SWITCH edu-ID in the digital landscape

Digital identities are tools that help users to access services. Why are SWITCH and the SWITCH edu-ID the right choice for the Swiss academic research and education sector and beyond? And how does it fit into the digital identity landscape, which has many other similar services?

Text: Christoph Graf, published on 28.09.2018

Digital identities greatly simplify our digital lives. A single registration with new credentials is all it takes to access many services– no need to register again.

A word of caution: since these digital identities transport user information between data suppliers and services, they inevitably create profiling information as a by-product, e.g. which users accessed which services and at which time. This requires care when selecting a service partner. ‘Free’ services, where you ‘pay with your data’, might not be the best choice. The governance structure of the SWITCH foundation guarantees that it is and will stay bound to the rules set by the Swiss universities themselves.

Life-long learning

An interuniversity working group defined new identity management principles to address important trends in the academic community: life-long learning, increasing mobility and collaboration. This concept was subsequently adopted in the ‘national strategy’ of swissuniversities. The service SWITCH edu-ID is implementing this concept on top of the successful SWITCHaai platform to form the core of the identity management solution for Switzerland’s academic sector.

The key benefit is a single persistent identity that allows users to access services relevant to Swiss higher education organisations. When returning to the university for continuing education, the existing SWITCH edu-ID will speed up the sign-up process. Universities themselves also benefit with the ability to simplify their administrative processes. Furthermore, new service elements added to the centrally provided SWITCH edu-ID identity platform immediately become available to universities, require minimal effort to implement and offer further advantages over time.

To take full advantage of the SWITCH edu-ID, universities need to undertake adoption planning and implementation with the help of SWITCH. This links the university identity management system to the centrally hosted SWITCH edu-ID and ensures that all users can access a SWITCH edu-ID identity. This adoption takes place on a university by university basis and will be supported by project grants from swissuniversities until 2020. Universities may define the timing individually to align with other projects.

Internationally compatible

Research does not stop at national borders; for many years already, the ‘interfederation’ service of GÉANT, eduGAIN, has been supporting international research and education collaboration on a global scale. SWITCH edu-ID is fully compatible with this service.

An active identity management ecosystem also exists outside of academia in Switzerland, and SWITCH is exploring opportunities to collaborate with other emerging services. SWITCH is currently working with SwissSign to identify mutually beneficial interoperation scenarios between SWITCH edu-ID and SwissID. This could include functions of the projected state-recognised digital Swiss e-ID.

The FIDES project led by educa.ch aims to create an identity federation of Swiss schools. SWITCH is represented on the project board and participates in technical workshops in order to coordinate the two identity federations as closely as possible.

SWITCH edu-ID – the identity solution for Switzerland’s research and education sector.

About the author
Christoph   Graf

Christoph Graf

Christoph Graf graduated in Electrical Engineering at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich in 1986. He joined SWITCH in 1991. After leaving to work at DANTE in Cambridge, he came back to SWITCH in 1998. He is now the program leader SWITCH edu-ID.



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