University of California Student Senate Submits Bill Stating Student Information Systems Must Have API

On November 6th, 2013 the Associated Students, University of California(ASUC) Senate submitted SB 48: A Bill in Support of Student Information Systems Application Developers, stating that "open data and API compatibility is a necessary feature in the new Student Information System".

UC Berkeley has embarked on a "Student Information System Replacement Project" that is looking to "replace its constellation of aging, unique, disparate home-grown student systems with a modern, nimble and effective vendor-supported system". Systems including financial aid, registration, enrollment, admissions and records are being targeted for replacement.

The existing Student Information Systems(SIS) has been in place for over two decades, and facing the same for future systems, the students led organization that represents over 35K students, is taking a stance to ensure that all future systems have APIs. That is some serious forethought and leadership on behalf on the ASUC Senate!

SB 48 puts forth that:

an API, or Application Programming Interface, is a foundation put in place on top of a system to securely make specific information and data public to developers for those developers to create third-party extensions and applications pertaining to their specific uses for the data and program

API and Integration Architect of UC Berkeley, George Atala(@gmatala) adds:

“An SIS API would be critical for supporting the many user applications and other campus systems that serve students. These systems change and evolve continuously, and a real time read/write API is necessary to enable this. The API must cover the full range of core functionality in the SIS, and should support appropriate levels of security for private and public data.”

The bill authored by Sahil A Pandya and Quinn Z Shen nails some of the critical areas around APIs being a vital aspect of university operations, and that much of the SIS overhaul will not happen all at once, when in reality the evolution of all campus systems should happen in smaller, bite-size chunks. APIs would help evolve campus information systems from a 20-30 years technology procurement cycle, to a real-time, ongoing, agile systems lifecycle.

Current SIS are operating without APIs, limiting which applications can be integrated and deployed on top of university systems. Even with this current closed approach, there are a handful of student-made applications such as BerkeleyTime and NinjaCourses that have emerged showing the demand for better quality SIS applications and tools.

These existing, student-developed applications often obtain their information by scraping publicly available information on the Internet. APIs would provide direct access to information, eliminate scraping load on public websites, and provide analytics and insight into what applications exist, and how they use university and student information. APIs provide higher level of control and security for UC IT operations, than even the currently closed systems offer. UC Berkeley uses 3Scale API infrastructure to manage acess, analytics and other vital aspects of their recently launch API operations, but unfortunately is not fullly taken advantage of across all university systems..

In addition to current student-developed applications, there are also other faculty-developed extensions to SIS that apply to specific departments, but are not covered by central information systems. All of these student, faculty and third party applications have proven to be so beneficial to students in serving purposes, that many of them have been officially adopted and endorsed by the University.

Imagine a university where each entering student experiences the financial aid, enrollment and registration process, then one of their first opportunities to learn involves actually contributed to building applications and tools that make that process better. In a world where university resources are increasingly strained, the institutions that remain relevant will allow for student, faculty and third party access to all campus resources via APIs.

I think SB 48 nails it again with?

"the university with the top computer science department should also have the top student information system in place and harness the talent in its students by allowing them to create applications that enhance and extend features in the information system (i.e. the mantra 'Created by students, for students')"

Wait! Information systems created by students for students? What if businesses students could help with data analysis and reporting? What if marketing students could help build interactive campaigns? Sounds like the recipe for some interesting education and work experience for students, and a huge opportunity for the university system to maximize the valuable intellectual exhaust generated by its faculty and students eacUh day.

I have to go out with the last section of SB 48, I think it speaks for itself:

"THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Associated Students of the University of California stand in solidarity with student, faculty, and administrative developers under the unified opinion that open data and API compatibility is a necessary feature in the new Student Information System to ensure its longevity and holistic usefulness to students, not only in its core features, but in the potential add-ons from third-party applications and extensions"