Studying abroad is often the pinnacle of a student’s collegiate experience. Today, risk managers at institutions of higher learning have a two-fold task: mitigating risks and helping to protect students. Meeting these responsibilities through adequate preparation, as well as response mechanisms, allows risk managers to meet duty of care obligations.
One of the most critical components of travel abroad programs is a university’s ability to respond to students and faculty in crisis. Usually, during emergency situations, flights are delayed, roads to the airport are blocked, and cell phones and the internet are down. How does a risk manager provide assistance during these times of chaos? Often, universities contract with an assistance provider that can track down students, extract them during intense political/security situations and natural disasters, and/or conduct medical evacuations.
While it’s crucial for university administrators to be prepared for emergencies, it also behooves them to teach students to understand local customs, so they don’t inadvertently become a victim of crime. According to the Institute of International Education’s (IIE) Open Doors ® 2014 Report, women comprised 65% of U.S. study abroad students in 2012/2013.1 This is important for risk managers to know, because according to the U.S. Department of State, “when it comes to health and security, women travelers are more likely to be affected by religious and cultural beliefs of the foreign countries they visit.”
It’s a Duty of Care Thing
When students travel to not-so-common destinations, there can be increased risks. According to the IIE, 20 years ago, the majority of students went to Western Europe. Today, students may venture beyond Western Europe and study in countries such as China, Mexico, Costa Rica, Argentina, South Africa, Chile, the Netherlands, Peru and South Korea.
Risk managers should be attuned to the fact that these countries pose different risks than “traditional” destinations. In fact, in March 2013, a Connecticut jury decided that a school was negligent and awarded over $41 million to a student who was bitten by a tick and suffered brain damage during a school-sponsored trip to China. The parents of the student charged that the school failed to warn trip participants about the specific possibility of tick bites.
This example reflects how, unfortunately, institutions of learning still send travelers abroad without adequate precautions and protections, exposing themselves to significant legal liability “for failure to manage travel risk.”
1. Institute ofInstitutional Education. (2014). “Profile of U.S. Study Abroad Students,
2000/01-2012/13.” Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange. Retrieved from http://www.iie.org/opendoors.
Nicole Pitney is an assistant vice president and special risk manager for Accident & Health, Chubb Group of Insurance Companies.