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Global Risks Abound for Higher Education Institutions

Posted by Jean Demchak August 22, 2019

Augmented cyber risk. Heightened national sentiment. Increasingly polarized societies. Identified in the Global Risks Report as among the top trends expected to shape corporate agendas and economies over the next decade, these perils align with the disruptions impacting higher education.

Cyber Threats on the Rise

Cyber-attacks are of notable concern to higher education institutions, which have been among the most targeted. Aside from bringing down systems and interrupting operations, cyber criminals have stolen intellectual property and valuable research, affecting institutions’ work. Moreover, attackers have even held institutions’ data at ransom.

Cyber insurance purchasing among education entities has more than doubled in recent years, from 30% in 2014 to almost 70% in 2018. That’s a good start, but it’s also imperative for higher education institutions to take action, starting with assessing their cyber risk and making the necessary investments to secure their systems to avoid becoming victims of cybercrime. Quantifying their cyber risk will help them calculate the potential financial impact of a cyber event and express cyber risk in a way all stakeholders can understand and act on.

Global Perils Strike Home

In an increasingly connected world, higher education institutions have international reach and a physical presence in several countries, upping their vulnerability to global perils. Interstate conflicts are also keeping students and staff grounded, putting academic exchanges at risk. American students and faculty are more wary about traveling to certain regions as fears for their safety abound. Additionally, wealth and income disparity are contributing to tensions and increasing fears for the safety of US citizens abroad as unemployment and poverty become the underlying cause of potentially fatal attacks.

Heightened national sentiment is leading to the US being perceived as a hostile country. Tensions between the US and other countries, most notably with China, are contributing to drops in the number of international students, causing loss of tuition dollars and forcing many institutions to revise their business models.

The link between climate change and natural disasters is top of mind for the hundreds of US colleges and universities that have satellite campuses in other countries or exchange agreements with foreign counterparts. Reduced confidence levels in countries’ response to such perils are creating an adverse situation for institutions with international programs, affecting their ability to continue providing education in certain countries that are part of their core mission.

And the prolonged uncertainty surrounding the UK’s departure from the European Union is affecting education-related movement amidst fears that a vulnerable financial system could contribute to fewer British students choosing to study in the US. It is imperative for education institutions to evaluate their partnerships with the UK and EU-based institutions and determine the extent of their risk.

The above risks are impacting US institutions’ bottom line and making it more difficult for them to secure the best academics and attract the most promising students. It is essential for higher education institutions to keep tabs on evolving global risks, assess how they are affected, and determine how to mitigate these perils.

Related to:  Higher Education

Jean Demchak