Let me tell you a Shibboleth is a beautiful article outlining the needs for Federated Identity and Open Access (in some form) for Higher Ed. Institutions.
I could just say that and let you go read the link. But, rather than rely on you to actually do that, I am going to quote heavily from it to give you the basic overview (in the context of the article "content" and "resources" refer to an institution's books, journals, data, VLE 'courses', etc. – what is usually considered the "crown jewels"):
Students come to institution x for a variety of reasons, but you're unlikely to hear them declare that it's the wonderfullness of the content that brought them there... [What] attracted the students include the institution's perceived status in the global and national marketplace. The perception can be based on a multiplicity of criteria with surveys by the national press in the UK playing a signficant part. Such surveys inevitably focus on the facilities, support infrastructure, attrition, employment in the area of study post graduation, research rating etc. So the irony here is, if you're feeling really radical, you could boost your crown jeweldom by persuading your institution that it could adopt an open/public access policy and make all its content available because students come to the institution for the real crown jewels, i.e. the process, the interaction - with leaders/experts in a field and other students and above all the official document at the end which proves, yes, they were 'there'.
Those institutions which adopted a full or partial open resources policy, e.g. MIT, Utah State University, and in the UK the University of Southamptom don't seem to have suffered unduly and, if anything, have gained considerably from their decision.
How can institution A and publisher B and institution C and database broker D and institution E enable particular users who meet particular criteria to have access to resources which may be sited at any one of the co-operating entities? Of course, we could irritate the hell out of users (as we do) by requiring an individual registration and login for each resource request. Or ... enter stage left ... there's middleware.
Okay, now that you had enough teaser, go read the entire article.