About a hundred invited education stakeholders attended the fifth annual Groningen Declaration Meeting held at the Protea Hotel Breakwater Lodge, Graduate School of Business University of Cape Town, South Africa from
17-19 May 2016. This year's meeting was graciously hosted by the South African Qualifications Authority
(SAQA). I was fortunate to have been invited to make the trek to Cape Town, even though it was sacrificing a full week in the endeavor. The opportunity did not disappoint. From the onset of landing late Monday evening and
navigating the short taxi ride to the hotel, I felt compelled to get as much out of this trip and meeting as I had in the previous meeting I attended in Málaga, Spain last year. My effort -- to find and work with others focused
on student mobility and academic credit mobility with a similar passion -- has finally found a home.
The Groningen Declaration was seeded by DUO, the Education Executive Agency of the Netherlands Ministry of Education,
Culture and Science five years ago to stir a movement among education stakeholders to address the cumbersome methods of validating student learning claims and the burden of credential delivery, verification, assessment and
articulation so that student mobility efforts can be enhanced beyond the paper flows. DUO is the government funding body for students and schools, running an annual budget of close to €30 billon. DUO's funding task makes it the national student data depository, managing enrolment data and examination results throughout the entire education system. Since November 2011, students in the Dutch education system may consult their own educational data and share these with others, around the globe. Which is why DUO came up with the idea to initiate the Groningen Declaration Network.
It was Herman de Leeuw who successfully requested DUO to support the launch of the Groningen Declaration. Herman's vision is to develop the GDN as a global movement elevating respect and recognition of
the currency of learning. His work is in support of DUO's national agenda. Herman is the Executive Secretary to the GDN which has evolved from a small meeting of a few dozen five years ago to attracting education stakeholders from around
the globe. Herman recruited many to help, including Victoriano Giralt, from the Universidad de Málaga whom I met at the third RS3G
meeting back in 2009, sharing our mutual interests in shared networks supporting authentication and common web services. Michael Sessa from PESC was coordinating task forces with Rick Torres from the National Student Clearinghouse,
covering the program participant needs and coordinating the task force presenting the implications of what's next for the GDN as it transitions to a formal incorporated entity.
There were many others who helped pull together and host the GDN meeting -- and I would be remiss without naming Joe Samuels, CEO of SAQA who did a wonderful job bringing us all together and demonstrating what can really
happen when people from all the corners of the globe work together. Peter van der Hijden from the Netherlands was the master of ceremonies as in previous conferences -- balancing the agenda across many competing dependencies.
There were more than 25 presentations and participants from around the globe that drew packed rooms, summary take-aways and great conversation. The sheer volume of topics did lead to stalling some of the sessions, but the
meeting still did not disappoint. The coffee breakouts reflected the high level of interest in participants to continue working through diverse challenges.
Of course, there were a number of social networking opportunities throughout the two primary days that did not require smart phones or tablets. As a pre-conference event on Tuesday, many GDN delegates took the boat trip to
Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for years. That was a stark contrast to the present day objective of respecting the freedom of all people regardless of their beliefs, religion or skin. The Tuesday evening
opening remarks and cocktails at the Robben Island Museum including local South African music and appetizers -- both very well liked by the participants. On Wednesday evening, we were bused to Groot Constantia Wine Estate,
for wine tasting and dinner. Twelve more signatories officially committed to GDN ideals during a signing ceremony.
Over the course of the week, I had time to jolt up Table Mountain to eye the Atlantic ocean and landscape around Cape Town. Table Mountain is a must to experience. Plus, I took the Red Bus Tour around the Cape to see the
business district, outdoor shopping mall and local sights. I got on and off the bus about six times, including once to put my feet in the sandy beach of Camp Bay.
Site-seeing aside, I felt the business reasons must be articulated to support why higher education stakeholders -– and the governance of institutions -- should support the digital evolution of credentials so that more people can
enjoy the benefits of what higher education brings forth.
I was a bit vocal with members from UNESCO, as my Pitbull mindset focused on trying to harvest the opportunity of leveraging the need for a global registry of educational providers. I could be apologetic, but given
we are in the 21st century -– and we have seen other industries negotiate how to serve commerce, from shipping, telecom to banking -– I felt our eco-system needs more from the world organizations than a hand shake update on
vision without teeth or substance. We need the world organization to lead the charge and recognize the importance of the GDN. There is much that can be done to lead. It begins with helping stimulate the necessary digital
regulations to formulate how learners anywhere can recognize their learning credentials without the barriers of boundaries, policies and technologies that have been legacy of bygone eras.
This year's meeting included presentations from initial pilots and projects underway in Australia, New Zealand, China, India, Poland, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, UK, United States and South Africa. That is not an
inclusive list. But it reveals the evolving mindset shared across education stakeholders as the signatories engage in the GDN activities to develop the business and technical platforms to improve the recording, the gathering,
the dissemination and archival of learning experiences and the credentials one may earn from formal and informal learning environments. The movement away from paper-based credentialing services won't stop anytime soon --
as stakeholders see the value in sharing digital records they govern -– and the validation, evaluation, assessment of comparability, applicability and value. New applications are being launched to streamline the plumbing so to
speak -– and the consumption of electronic forms so that people everywhere can aspire to engage in meaningful educational opportunities that will change their lives.
Three GDN task forces reported their accomplishments during the conference:
- Navin Vasudev from South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) and
Margaret Wenger from Educational
Credential Evaluators reported on the progress of the Verifications Policy and Best Practices Task Force. That Task Force quickly grew into a global community of experts that share the conviction that verification policy
and best practices will pave the way for global acceptance.
- Rick Torres from the National Student Clearinghouse did
a nice job summarizing several important use cases –- and putting priority on piloting projects across the Unites States, South America and China.
- Michael Sessa from PESC did a superb job articulating the next steps to formally organize and
incorporate the GDN.
- In closing the GDN, Neil Robinson, the Academic Registrar from the University of Melbourne, invited all participants to attend next year's GDN late April 2017 in
I look forward to our progress and next meeting.
Certainly, the GDN's mission has evolved beyond the first meeting. It is now on course to foster and support the portability of academic credentials guiding the conversation more broadly to support individual learning
currency earned through formal and informal source anywhere in the world.