May2820092:33 pm

How much oversight for study abroad?

The talk of the NAFSA conference today is an article in USA Today looking at U.S. student safety while studying abroad and the oversight of study abroad programs by universities and providers (it’s the first thing everyone saw when they opened their hotel doors for their complimentary newpapers). A quick overview of the article: the lack of central oversight for international education programs is a major impediment to increasing student safety:

Though most college students who go abroad — nearly 250,000 in the 2006-07 academic year — return home without serious incident, nobody knows exactly how many students end up hurt because nobody is required to keep track on a national level. Nor are most programs required to disclose incidents to the public.

The difficulty with a “federal standard for liability,” though, is that “such a law would effectively ‘kill overseas programs’ because no school or provider would be able to guarantee student safety”:

Higher-education officials don’t question the importance of safety abroad but argue that it must be a shared responsibility.

“This is one of those situations that is an impossibly difficult tradeoff,” says Terry Hartle, a senior vice president at the non-profit American Council on Education, which represents higher education in Washington. “We want students to study abroad … and we want them to be safe. But if we wanted to send students to places where we were sure nothing bad could ever possibly happen to them, we probably wouldn’t send them anywhere.”

What does everyone think? How much responsibility do universities and providers have for student safety abroad, since it’s impossible to guarantee? And how much can or should be chalked up to “bad things happen” and students could be assaulted in Kansas City as well as in Kingston? Is there a middle ground?


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