Student mobility: Are you prepared for managing a crisis?

Student mobility: Are you prepared for managing a crisis?

What would you say to a student who walks into the international office asking for a recommendation of a student exchange destination that is guaranteed to be safe? How does one balance ‘opening doors to the world’ for the students and managing the risks that are related to mobility? Is your institution prepared to act if something unexpected happens? How do you support your students to be prepared for the unexpected? 

Having crisis management policies in place is becoming increasingly important in international higher education. This is, on the one hand, due to the intensification of international student and staff mobility. On the other hand, there are growing risks to mobility due to political instability and conflict around the world. With this blog post, we hope to provide our colleagues with some tips on how to improve their own institution’s preparedness and practices in international mobility crisis management.

Getting started

While we may not be able to guarantee that destinations are safe, or even prevent crises, we can and should be prepared for such events. When setting up a crisis management policy for international mobility, we recommend you start by checking your national legislation and exploring the internal initiatives of your institution.

It is advisable that your crisis management policy complies with the following three aspects (which in many countries are also part of a higher education institution’s legal obligations): inform mobile students and staff, keep track of where they are located, and offer them support when needed. Before anything else, ask yourself the following:

  • Does my institution have an on-campus safety policy in place? Can I use certain aspects of this policy for international mobility?
  • How do I monitor the safety of the destinations that I am sending my students and staff to? Which sources of information are used, and are they reliable?
  • What is my institution’s role? Who takes action when a crisis situation takes place – and whom should they work with?
  • How do I inform and train my students and staff on issues of risk before they go abroad?
  • How can I reach my students and staff while they are abroad? Can I find their contact information easily?


The crisis management policy can also serve as a tool when you prepare and inform your internationally-mobile students or staff. Make sure that students and staff are aware of your crisis management policy so that everyone knows what to expect from one another. What can a traveller expect from your institution, and what falls under the responsibility of authorities or of the individual? Remain alert, be proactive, and develop strong communication skills.
Being a strong communicator also includes keeping all stakeholders informed, including international partners. After the Paris attacks, many of our partner institutions in France gave us status updates, and shared with us the advice and support they provided to their students. This was very helpful. Open and up-to-date communication in times of crisis is crucial.
Beyond communication, trust and intercultural awareness also play a role. In our experience, it is good to share information and what our own policies on crisis management are with partner institutions. The same holds true for potential partner institutions abroad – how can you make sure that your students are in good hands?

Seven principles

By following the seven principles below, you too can design an effective, strong international mobility crisis management plan for your institution:

  1. Check your national legislation and map out your responsibilities as an institution
  2. Explore internal initiatives at your institution and link them to your crisis management policy
  3. Communicate well with others and learn from good practices
  4. Follow a ‘plan, do, check, act’ model at all times
  5. Inform others at your institution about you policy
  6. Share it with internal and external stakeholders
  7. Continue to evaluate your policy in order to improve and further develop it

Eline de Rijk-Evenhuis is Coordinator Summer School & Crisis management at NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences, the Netherlands; Sirpa Holmström is Head of International Services at Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences, Finland; Beer Schröder is Advisor for the Board of Directors at EP-Nuffic, the Netherlands; Jana Stolarikova is Senior Advisor of Incoming Students at Bogazici University, Turkey; and Virginia van der Ster-van der Wel is International Relations Officer at NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences, the Netherlands.
This blog post was written as a follow-up to the EAIE Liverpool 2016 session ‘Crisis Management and Mobility: what to do and how to do it’. This year, the  Annual EAIE Conference taking place in Seville, Spain, will once again serve as a platform for knowledge sharing among international educators. Register for Seville by 24 August.