Reputation management is now critical for Universities which now need to place strategic importance on the management of risks that may damage their any brand. A failure to do so can damage an institution’s social fabric as well as resulting in financial loss.
In the higher education sector, reputation can be crucial in attracting talented academics and students, as well as securing funding from industry, alumni and other donors.
Over the past 25 years, a shift in societal attitudes has increased the potential for reputation damage to cause real harm to an institution, while the emergence of interconnected technology, particularly social media, has rapidly increased the speed with which bad news can spread.
Higher education institutions face several potential sources of reputational risk, ranging from the behaviour of students and staff, diversity and inclusion on campus, as well as student safety and mental health.
Reputation can also be damaged by links to partners, companies or historical figures. In the age of social media, reputations can rapidly diminish if appropriate frameworks are not put in place to effectively manage a crisis situation.
At the University of Ghana, a statue of Mahatma Gandhi was removed last December after protests from students over the Indian independence leader’s view of Africans. Several US universities have removed Confederate statues, while in South Africa, the Rhodes Must Fall protest movement brought down the statue of British imperialist Cecil Rhodes at the University of Cape Town.
The campaign was particularly notable for its global reach. As well as spreading to other universities in South Africa, the campaign managed to reach, among other institutions, the University of Oxford. A statue of Rhodes at Oxford’s Oriel College ultimately did not fall, reportedly due to threats from donors that they would withdraw funding if the statue were to be removed.
A recent example of crisis management follows student-led campaigns for the divestment of fossil fuels. The movement began gaining traction in 2012, and since then, over 50 universities have committed to a more ethical investment portfolio.
Most recently, at Liverpool University. Liverpool has agreed to stop investing in fossil fuel companies after students accused it of “profiting off the climate crisis”. The Liverpool Guild of Students campaigned for two-years for the disinvestment move.
When universities do not listen to the concerns of their students, it can result in protests and negative news articles. Frustrated students and staff at UCL caused multiple headlines and a social media storm over the university’s handling of divestment. The twitter handle ‘fossil-free UCL’, accumulated over 1000 followers, casting a shadow on the university’s reputation. Universities clearly need to tread carefully to ensure that their investment policies and values appear to be and are grounded in a reasonable decision-making framework if their student body is to maintain their trust.
A survey by PwC last year found reputation was now among the top five risk concerns for universities, with the overriding concern being maintaining the confidence of the institution’s stakeholders, such as students, funders and partners.
Many higher education institutions lack appropriate risk management frameworks to manage reputational damage, PwC said it was likely institutions will now become more active in the way they manage their reputation.
To better manage these risks, universities must take an enterprise approach to risk management that enables them to be better prepared to handle adverse events when they occur. Establishing a risk monitoring system can help identify potential risk events to allow institutions to formulate responses should a crisis occur.
This requires a shift away from managing risk in siloes and ensure that governance, data, processes and cultures are prepared for the threats they may face.
Over the next 25 years, universities will need to become increasingly comfortable with an operating environment where every interaction can potentially threaten how they are perceived by stakeholders that matter.
However, if an enterprise risk management framework is put in place and operating effectively across the institution, higher education institutions can better manage their risk profiles to meet the challenges of tomorrow. To find out more about Risk Assessment click on this link: https://bit.ly/2MQDx6v
Published date: 26th September 2019
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