The REFEDS Research and Scholarship entity category has a simple purpose – it aims to simplify the burden of releasing attributes to services providers whilst ensuring that attributes are released in a safe and legally compliant manner that focuses on data minimisation. Federations provide a lightweight audit of service providers to ensure that they have a legitimate interest in receiving a very useful but minimal set of data about a user to enable collaboration and engagement around research and scholarship.

As custodians of the tag, federations are responsible for ensuring that any Service Provider that claims it is compliant and remains compliant with the terms of R&S. Once a year, REFEDS carries out a lightweight review to see what sort of services the tag is being used for in order to bring greater awareness to its application and possible uses.  The 2017 review is now complete and you can see the results on the REFEDS wiki and as an excel spreadsheet.

So who is making use of the tag?

  • Nearly all of the major e-Infrastructures have services that are using the tag, and most of the services are represented by a Service Provider proxy.  Some concerns have been expressed as to how we can get greater transparency of services accessible various proxies – and REFEDS recommends following the AARC Snctfi work.
  • R&S supports a range of practical tools – like wikis, conference management software and other collaboration platforms.  It is clear to see how a small set of personal data – like name, a persistent identifier and email – are essential in these environments and that federated identity without this data does not offer much benefit to the collaborative approach.
  • A group of eLearning tools are also using R&S – from an Open Badges platform, to Open Education websites, Moodle courses, exam paper portals – making use of the data to support the learning goals of individual users.
  • A wide range of research projects and services can be seen using R&S representing Science gateways, portals for advertising post-grad positions, text and data mining tools, the ORCID service and cloud storage for data scientists.

All of the services are well-placed examples of the original intent of R&S – to support the fundamental need for collaboration, support tools and community within the research and education environment in a way that preserves the pr

It’s great to see such a range of services making use of the tag, but REFEDS still has considerable concern about the lack of uptake by Identity Providers. Worries around data protection are well understood, but if we cannot agree on a way to safely transmit minimal data to trusted parties then it is likely that federations will fail. Only 257 Identity Providers currently support R&S within eduGAIN – slightly over 10% of eduGAIN IdP entities. The result will simply push our users into services provided by third parties with less protection or focus on the needs of privacy and the needs of research and education. We urge all Identity Providers to seriously review the R&S approach and consider implementing to help your users engage with these important services.