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Online enrolment process - getting a compliant solution for you

There are so many compelling reasons that providers are turning to an online enrolment process. From delivering a more seamless experience for learners, to improving the quality of your data and even giving you a better oversight of recruitment flows. The current situation, as providers scramble to deliver educational outputs against the challenge of a global pandemic, has only served to make paperless enrolment more compelling.

Increasingly providers want to implement an online enrolment process but are confused about the ESFA funding rules and how they can ensure any new process is compliant. Many providers aren’t aware that the ESFA rules changed for 2019/20, with much clearer guidance on electronic and digital signatures. If you are considering moving to online enrolments, here’s a summary of the rules[1] to help you make a decision on the right, compliant solution for you:

Does the ESFA accept electronic signatures?  

Yes. “Both electronic and digital signatures are acceptable, we do not specify which should be used, only that a secure process to obtain and store signatures is followed”

What is the definition of a digital or electronic signature?

“An electronic signature is defined as any electronic symbol or process that is associated with any record or document where there is an intention to sign the document by any party involved.

A digital signature is where a document with an electronic signature is secured by a process making it non-refutable. It’s a digital fingerprint which captures the act of signing by applying security to a document. Usually documents which have a digital signature embedded are extremely secure and cannot be accessed or amended easily.”

Does it have to be a “signature” or can it be a tick box?

“An electronic signature can be anything from a check box to a signature.” Whether you’re using an electronic signature or a check box, the important thing to remember here in terms of compliance is that you need to have a secure, “non-refutable” and auditable process in place. Doing this within your learner management system (LMS) which date stamps each check box and provides an audit trail showing which individual logged in to make that electronic symbol complies with the ESFA’s requirements.

Sending a form by email to be signed, scanned and returned doesn’t have the same level of security or the necessary audit trail, so doesn’t constitute a digital signature.

Do these rules apply to all learners?

These rules apply to learners on Adult Education Budget, Apprenticeships (all ages), Advance Learner Loans and Young People 16-19 funded programmes.

The only exception is that for Young People 16-19 the rules require that “…the student has made the electronic signature on the funded institution premises in the presence of a member of staff of the institution. In such cases the students must be given either an electronic or paper copy of the document they have signed on the institution’s premises.”[2] This additional layer of compliance makes a fully online enrolment process impossible under the current rules. 

However, there is growing pressure for this system to adapt given the current restrictions imposed by Covid-19 -  and the change could well be a permanent one when it comes. The current situation is a short-term measure in the grand scheme of things, but making the transition to a digital enrolment process could benefit your organisation in the long run as well.

If you’d like to explore further how our solutions could support you in this move, then you can book onto our Tribal College webinar about paperless enrolment, request a demo or contact hello@tribalgroup.com.