By Effah Amponsah, WACREN
Our identity is our uniqueness. Online identity and its management are vital to global migration to digital infrastructure, and citizens can only achieve an effective modern society with efficient governance and administration of digital identities.
In the education landscape, digital identity has become increasingly important as technology has transformed how students learn and interact with their peers, teachers, and the broader community. Digital identity provides a platform for networking, collaboration, and sharing knowledge, leading to increased credibility, reputation, and in some cases, career opportunities.
The ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic created an increased awareness of identity and access management in many sectors in different parts of the world, including African higher education institutions. The desire to offer distance education and e-learning to maintain academic continuity required researchers, students and educators to have secure and authorised access to learning resources, tools and services.
For the education and research communities which have witnessed a drastic change since the pandemic, identity and access management (IAM) plays a significant role in avoiding the security crisis experienced when users generated increased amounts of online traffic with the shift from physical to digital platforms. IAM has become very crucial for African HEIs as it provides a secure and convenient way to manage user identities and access to resources, which is essential for compliance, security, collaboration, and convenience. Therefore, educational institutions must provide an effective IAM system to protect sensitive data and enhance the learning experience. Federated IAM is then used to allow decentralised access to resources. A user from University A can use their University A account to access resources offered by University B without needing a local identity and user account at University B. This service is commonly effected via single sign-on (SSO) protocols and offered through national identity federations.
The eduID.africa solution
After a decade of discovery and evolution through various NREN projects and initiatives, eduID.africa is here to offer much-needed identity access management services and support to the African higher education (HE) community.
eduID.africa is the Trust and Identity collaboration framework established by the three regional research and education networks (RRENs) – Arab States Research and Education Network (ASREN), the Ubuntunet Alliance for Research and Education Networking, and West and Central African Research and Education Network (WACREN) in their AfricaConnect3 project.
eduID.africa has multiple presentations and provides a continental workspace for users, services and institutions to get direct experience, capacity building, and become familiar with consuming and providing federated services, resources and identities.
It is a framework for collaboration on education identity services between the regional research and education networks (RRENs), their NRENs, and service providers in Africa. It includes a capacity-building programme to support NRENs in establishing identity federations in their respective countries. It also operates a ‘Catchall Federation’ to support countries that have not established identity federations.
Governance of the eduID.africa identity federation is delegated to the three African RRENs.
The eduGAIN value for eduID.africa
The participation of eduID.africa in the global inter-federation – eduGAIN adds another layer of value to participating institutions and organisations in the Catchall Federation. Users benefit by accessing global, hitherto inaccessible, resources and education services with a single log-in for research, studies and collaboration to improve their knowledge discovery and use.
Participating HEIs (identity providers) also benefit from conveniently offering their students and researchers enhanced access to national, continental and global education resources.
Participating service providers form a group of more than 3600 providers with a worldwide market of potential users without spending huge budgets on marketing, advertising, and maintenance.
Leaning on the trustworthy eduGAIN enables eduID.africa to provide more services for its users through other federations.
BonafID – a building block for eduID.africa
Many campus networks need a single source of truth for authentication and authorisation data. The information currently exists across several online and offline databases in a significant number of countries across Africa.
Higher education institutions manage identity data for different person groups acquired from various sources and employed in numerous digital systems. An organised and efficient system eases the management of this data, avoids duplicates, and improves data protection and security.
WACREN offers BonafID, a cloud-based federated identity and access management (IAM) platform developed on open-source software to address this gap. The service caters for the identity governance of students, staff, faculty and researchers of participating institutions and acts as an Identity Provider(IdP) for authentication and authorisation purposes. BonafID also implements the “eduID” concept – a life-long identity for higher education being promoted in several countries globally. The idea behind eduID is simple: a user in education registers and keeps a unique identity throughout their educational career. Combining this with the federated IAM concept allows students to seamlessly move between different institutions while maintaining a unique, lifelong identifier that providers can use to offer services to them independently of their current affiliation. The BonafID service is available in French and English and undergoing pilots in Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire.