­fiers like email and mo­bile num­bers were not be­ing cap­tured in the past. In case of prospec­tive records, it is ex­pected that the aca­demic records of a stu­dent for a par­tic­u­lar de­gree / diploma is en­tirely up­loaded which would mean that even if the records start get­ting up­loaded this aca­demic year it may re­quire load­ing the pre­vi­ous two or three years of data for the stu­dent’s com­plete record to be avail­able in the NAD.

The in­ter­op­er­abil­ity be­tween de­pos­i­to­ries brings in chal­lenges wherein record unique­ness and ac­cu­racy needs to be en­sured. To en­sure that both de­pos­i­to­ries have iden­ti­cal stu­dent award data and each de­pos­i­tory is a true copy of the other, the mod­i­fi­ca­tion of records are only al­lowed through the de­pos­i­tory which ini­tially up­loaded the data. This also makes log­i­cal sense since the in­sti­tute en­gages with one de­pos­i­tory and not both while fi­nal­iz­ing raw data for­mats and data con­ver­sion pro­cesses. In or­der for the stu­dent record to be mapped to his aca­demic data, the Aad­haar ID or a sys­tem gen­er­ated NAD ID is used as the link­ing field, which needs to be seeded in the aca­demic record for it to show up un­der the stu­dent lo­gin.

PRE­CIOUS DATA

Datta says the data that will be avail­able with the NAD is so pre­cious that the gov­ern­ment can at any time use it for an­a­lyt­i­cal pur­poses. Even false claims of schol­ar­ships and grants can be de­tected and elim­i­nated. In fu­ture education poli­cies can be for­mu­lated based on an­a­lyt­i­cal data avail­able in NAD.

Aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions need not in­vest in high end IT in­fra­struc­ture and soft­ware, and have their sys­tems avail­able 24x7 and in­ter­net fac­ing. There­fore, cy­ber se­cu­rity com­pli­ance is less of a worry to the aca­demic in­sti­tu­tion since it is taken care by the de­pos­i­tory.

Dutta sums up the ben­e­fits of the NAD: “The sys­tem has 24×7 up­time and near real time aca­demic record ver­i­fi­ca­tion ir­re­spec­tive of stake­holder lo­ca­tion re­sult­ing in con­ve­nience to the stu­dents and ver­i­fiers. It is dig­i­tally signed in­sti­tu­tion au­then­ti­cated awards that are avail­able on­line. There is near to­tal elim­i­na­tion of fake and forged awards. There is no risk of loss of phys­i­cal awards since the same is avail­able on­line. Stor­age of phys­i­cal records can be re­duced or nearly elim­i­nated and there is no need for in­sti­tu­tions to have IT in­fra­struc­ture with his­tor­i­cal data as this data will be stored by the NAD.”

Joydeep Dutta points out that the Na­tional Aca­demic De­pos­i­tory is a unique ven­ture for the ben­e­fit of sev­eral stake­hold­ers

The in­au­gu­ra­tion of the NAD

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