Built to Innovate: The Benefit of APIs in Higher Education

To create, preserve, and disseminate knowledge.

Many mission statements of Universities read very similar — quite naturally so. The one from above is Yale’s mission statement. With the fast growing amount of digital information (with a 40% annual growth rate), higher education networks that are becoming more complex, but at the same time an increasing ephemerality this mission is a grand challenge for universities. Application Programming Interfaces can help overcoming this challenge.

More and more institutions in Higher Education recognize the opportunities related to APIs. That is backed up by a recent Request for Information (RFI) on the “Use of APIs in Higher Education Data and Student Aid Processes” by the US Department of Education. The request is now closed, but commenting was open for all with the purpose of exploring how APIs can help to enhance access to information on higher education, specifically to improve process effectiveness and student aid programs always with security and privacy in mind.

The Benefit of APIs in Higher Education

We have written a lot about what APIs are and the various use cases how they can be deployed to be successful in the API Economy in general. For a more formal work about the Five Axioms of the API Economy refer to our related series of blog posts. APIs in Higher Education API Evangelist Kin Lane 3scaleA very recent work specifically about APIs in Higher Education was established by the API Evangelist Kin Lane and you can download the report here: “The University of API“. Kin describes several case studies of Universities using APIs, some of which we will mention below, too.

Another great resource is the “The Advantage of APIs” in Higher Education report by Jisc who is a registered charity that champions the use of digital technologies in UK education and research. This report argues that APIs for Universities can lead to benefits specifically in the following areas:

  1. Disburden the exchange of data or services internally and externally (between universities or suppliers)
  2. Automate laborious tasks
  3. Attract more students by increasing brand visibility
  4. Alleviate innovation

Points one and two are fairly straightforward. We think that especially points three and four are exciting. By allowing controlled access to APIs, Universities could leverage a network effect to appear with their brand on a multitude of different channels such as web sites or portals, social media platforms or mobile apps. 93.5% of college students are more likely to prefer a know brand. A great example for allowing innovation more easily is about the origins of the mobile app of Newcastle University in UK. The innovation was triggered by a student who designed and built the app initially to help first year students settle into campus life.

Case Studies of Higher Education Institutions Using API

Built to Innovate: The Benefit of APIs in Higher EducationThe API program of Brigham Young University is with over 250 APIs probably one of the largest programs in the Education sector. Brigham Young University is the third-largest private university in the U.S. and is located in Provo, Utah.

The UC Berkeley API Management Portal is a good example for a centralized developer portal, where developers get all the information they need to get started; such as search and find APIs, learn how to use them, live test APIs and get the right level of access. The API spans functionality such as courses, student info, schedules, facilities data, employee information, research projects and many more.

A very obvious area for deploying APIs is to make library collections available. Two good examples are the Cambridge University Library and Harvard’s DASH, a digital repository for scholarly articles, theses, and dissertations.

A final interesting API project in the Higher Education sector is the API of Mendeley. This API is a platform that allows scholars from all over the world to collaborate on scientific works, and it opens up science for everyone.

 

In summary, we see the main benefits as twofold:

First, APIs allow to make innovation happen a lot easier. Innovation based on APIs can happen:

  • Internally between the various University departments by way of a private API program
  • Within a University’s partner network of suppliers or even between various distributed research groups of different Universities by way of a partner API program
  • In the wider ecosystem by way of a public API program that everyone could access and innovate on. This one could be particularly relevant for students who very clearly feel the pains or potential gains and if they get an API to access services or data directly themselves — the possibilities would be almost limitless.

Second, well-designed APIs will increase efficiency of services and processes. Exchange of data can be simplified and tasks can be automated. Also, an API is basically a centralized point of access, which can be managed and maintained much easier leading to less operational efforts and cost savings on the long run.

3SCALE provides an API management solution that covers the core aspects of exposing an API including usage policies, rate limiting, access control and security, analytics and reporting, API documentation, a developer portal, and monetization and billing.

If you are interested, test us by signing up for our free Base Plan or request a demo.