The risk landscape for international education in 2023

“Planning for risk can alleviate the permanent fire-fighting state many have felt in the past three years”

Working in international education, senior leaders are used to managing risk but the last three years have shown just how complex this responsibility has become.

From the pandemic to devastating natural disasters; the growing mental health crisis to the rise in crime, and particularly the exponential increase in cybercrime; and now the cost-of-living crisis, we are living through a period of exceptional upheaval.

Overseas Trips

Overseas trips have started again, and for those educational organisations planning to resume traditional travel patterns in 2023, it is imperative that they understand the changed risk profile of the destination they are travelling to. Even if a destination was well known, the economic impact of Covid and the cost-of-living crisis is likely to have changed it.  For instance, we are seeing a global increase in crime targeting tourist areas. It is, therefore, imperative that risk assessments on all destinations are properly reviewed and an expert opinion is sought.

Many academics have recurring travel to the same or similar destination, and academic field trips are, in many cases, approved at a faculty level. The risk vetting process in this type of scenario can often be personality-driven versus risk-focused, resulting in grant approvals using faculty criteria below an institution’s threshold for safe travel.

While many organisations have travel approval processes and use travel risk management (TRM) service providers, students and academics need to be educated to use the travel assistance products and pre-travel education and awareness offered.

Environment, Social and Governance Programs and Sustainability

Many universities say that an emerging issue is the adoption of Environment, Social and Governance programs and sustainability efforts. Travel is often a crucial part of research, but there is a growing trend across the scholastic space to manage carbon footprints associated with international travel. Many organisations are asking their researchers if they can achieve results using virtual technology instead.

Crisis Fatigue

One of the biggest challenges for international education is ‘crisis fatigue’, i.e. the burnout that many are feeling when trying to put out one fire only for another to light. This has led to some leaving the profession. This loss of senior staff has compounded the risks associated with leadership and governance, as the sector tries to recover from Covid-19 and faces an uncertain economic outlook.

Cost of Living Crisis

There is also the issue of changing household budgets. Many families are worse off financially since the pandemic and are now suffering further due to rising interest rates, the increased cost of living and the volatile global economy. International education providers relying on foreign student fees are likely to see the economy of the home countries impacting a parent’s decision to send their child to study overseas.

The Growing Threat of Cybersecurity Attacks

In the first six months of 2022, there were 2.8 billion malware attacks worldwide causing devastating knock-on effects for companies. A cyber-attack can potentially crush a business long term, particularly if a data breach is involved and clients’ details are leaked or at threat of being leaked. Prioritising cyber secure measures to focus on risk mitigation should be uppermost on all education institutions to do lists.

However, for organisations looking to enhance or protect their online systems, they need to balance up the risks involved with undergoing an expensive and potentially drawn-out IT project against the risk of doing nothing.

Factors impacting IT projects include the skills gap due to changes in technology and trends; delays in processing skilled visas; the proliferation of IT projects during Covid; as well as the conflict in Ukraine. Studies show that prior to the invasion by Russia, Ukraine was the number one IT outsourcing destination for Central and Eastern Europe. In addition to this, companies like Google, Oracle and Samsung used Ukraine as their primary outsourcing destination for Research and Development. These resources, for the most part, are no longer available, placing even further strain on what remains.

However not investing in IT can compromise a school’s cybersecurity, which can have an expensive ripple effect on the business.

Planning for risk should be the number one priority for international education in 2023. Poor strategic planning presents a huge risk to education institutions. This includes failure to adjust to the Covid recovery period and identify the mid-term impacts; overextending on facilities and infrastructure; and the on-going problem of available IT resources. The war in Ukraine also factors into this, so institutions need a plan to ensure they have contingencies in place.

Mitigation strategies also need to be reviewed and considered in the light of a depressed economy; possible future health challenges; teacher and leadership shortages; and greater demands from students and parents.

We help organisations to identify and mitigate risks associated with all aspects of their physical and protective security requirements, as well as to meet their duty of care requirements for all forms of travel.

About the author: Kate Fitzpatrick is Regional Security Director EMEA at World Travel Protection, a leading global travel risk management company, owned by Zurich Insurance Group. She is an expert in operations, intelligence, investigations and security risk management, and works with clientsto identify potential travel risks, and provide expert security advice and support.