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    May 2018

    Vetting Third-Party Study Abroad Vendors

    Third-party vendors can greatly increase the study abroad opportunities available to students, as they extend the global reach and curricular options far beyond the home institution’s offerings. They also free up campus resources by transferring the planning, operations, and some liability to the vendor. However, poor risk management practices by these vendors can lead to bad outcomes for students and often result in costly claims against the home institution. When choosing a third-party vendor, schools should only select programs that strive to protect students by properly addressing the risks of education abroad. Management of these partnerships starts with careful vetting of the vendors by focusing on the following practices.

    Gather information about the vendor.

    • Closely examine the vendor’s licenses, history, and reputation. Inquire about its safety record, interview institutions that have partnered with the vendor, and research any complaints filed.
    • Evaluate whether the vendor operates in an ethical manner that is in line with your institution’s mission.  
    • Scrutinize the marketing materials and the vendor’s application and selection process for fairness and accuracy.
    • Ask about the vendor’s student-to-staff ratio and its hiring and retention history.  
    • Confirm the staff have experience working with students and ask about their language fluency and years spent in-country.

    Require comprehensive emergency protocols.

    • Carefully review the vendor’s written crisis and emergency response plans. Pay particular attention to its protocols for top study abroad risks such as hospitalizations, sexual assault, complaints of discrimination or harassment, mental health crises, natural disasters, and arrests.  
    • Assess the vendor’s responses to past emergencies and review its in-country resources. Check that evacuation plans are in place and emergency health care is available for each program site.
    • Confirm that the vendor requires or provides health insurance and repatriation evacuation insurance for all participants.

    Look for proactive training of students and program staff.

    • Orientation programs for participating students (and parents, when minors are involved) before departure and upon arrival at the destination country are critical. During orientation, vendors should inform students of local laws, cultural expectations, region-specific health information, and details about safe and unsafe behavior. They should also provide details about academic policies, conduct rules, and other expectations of the program and your institution. Ensure that students receive information about reporting sexual misconduct and raising other concerns while abroad.
    • Confirm program staff are adequately trained to respond to problems and that they will fulfill all necessary reporting and compliance obligations. Ask for details about the vendor’s requirements for staff, including mandatory certifications, training programs, educational background, and job experience. 

    Ensure the company’s educational offerings are consistent with your institution’s expectations.

    • Assess whether the rigor of the academic program meets your school’s requirements for credit transfer. Review syllabi and interview past student participants to gauge the educational benefit.  
    • Ensure that the vendor properly accommodates students with disabilities.  
    • Closely inspect the student conduct rules and disciplinary proceedings to determine whether they align with those at your institution.

    Evaluate the safety and security of the vendor’s facilities, housing, and transportation.  

    • Conduct site visits, if possible. Check that facilities and housing (if provided) are in a safe, accessible area.
    • If students will live with host families, confirm the vendor screens families through background checks or other appropriate techniques, and that it briefs the families and students on expectations and conduct rules.
    • Require that all companies (charter buses, tour operators, etc.) hired by the vendor adhere to strict safety standards and demonstrate appropriate insurance coverage.

    Confirm the vendor has sufficient insurance.

    • Require the vendor to provide proof of insurance for property damage and injuries involving program participants. Confirm that the vendor will name your institution as an additional insured on its liability insurance policies.
    • Carefully inspect all contracts or participant waivers required by the vendor and ensure student participants and your institution are fully protected.

    Document your relationship in a written contract.

    • Rather than accept a form contract from the vendor, customize the agreement so that the terms accurately reflect the expectations and insurance requirements listed above.

    With many third-party vendors to choose from, selecting those that prioritize student safety and learning is a key step in offering students enriching study abroad experiences.


    Heightened Vigilance Required in Study Abroad Risk Management

    Checklist for Managing Study Abroad Programs in Independent Schools

    At Risk Abroad: Lessons From Higher Ed Claims

    Checklist for Campus Administrators Managing Short-Term International Programs

    Before a Study Abroad Program Sets Sail: Preventing Harm Through Selection and Preparation

    Ten Quick Tips for Working with Education Abroad Provider Organizations

    Southwest Minnesota State University’s Review and Verification of Third Party Affiliates or Cooperating Institutions Related to Study Abroad

    The University of Texas at Austin International Office’s Approval Considerations for Exchange and Affiliated Programs

    By Christine McHugh, senior risk management counsel


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