Posted: February 11th, 2021 2:02pm +00:00

COVID 19 and the Changing Risks in Higher Education Institutions

I wrote an article back in 2018 ‘˜Top Risks facing the Higher Education Sector,’ largely based on a paper by PWC entitled Managing Risk in Higher Education Sector risk profile 2018. Having recently revisited the article it was clear to see that in the two years that have lapsed a lot has changed for the sector, and COVID-19 and Brexit are the main catalysts for these changes.

Top risks in higher education back in 2018

Back in 2018, PWC reported that the top risks were student recruitment, pensions, government policy, reputation, and information security. Fast forward to 2021, a year into a global pandemic and it is safe to say that these risks are out of date. Although they still exist, they are no longer at the top of the pile.

New risk priorities due to COVID 19

COVID-19 has left no industry sector untouched, however some sectors have been hit harder than others. Higher Education Institutions are by their very nature, potential hotbeds of contagion due to the large number of students, teachers, and other staff that study and work there. Young adults, having left home for potentially the first time to continue their learning journey are also possibly less robust in adherence to rules and this has been seen in the large number of infections across many of our universities.

Keeping stakeholders safe in light of COVID-19

The number one priority for Higher Education Institutions for 2021 should be to ensure that their staff, students, and their faculty members remain safe. For much of 2020, university campuses were closed to fulfil this goal. Online learning had to be implemented very quickly to ensure courses could continue and that the university would continue to receive fees. A year into the pandemic and universities are learning that a hybrid model is looking like a good compromise going forward as the whole world continues to navigate this new normal. Whether there will be push back from some students with regards to fees is yet to be seen.

Well-being and technological risks key priorities

This new hybrid way of teaching and learning will increase the importance of ‘well-being’ amongst staff and students as well as potential technological risks. Well-being for many organisations has been propelled in importance, this is due to people being more isolated than normal, routines and processes having changed significantly, and the pressure is continuing to grow with the lengthening lockdown period. Home schooling will be adding additional stress to many of the institution’s staff, faculty members and students too. For the time when campuses are open, the Higher Education settings will be providing asymptomatic testing which will require additional resources to fulfil this requirement. There is some talk of accepting a higher level of infection on campuses than elsewhere.

Technological risks

With teaching and learning taking place online ‘“ there are significantly more technological considerations. Zoom lecture theatres, Microsoft Teams, additional security requirements such as single sign on, Wi-Fi capacity, OneDrive & SharePoint to name a few. No doubt these systems will need many more licenses, and this will increase costs significantly. Remote learning and teaching will also increase the risk of cyber threats as security is more easily compromised due to the number of devices and locations available to be attacked. Data protection is also harder to monitor remotely too.

Performance risks

With the new hybrid method of learning, there is no guarantee that it will be successful. Higher Education Institutions will need to monitor performance objectives to ensure successful delivery of education, for students and employers. There will be many goals that will need to be monitored including student numbers versus capacity, student accomplishments using the hybrid model versus on campus learning. These two barometers will be crucial to the ongoing success of the higher education institutions.


Although there is a change in the risks facing Higher Education Institutions there is also a change in the opportunities available to them too. The hybrid teaching model could open up many universities to a wider geographical catchment of students and staff too. This could be a huge coup for some universities and one that needs to be explored fully if to be taken advantage of.

Risk management in higher education

As you can see, risks do not stay stagnant. They move quickly and as such, so do the opportunities. It is important for all businesses to build resilient organisations that will be able to withstand the continuing changing environment. If you are currently using an Excel spreadsheet to record your risks and perhaps reviewing them every few months or so, now is the time to upgrade to a risk management software that will help you identify, monitor, and mitigate risks effectively. With the increasing number of risks and the growing importance of being adaptable, the flaws of using an Excel spreadsheet are even more prominent. Collaboration and version control is difficult and with the current home working situation this will be even harder than usual. Risk management needs to be visible and accessible across the whole organisation so that you gain maximum buy-in, often an Excel spreadsheet will be stored on a personal desktop and therefore not readily available. JCAD’s web-based software is easily accessible and aids collaboration and visibility of risk management across the whole organisation. Visit: and request a demo today.

**At present we are offering significant discounts to the academic sector for any implementation taken over the next 6 months. Please get in touch for more information.

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