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Vet Third-Party Study Abroad Vendors

Christine McHugh, Esq., ARM
October 2020
How to carefully vet third-party study abroad vendors to help protect students and avoid claims

In terms of global reach and curriculum, third-party vendors can greatly increase the study abroad opportunities available to students at K-12 schools, colleges, and universities. Vendors also free up campus resources by taking on planning, operations, and some liability. However, vendors’ poor risk management practices can lead to bad outcomes for students and often result in costly claims against institutions.

When choosing a third-party vendor, your institution should select programs that protect students by properly addressing the risks of education abroad. To manage these partnerships, carefully vet 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 complaints filed.
  • Evaluate whether the vendor operates in an ethical manner that aligns with your institution’s mission.
  • Scrutinize — for fairness and accuracy — the vendor’s marketing materials and the vendor’s application and selection process.
  • Ask about the vendor’s student-to-staff ratio and hiring and retention history.
  • Confirm the vendor’s staff have experience working with students. Ask about employees’ language fluency and years spent in-country.

Require comprehensive emergency protocols.

  • Carefully review the vendor’s written crisis and emergency response plans. Scrutinize 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.

  • It’s critical to conduct orientation programs for participating students (and parents, when minors are involved) before departure and upon arrival at the destination country. During orientation, vendors should inform students about local laws, cultural expectations, region-specific health information, and details about safe and unsafe behavior. Vendors also should 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 institution’s requirements for credit transfer. Review syllabi and interview past student participants to gauge the educational benefit.
  • Ensure 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 safety and security of the vendor’s facilities, housing, and transportation.

  • Conduct site visits, if possible. Check that facilities are in a safe, accessible area.
  • If students will live with host families, confirm that the vendor screens families through background checks or other appropriate techniques and 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 the vendor requires 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.
More From UE

Use Heightened Vigilance in Study Abroad Risk Management

Checklist: Managing Study Abroad Programs in Independent Schools

At Risk Abroad: Lessons From Higher Ed Claims

Additional Resources

Association of International Education Administration: Ten Quick Tips for Working with Education Abroad Provider Organizations

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

The University of Texas at Austin: Approval Considerations for Exchange and Affiliated Programs

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