How the Smart Card Revolution is Modernising Higher Education

It’s hard to believe that a three by two inch piece of plastic can have such a dramatic impact on our higher education establishments but over the last few years, Smart Cards have done just that. The magic component, however, is not the plastic but the highly powerful microchip it contains. The chip enables the card to perform a multitude of important functions that make universities run much more smoothly for students and staff alike. Here are just some of the ways the smart card has made an impact.


With thousands of students and staff moving around huge campuses, keeping everyone safe is a difficult task. Smart cards, however, make safeguarding much easier to achieve. As each smart card contains the ID of its owner, it is possible to know who has used it to enter and leave a building. This means, in the case of a lock down situation or emergency evacuation, that administrators will know exactly who needs to be accounted for.

Smart cards, such as those available from Universal Smart Cards, can be used for access control, ensuring only authorised people gain access to buildings and the different areas inside them. This, for example, would prevent intruders getting into student accommodation or stop science students entering potentially hazardous chemical stores.

The other important safeguarding role that smart cards play is in proving ID. Printing on the face of the card allows for immediate physical identiifaction of students and staff, by simply adding details including your institutions information, holders name, logos, photographs and more! Cards can contain or be linked to a system that contains essential personal data, including biometric identification, passwords and more! This means that when authentication is necessary, for example, during the sitting of exams, it is possible to verify that the person is who they say they are.

Attendance monitoring

Attendance at lectures and seminars is crucial if students are to succeed on their courses and smart cards make attendance monitoring very easy. Simply presenting the card to a reader on entry ensures that staff have a complete overview of student attendance and can act swiftly if anyone begins to miss lectures on a regular basis.

Cashless campuses

With large student and staff populations, there can be a significant number of financial transactions taking place on a daily basis. Refectories, cafeterias, student unions, libraries, shops, printers and vending machines are all commonplace on today’s campuses and when payments are taken in cash it means there is a great deal of tallying up to do and a lot of money needing to be kept secure.

Creating a cashless environment where a smart card is used for payment brings many improvements. Without cash, service in shops and eating places becomes quicker, queues become shorter and in some cases, the number of staff needed to serve can be reduced. For the staff in the finance department, getting rid of cash means that the enormous amount of time spent tallying it up is no longer needed. Nor is there a need to hire expensive security firms to take it to the bank.

The added bonus of a cashless system is the rich data it produces. Every purchase is recorded so that the university knows who is buying what, where and when. This gives it a much greater insight into the products and services it offers to its students and enables it to make informed improvements.

Better events and facilities management

Universities host numerous events throughout the year: conferences, concerts, careers conventions, graduations and much more. Smart card technology has enabled these to be organised in much better ways. Smart cards, for example, can be used to buy tickets and allocate seating. As they are linked to an email address, once payment is made, tickets can be automatically emailed without the need for the purchaser to input details. It’s even possible to store the ticket on the smart card.

For events such as careers conventions and open days, smart card technology can be used to show when venues are at capacity. In this way, attendees can be allocated different times so that participant numbers do not break fire regulations.

The cards can also be used to book facilities. Students can use them for booking sports activities, practice rooms, meeting with tutors and borrowing library books, while staff can use them to book teaching rooms, resources and equipment. They can also be used to reserve parking spaces.

The use of smart card technology means much of the work involved in events and facilities management can be undertaken autonomously, freeing up admin staff to do more important work. It also means that staff, such as caretakers, cleaners and resource managers, get a clearer understanding of the work they need to do to make things run more efficiently.

Tighter IT security

Universities have enormous IT systems which run a multitude of critical applications needed for teaching, research, communication and administration. They also store lots of sensitive and valuable data. It is vital, therefore, that their systems are secure. This can be a challenge for most organisations; however, when the number of users runs into the tens of thousands, the task becomes more difficult – especially if some students are not quite as security conscious as the university would like them to be.

Thankfully, smart cards can keep systems safe by enabling multifactor authentication during the login process. Their ability to store pin numbers, certificates, biometric data and other ID credentials means hackers cannot force entry with just a username and password.

Smart cards can also be used for access control on IT systems. Depending on an individual user’s requirements, access can be restricted just to the applications they need. In this way, for example, students would not be allowed access to data only meant for staff.

The all in one solution

Perhaps the best thing about smart card technology is that you only need a single card to carry out everything mentioned in this article. They are so powerful, that all the information needed can be contained in the one tiny chip. This makes them ideal for both the absent-minded student and the eccentric professor. Luckily, if they should lose theirs, they can be cancelled at the click of a mouse. How smart is that?