Accelerating validation of academic affiliation with InAcademia’s IdP Hinting feature

Does your ecommerce business need an efficient way to validate that end users claiming to be students for the purposes of accessing special discounts and offers are eligible for those offers? The InAcademia service provides a student verification solution, and its IdP Hinting feature allows merchants to simplify the validation of academic affiliation for users based in specified institutions, providing students with an optimised validation process and providing merchants with the ability to target offers to specified groups of in-scope institutions.

IdP Hinting - what is it and how can it help merchants and institutions?

InAcademia is an OpenID Connect-based API that allows merchants to validate academic affiliation and, therefore, their eligibility for academic-only offers. InAcademia’s core function of affiliation validation requires users to log in at their home institution’s identity provider, which initiates the release of special attributes to InAcademia that facilitate the affiliation validation process. This workflow is the same as workflows that allow users to access thousands of academic services, and therefore users are typically familiar with the concept of academic federated identity.

Our IdP Hinting feature is an extension to the InAcademia service that helps merchants to automatically redirect a user from its registration/sales process straight to the user’s preferred institution, where the user is asked to authenticate. This approach results in fewer steps, helping to create a smoother flow for the user.

The alternative is to redirect the user to what is known as a central Discovery Service, which is essentially a searchable database of home institutions, where the user can select from a wide range of institutions from across the world [ref eduGAIN]. This is a more basic implementation of academic federated identity, but is common to many services across the landscape.

The benefits of IdP Hinting and the Discovery Service are compared below:

Redirect user to home institution using IdP Hinting Redirect user to Discovery Service who searches for home institution

Assists merchants who are keen to minimise the number of clicks a user needs to make in the end-to-end sales or registration process.

The user must be directed to the centralised discovery service from where they can select their preferred institution.

Can be used to focus validation of eligibility in specified countries or to a subset of institutions across or within countries, and therefore can assist with specific campaigns.

The centralised discovery service has global reach and is automatically refreshed with updates.

Provides a readily available list of participating institutions, structured by country, from which merchants can create their own interactive search UI, and even map institutions in an internal database to the related identity provider for specified institutions.

Users can search for their preferred institution prior to authentication, rather than being directed to the institution that the merchant believes is correct.

IdP Redirect Methods Compared

Why use IdP Hinting?

Users of InAcademia’s IdP Hinting feature really like to use it because they can exercise control over where the user can validate their academic affiliation, and because they believe it offers a favourable user experience.

Whilst using IdP Hinting reduces the number of interactions a user must have before they’re able to complete registration or purchase, it requires technical maintenance: the InAcademia service provides a JSON feed for merchants to consume, which enables the creation of an interactive list of institutions that can populate drop down menus on the UI from which a user can select, but that feed must be proactively monitored and updates must be applied daily, especially if the merchant deploys complex mapping between existing databases of institutions and the institutions available to IdP Hinting.

Users of InAcademia’s discovery service like it because of the flexibility it offers and because of the reduced maintenance that is required but, when compared to IdP Hinting, it creates an additional step in the validation process for users to navigate.

Use of the Discovery Service is technically simple, as the hard work to list all the participating institutions is done by the InAcademia service but, when compared to IdP Hinting, it exposes more institutions to the user than the merchant might prefer.

In either case, merchant implementations must consider the scenario where the user’s preferred academic institution is not supported and hence InAcademia cannot be used for validation of the users affiliation. In this case it will be necessary to present an alternative route to proof of affiliation.

Need advice?

Clearly there are various factors to take into account when deciding which approach is right for you. With IdP hinting, InAcademia can provide an enhancement to the academic validation process, allowing merchants to focus offers and discounts to specific countries or groups of institutions, and to reduce the number of steps in the verification process.  The InAcademia team is on hand to help you with this, we welcome the opportunity to discuss your specific use case and provide guidance on which of the above may be most suitable for you.

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