Risk: Managing the Knowns and Unknowns

An institution’s ‘duty of care’ encompasses elements from student safety to financial liability.
Photo: Tomertu/Shutterstock
Susan Ladika

When violence broke out in the Ugandan capital of Kampala in August, risk management officials at the School for International Training (SIT) grappled with how to respond. 

Ten SIT students were scheduled to fly to Kampala at the end of the month to begin a 15-week study abroad program focused on international development, and the violence—which erupted after the arrest and alleged torture of five opposition lawmakers and a pop star—threatened to derail the program.

SIT, located in Brattleboro, Vermont, had been bringing students to Uganda for more than 15 years, yet school officials had never seen anything like this before, says Mory Pagel, director of university relations. While SIT’s partners on the ground in Kampala thought the students would be fine, “there’s a certain level of unknown to this,” Pagel said just days after the trip began. “It’s very unpredictable.”

Risk management committee members at SIT decided to allow the students to fly into Kampala and have orientation there, then fly to Kigali, Rwanda, for the first 2 weeks of the program. During that time, the committee would determine whether the students should remain in Kigali or return to Kampala. “Our first approach is always to see if we can relocate or move a program to a site with lesser risk,” says Pagel.

Risk assessment and management in its many forms is always on the minds of international education officials. From civil unrest, natural disasters, and terror threats at education abroad locations, to a loss of international students from certain

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