Today’s education sector is confronting a sharp uptick in risk and uncertainty. In turn, the practice of risk management is becoming foundational to the way schools, districts, and campuses operate, as effective risk management comes to be seen as a better way not only to identify and manage risks, but also to promote quality, continuity, and accountability.
The shift couldn’t have come sooner, especially for zealous regulators. You see, on the mandatory compliance side, obligations, the adherence to which is critical for avoiding significant financial and reputational penalty, have increased in number and complexity.
In the U.S., the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) endorsed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, setting stricter compliance and reporting standards for statutes like Title IX and the Clery Act, according to risk scholars. Meanwhile, Australia, the first country to formally embrace robust risk management in its education system, continues to tighten standards through the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) and the Department of Education and Training. Along with prior updates to existing reporting requirements on student, staff, and financial data made in Australia’s 2015 Higher Education Standards Framework (Threshold Standards), TEQSA now assesses student wellbeing and safety standards as part of the mandatory accreditation process.
Across Australian jurisdictions, different types of abuse have distinct requirement obligations, too. Those obligations impose varying reporting requirements on members of special occupations like teachers, nurses, or security personnel - all critical members of a campus or school community.
Managing a campus’s physical assets is also critical to risk maintenance, carrying as it does another set of compliance implications. Schools, districts, and universities manage a large portfolio of physical facilities and assets, e.g. dormitories, classrooms, offices, student centers, athletic facilities, even expensive equipment used in research labs. Many of the compliance statutes covering those physical assets are contained in local not federal regulations that expose schools and campuses to the gamut of asset-based compliance obligations, including zoning, safeguards against physical and emotional harm, and workforce safety.
How, then, has the sector reacted to the changing risk environment? So far, results have been uneven. In 2011, the ‘typical’ Australian university devoted at least 2,000 days of staff time and spent between $800,000 and $900,000 in meeting a limited subset of federal regulations, according to a review of reporting requirements for universities.
Of course, the risk picture has only darkened since then. For one, pressure is mounting on universities to publicly release internal data on sexual assault and related issues on campus under the terms of Australia’s Freedom of Information Act.
What’s needed is clear. Schools, training institutes, and universities require clear pathways towards integrating the evaluation of major risks into regular strategic decision-making rather than on an as-needed basis, i.e. only after major crisis events take place. With uncertainty the new normal, the open question is: how can educational institutions leverage risk management techniques to succeed in this volatile environment?
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