Think Globally, Act Globally: The UCosmic Consortium

Frustrated by a lack of useful international data, a group of universities has formed the UCosmic Consortium. The organization is developing a better system of data standards and open source tracking software to help postsecondary institutions and education associations more effectively map - and access - their global networks.

data networks

Desperately Seeking Data

As business and communications have become more global, so too has higher education. Faculty and students at American schools are studying and performing research around the world, and while foreign enrollment is slowing at U.S. colleges and universities, the international student population remains strong.

All of these relationships should be leading to a strong global network for American postsecondary institutions. But a lack of effective data collection has created a stumbling block for schools seeking to capitalize on their international connections.

In an effort to overcome this problem, the State University of New York's (SUNY) Office of Global Affairs and the University of Cincinnati (UC) have partnered to launch UCosmic, an international consortium that is developing common data standards and an open-source platform for tracking colleges' global networks.

The group hopes to help schools answer questions like: Where are faculty members working abroad? How many students are taking classes overseas? Ultimately, this information should help colleges build a map of their international relationships and use it to develop stronger partnerships worldwide.

global networks

A Global Education Network

UCosmic is derived from a data management system developed in 2006 at UC. That year, the university tried to figure out where its foreign graduate students had earned undergraduate degrees. This could be invaluable information for recruiting more international students, but university officers found that they had no way to access this data. They were relying on College Board CEEB codes to track undergraduate institutions on transcripts, but the majority of international schools were listed under a generic 'Foreign Institution' code.

In response to this frustrating discovery, UC created its own database of foreign institutions and began to re-engineer their data tracking system to collect more international information. Although the software developed at UC is too customized to be adopted by other universities, the school's endeavor inspired the UCosmic consortium.

The initial members of the consortium include Lehigh University, the College Board, Griffith University (Australia) and Manipal Education, an international education company based in India. Membership is open to universities, foundations, associations, government agencies and independent information-technology consultants.

The website will provide a forum for members to determine what information should be collected, and for programmers to collaborate on developing open source code and software that can be more easily distributed to multiple institutions.

Although the data tracking code, once developed, will be available for free to any institution, UCosmic hopes that organizations will join the consortium in order to have input into data gathering and the establishment of information processing standards. Speaking to The Chronicle of Higher Education, Mitch Leventhal, UCosmic's executive director, noted that about 20 members signing up in the first year will be required to effectively spread out the costs of development.

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