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Case Studies - Article: Mitigating Risk for Study Abroad

Mitigating Risk for Study Abroad

Real-World Lessons No Classroom Can Duplicate: Study Abroad Programs in an Unstable World
By Katie McGrath, SVP, Educational Markets, AIG A&H katie.mcgrath@aig.com


More than 270,000 U.S. students study abroad each year, a number that has more than tripled over the past two decades.1 The question of whether or not schools should allow study abroad programs in high travel-risk areas is a topic that continues to be carefully considered on college campuses throughout the nation. Balancing risk with learning opportunities is a difficult task that school administrators, general counsels, and risk managers must face. The first and most important step is making sure that schools sponsoring study abroad programs have a comprehensive travel risk management program in place. Many schools have found it beneficial to partner with companies such as the AIG insurance companies that can develop a comprehensive program integrating global travel assistance, medical assistance and security services with insured benefits. As recent events have demonstrated, a well-rounded risk management program for study abroad programs should include, at a minimum, security evacuation, medical evacuation, and travel tracking capabilities. Recognizing the importance that study abroad programs play in expanding students' frame of reference and cultural knowledge, many colleges/universities require participation as a prerequisite for graduation. Most schools place few restrictions on where students can study. According to the Institute of International Education, non-traditional destinations such as the Middle East, South America and Africa are increasingly attractive destinations for study abroad participants.1 Allowing students to broaden their horizons in far-reaching corners of the globe can foster unique learning experiences, but can also create additional risks for students and their schools.


While evacuations have been occurring more frequently, Michael Liebowitz, NYU's Head of Risk Management, noted the importance of a program's out-of-country medical care access. "The biggest exposure is foreign medical care. Orienting students before a trip as to how to obtain medical care or assistance services and continuing that process while they are in-country is the hallmark of a well-rounded program." Liebowitz also added that programs with constant feeds of intelligence information from different sources around the world make it easier for schools to make real-time decisions in emergency situations. "If you wait for an event to become an insured event you are risking lives," Liebowitz offered. As Liebowitz's comments highlight, prevention is the best line of defense. Real-time information on emerging threats or dangerous locales often keeps study abroad participants out of harm's way. Pre-trip security training for study abroad participants is another way of mitigating risk and better preparing students for life abroad. This training can encompass some of the emerging areas of risk students face (e.g., proper use of social media in countries with security risks) as well as more-established risks (e.g,. behaviors to avoid in countries with high-incidences of kidnapping).


Though risks involved with study abroad can be significant, these programs play an important role in helping to shape American students into future leaders. In an increasingly global economy requiring ever more sophisticated skill sets, exposure to different cultures is crucial. Success in the 21st century will largely be defined by a global orientation that study abroad programs can foster. 1 "Open Doors 2012," Institute of International Education, November 12, 2012. Adopting a comprehensive travel risk management program to mitigate the risks associated with study abroad is a sustainable way schools can continue to offer these valuable programs. By exercising due diligence and reasonable care in the creation and implementation of these programs, educational institutions can significantly reduce the risk of injury or harm to students, faculty, and staff.


Adopting a comprehensive travel risk management program to mitigate the risks associated with study abroad is a sustainable way schools can continue to offer these valuable programs. By exercising due diligence and reasonable care in the creation and implementation of these programs, educational institutions can significantly reduce the risk of injury or harm to students, faculty, and staff.


Katie A. McGrath is Senior Vice President, Educational Markets, of the Accident & Health division of AIG. For the past 10 years, Katie has directed sales, underwriting and compliance operations in the college insurance industry.


1 "Open Doors 2012," Institute of International Education, November 12, 2012.