Keeping the Swiss edu-ID grounded in reality

Working groups have made a significant contribution towards launching a lifelong identity for the academic community.

Text: Petra Kauer-Ott, published on 12.05.2016

The authentication and authorisation infrastructure SWITCHaai has been a resounding success. For over 10 years, it has made work easier for university members by allowing them to log into a wide range of web services across all universities with a single password. The Swiss edu-ID, a new academic identity that users will set up themselves, is designed to do even more – providing temporary access for guests, for example. It will remain valid through the owner’s lifetime and can be applied to non-web-based services as well. As was to be expected, this project is proving to be a complex and ambitious undertaking on account of the many institutions, hundreds of services and hundreds of thousands of users involved.


In search of a common denominator

Identity management is deeply embedded in universities’ processes. If the Swiss edu-ID is to succeed, it must be aligned with their identity and access management systems and their administrative processes. A critical review of the concepts by identity providers and service operators is needed in order to find a practicable common denominator. The infrastructure should be future-proof and should bring simplification and other benefits for individual institutions and the community as a whole. To this end, it is important to keep a close eye on other initiatives in the identity field, identify synergies and create interfaces.

A deeper understanding of local processes is necessary to design and implement Swiss edu-ID.

Michael Pfister UNIBE, IT Services

No immediate benefit in many cases

Since the Swiss edu-ID includes personal details, additional issues arise in terms of data protection and security. The focus, however, is clearly on the needs of the universities involved and adapting the Swiss edu-ID to their structures.

Not all members of the working groups can benefit immediately from their efforts. Some universities will only see added value over the longer term. This makes it all the more crucial to ensure that all current and future working groups bring together visionaries and grounded realists alike to work on the transition from SWITCHaai to the Swiss edu-ID. It poses a challenge for every institution, which is why it is supported by the Advisory Board.

It's important to compare Swiss edu-ID with the institutional reality since it is a lot of investment and many changes to be implemented within organisations.

Pierre Mellier EPFL, IT segment manager SI – Governance and Planning Administration

As an infrastructure project, it is also receiving support from swissuniversities. SWITCH is working with the universities on this forward-looking project to contribute substantially to Switzerland’s standing as a centre of research. Version 1.0 of the Swiss edu-ID went into operation in March 2015. It is used primarily for self-registration and only includes a small number of features. This makes it ideal for pilot projects and for firming up the architecture of Version 2.0, which will enable institutions to add new attributes to existing identities and grant – or refuse – access to services.


I was quite sceptical about how you would pull off Swiss edu-ID with those complex use cases. But the simple intriguing idea of using two models – ‹classic› AAI compatible and ‹extended› with additional Swiss edu-ID functionality – for delivering attributes to service providers is quite convincing.

Lars Händler ETH Library, IT services

The release of Version 2.0 is not far off and will mark a key milestone on the way to establishing the new digital identity. This is only possible thanks to the expertise and real-world experience of the working group members.

About the author
Petra   Kauer-Ott

Petra Kauer-Ott

After several years as an e-learning coordinator at the University of Zurich, geography graduate Petra Kauer-Ott joined SWITCH in 2009 and coordinated innovation and cooperation projects. She started working on the Swiss edu-ID project in 2014.


Rolf Brugger, Deputy Project Manager for the Swiss edu-ID and contact for training

A lifelong identity for lifelong learning

For universities, the trend towards lifelong learning means that the market for education is growing. The Swiss edu-ID has the potential to play a role here as well in that it will allow universities to offer services that make it easier for people to find courses and sign up to them. Course participants should be able to use their Swiss edu-ID for direct access to course materials, collaboration and learning tools and the local wireless network. On completing courses, they will be able to add diplomas and certificates to their personal profile. The digital identity is permanent, so participants and teachers can stay in touch with each other after a course has finished.

Not all of the ideas and use cases presented here come from SWITCH. The community played its part. Through regular conferences, project meetings, on-site visits, webinars and informal discussions, we find out the needs, problems and ideas for solutions that exist throughout the SWITCH community. Representatives of the universities’ continuing education departments have formed thematic working groups to develop the Swiss edu-ID for their field.

Different processes for different use cases

The Swiss edu-ID Processes Working Group, for example, found that universities do not all handle identity management for their students in continuing education in the same way. Different administrative offices are also involved for the various MAS, DAS and CAS courses. Information like this is vital in finding solutions.

Contact with Swissuni

SWITCH is also in contact with Swissuni, the association for continuing education at Swiss universities. Swissuni has provided valuable input on topics such as how eduroam, the secure, global Internet access solution for the international academic community, could be made available to Swiss edu-ID users so that students in continuing education always have access to a local wireless network.


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