January 07, 2016

Student traveler tracking presents a solution to some of the biggest challenges our university clients face, which  are centered on properly preparing and effectively tracking student travelers. Many students are novice travelers with limited prior knowledge of potential threats associated with their travel destinations. What’s more, study abroad program policies differ from those governing employee travel, offering higher learning institutions less control over student travel plans and data collection. In most cases, students do not make the connection between travel abroad program policies and their well being.

Yet when a student departs for a study abroad program, colleges bear duty of care obligations for their safety and security. When the institution cannot account for a student traveler’s whereabouts, there are not only extra costs associated with identifying their location in the event of a crisis, but last minute efforts to locate a student can also mean the clock is ticking on the likelihood of successful rescue and recovery. When a university files a claim under its student traveler insurance policy to respond during a crisis, this can result in higher premiums for the institution upon renewal. What is often overlooked is the value that preparedness planning can bring to a higher education organization’s study abroad program.

Preparedness is Paramount 

Most colleges have some sort of crisis plan in place; however, many universities currently have a more reactive approach – an event occurs, students are in trouble and the program leaders, provost and parents may all be seeking on-the-ground assistance. At best, you may have an insurance policy that might cover this event. In addition, you may not know your institution’s exposure to the event, often leading to the response team having to devote hours to verifying locations and/or proof of life for each impacted student. There are no shortcuts to proper preparedness planning. Every investment made in preparedness helps prevent expenses, reputational damage and legal ramifications and helps keep your students safer in the event that a disaster or emergency occurs.

Do you have a plan?

  • Have you tested your plan?
  • Can you ensure that all key players in your institution understand their roles and responsibilities, from the routine to crisis response?
  • Have you identified one person who can make final, autonomous decisions?
  • How about your students – are they aware of policies and protocols meant to keep them safe?
  • Who is responsible for travel tracking your students?
  • Who is responsible for contacting impacted students – and how?
  • Post-crisis, do you have a process for evaluating the strengths and pitfalls of your preparedness protocols and using lessons learned to take corrective actions?

Prepare your students
Ideally, students would be active participants in an integrated approach to risk management, providing the necessary travel and contact data at the right times to the right people, booking all travel arrangements in-policy where appropriate, and making informed choices while experiencing new cultures. In reality, it’s up to the university to equip students with the information and know-how that will make traveling abroad safer. For example, a situation occurred where a group of students on an international study abroad trip surrendered their passports to the on-site country leader for the duration of the trip. A natural disaster occurred while they were abroad, and evacuation processes were delayed while security response personnel on the ground helped reunite all students with their passports before they could be extracted from the country. Preparedness training may have prevented this delay in safe evacuation, the costs associated with hours spent recovering passports and the increased potential for exposure to environmental hazards. The more prepared students are, the better the outcome for the institution and the students.

Student travelers should have a solid understanding of the following basics:

  • The university crisis plan, protocols and policies
  • Who to contact in the event of a security or medical emergency and through what means
  • Is there a dedicated university hotline, or are students left to call the number on their insurance card – if they even have one?
  • What documents are crucial to keep safe and on their person at all times – passports, visas, medical or prescription documentation, etc.?
  • Advanced awareness training on the country or region in which they are traveling, including what types of threats may impact their health, safety, transportation or productivity
  • For LGBT, female and first-time travelers, specialized training on specific cultural awareness and security risks that may impact their safety

Student Traveler Tracking

Effective student traveler tracking or registry is an additional hurdle for all universities. Study abroad program traveler data is always changing, and managing this data is no small task. If a natural disaster occurs in Thailand, knowing whether you have five students, two students or no one impacted by this event is crucial to determining the type of response necessary and potential ramifications for the program. If you think you have two students abroad but you actually have five, someone could be left behind. If you think you have five students but you actually only have two, response resources can be wasted looking for students who have decided not to go on the trip or have changed their travel plans and are now in China or back home.

Study abroad programs need a reliable tracking, accountability or registry system in place that can turn multiple data sources into actionable insights for better decision making on a daily basis, as well as during a potential crisis.

Evaluate your student traveler tracking system:

  • How do you collect the data associated with your study abroad program?
  • How do you manage travel data?
  • Is your current process reliable? Can you find a partner to help manage the process, lessen human errors and reduce overall costs?
  • How do you capture data on students while on the go? Is there a check-in protocol to capture their location information?

It bears repeating – there is no substitution for solid preparedness planning. As you mature your study abroad program, fine tuning your tracking systems and preparing your students to be harder targets and make more informed decisions are critical steps to ensuring their safety, fulfilling your duty of care obligations, and avoiding costly redundancies or unnecessary response efforts. Proper preparedness will help your students focus on becoming global citizens and your institution focus on creating amazing experiences that nurture their love of culture and adventure.


For more practical insight into study abroad program preparedness challenges, download our white paper, Universities, Study Abroad Programs and Your Duty of Care.



Originally printed in URMIA Insights, September 2015 issue