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Higher ed study abroad policies take hard look at safety

University Business, May 2018

As global collaboration increases in higher education, so do concerns about violence abroad. In response, colleges and universities are strengthening international travel policies in an effort to keep their community members safe and accounted for overseas.

Destination: Known

Risk management teams now work across departments to improve travel protocols. Washington University in St. Louis’ International Travel Oversight Committee—a team of senior emergency management, legal, risk, administrative and travel officers—meets every two weeks to review travel proposals.

The committee researches current events in proposed destinations to assess safety, and also reviews the places the traveler will pass through.

“Especially in the last few years, there is a changing perception of areas thought to be safe and those that are not,” says Dedric Carter, the committee’s chair. “Some areas that weren’t indicative of significant risks now are.”

Having a staff member trained in international travel insurance is also helpful in operating a safe study abroad program, says Joseph Finkhouse, associate director for health, safety and security with Boston University. Medical and evacuation insurance is available to the university’s traveling population.

Real-time location information

Some higher ed institutions have set up registries where travelers create profiles to document flight information and other trip details.

Boston University’s International Travel Registry identifies the location of all travelers in real time, and sends them alerts of incidents that may affect their activities abroad. Travelers also receive pre-trip country and city briefings.

Washington University requires students to create a travel profile on the school’s MyTrips portal. Registration is needed to receive course credit and expense reimbursement.

The university recently expanded its registration site to include faculty, post-grad researchers and other members of the community.

“We [in academia] need to be in places where there are the greatest needs, and we need tools to keep us safe in those places,” says Carter. “We’re not creating a boogeyman, but looking at real data and events so we are able to respond in the best way we can.”  

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