Higher Education and the changing security threat landscape

Dan Breger Senior Manager, Consulting, PwC United Kingdom 16/05/18

In the Higher Education sector we know that affording your community the freedom they need to excel is at the heart of what universities do. Empowering faculty members and students to explore the world through research and fieldwork, and providing a rich and diverse environment to grow in, is central to a world class learning experience.

Our recently published global survey considered both emerging trends that business leaders recognised, alongside the prevalent threats to their organisations. Geopolitical uncertainty and terrorism featured in the top three threats perceived by business leaders, surpassing Cyber Security for the first time (and we’ve been running this survey for 21 years).

What this means is that HR functions should be recognising that a university’s reputation for attracting and retaining the best people, and providing a rich and diverse learning environment, is somewhat reliant on a balance of security risk management. This may historically have been underplayed, or too informal, to meet the environment they are operating in today.

The introduction of effective security risk management is predicated on an understanding of what is important to an organisation. As people are their most valuable assets, a mature human resources function must consider the security challenges their people are exposed to.

Substantiating our survey findings, there are a number of valid reasons for the higher education sector human resources professionals to act now. Key questions for HR functions:

  • The globalised economy requires a global learning experience, involving both foreign travel, working with and also hosting non-UK partner organisations and their people.
    • Do you have a robust approach to Travel Security Risk Management? Do you know where all your faculty and students are, or want to be going, when they travel on university business? Do you have appropriate approvals and escalations for higher risk locations and activities, along with the ability to implement balanced controls to facilitate them responsibly?
    • People come to your organisation because of the opportunities you provide, but are you confident your partner organisations are managing your duty of care risks as you would, or are they introducing unnecessary security risks through sub-standard due diligence, background vetting or use of third party logistics support in country?
  • The last few years has seen an uptake in the number of home grown and localised terror incidents:
    • Do you know who is using your facilities - both academic buildings and halls of residence, who is moving around your campus etc. and are you confident that the appropriate physical controls and processes are in place to keep your people safe and secure?
  • Reputations take years to build but minutes to collapse:
    • When your people are involved in an incident on their doorstep, or further afield, will you know? Do you have the ability to support them if something goes wrong and, will you confidently discharge your duty of care responsibilities?

Introducing a robust security risk management environment, does not necessarily mean imposing strict inhibiting controls over campuses or people. In contrast, it means understanding the security risks across a university that geopolitical uncertainty, terrorism and other threats introduce, and responsibly managing them to enable people and institutions to flourish.

And if things go wrong, a robust security risk management approach ensures that you know where your people are, and are familiar with the tools and resources you have on hand, to do the right thing by them.

Business leaders recognise the threats their organisations are facing in an evolving and uncertain world, but they also recognise the huge opportunities that this world is opening up. Managing security risks responsibly builds a platform which will enable universities to seize these opportunities and embrace the future.

Contact us

Dan Breger

Senior Manager, Consulting, PwC United Kingdom

Marie Green

Director, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0) 20 7212 5591

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