As we emerge from the pandemic, the education sector continues to face many challenges. Identifying and managing your risks is more important than ever.
While some providers may have featured pandemics and natural disasters in their strategic risk registers, many more are likely to have encountered unfamiliar challenges. Across the sector, business continuity plans have been put into full operation, there’s been a move to remote learning, and coronavirus has had to be managed in tutorial rooms, workshops and study halls.
The effort required to do all this cannot be underestimated. The effect on well-being and wider safeguarding has been prominent in our discussions with clients. They are also apparent in the risks that feature in our latest review of strategic risk registers.
In our first cross-sector analysis, we reviewed the strategic risk registers of higher education providers, further education providers, academy trusts and independent schools. Our report allows providers to consider how their risks compare, and to assess whether they are missing any significant risks.
We examined the contents of 117 education providers’ strategic risk registers, incorporating 2,660 individual risks.
In terms of prevalent risks, the top three areas were:
- finance-related, accounting for 479 risks in total (or 18 per cent);
- organisational, accounting for 372 risks in total (or 14 per cent), where we have categorised external environmental factors together (such as risks relating to coronavirus, business continuity and safeguarding), as intrinsically impacting on provider operations; and
- people (or staffing) risks, accounting for 269 risks (or 10 per cent).
We captured the residual risks (post controls and applied mitigations) considered by our education clients to be ‘high’ risk in terms of severity. Across the risk registers in our sample, 367 (or 14 per cent) were deemed to be ‘high’.
More ‘high’ risks were recorded in the areas of finance, organisational operations, and student numbers than any other.
New and evolving risks
Key areas across education where we consider risks to be emerging or evolving include:
- the focus on learner well-being, linked to mental health and physical safety, will be a high priority for education providers;
- environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues will continue to evolve. Equality and diversity strategies, equal pay, ethical investments, and sustainability are just some of the areas where we envisage that providers will aim to do more;
- IT and cyber-crime risks will continue to evolve in their complexity, highlighting the need for routinely tested network and secure configuration controls, continuing to raise staff awareness and require ongoing training; and
- the regulatory landscape is ever evolving, for example the new Schools white paper, the FE white paper and the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, the Levelling up white paper and the Office for Students’ new quality and standards conditions, and the government’s approach to student finance reforms following the Augar review. Regulatory changes can create challenges for providers and changing requirements, which may pose financial risks and, for some, longer term financial viability will remain a concern.
To discover more about the key risks facing providers, and to understand trends over time, access our report by entering your details below. For more information, please get in touch with Lisa Randall, Stephanie Mason and Nick Sladden.