RSM Australia

Higher education and Vocational Education and Training (VET)


RSM UK has recently undertaken an analysis of Risk Registers across Higher Education institutions. 

Understanding Risk Registers across Higher Education InstitutionsWhilst the sector is used to significant change, institutions, particularly at governing body level, will look to ensure that risks are recognised and managed. The development of a board assurance framework should be a logical extension of an institution’s existing risk management arrangements.

It is important therefore that you are satisfied with how your governing body and audit committee understands and implements risk management, and that you maintain an informed engagement with the risks and opportunities that it faces.

If these arrangements are effective they will help you to understand the process and control the environment, and help you answer the core questions:

  • ‘What do we want assurance over?’ and,
  • ‘How much assurance do we need?’

Developing and maintaining a board assurance framework is not, and should not be, a separate activity, but rather an embedded tool of management.
As a natural extension of risk management, it would be reasonable to incorporate your board assurance framework policy and procedures into your risk management documentation.

The top 5 risks for Higher Education institutions are fairly intuitive and have remained consistently ranked over the past seven years. They are:




Government Policy, Budgetary Management, Economic Climate & Financial Health, Opportunities & Income Maximisation Institutions no longer have fixed incomes, Real Staff Cost increases of 2.8% per annum, need to identify operational efficiencies

Organisational Factors 



Governance, Reputation & Competition, Institutional Disruption & Business Continuity Planning, Academic Progress, Staff / Student Welfare Ability to deliver change management programs, poor graduate employment outcomes, staff security and welfare, student mental health

Estates (Assets / Facilitates)     



Estates Strategy, Health & Safety, Inadequate Facilities, Project Management Failure to invest, Not fit-for-purpose, Do not meet WHS legislative levels

Student Numbers & Satisfaction         



Failure to Recruit / Meet Targets, Student Retention, Policy/market Changes, Attracting Quality Poor conversion of applications, Poor Learning Experience




Recruitment Retention & Exit, Staff Development Engagement & Support, Planning & change Management, Industrial Action Disconnect between organisation and workforce culture, Structural change creating uncertainty, Quality of Leadership


Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA)

Likewise, the Australian regulator has recently assessed risk across the Higher Education sector as decreasing in relation to the Risk to Students (student outcomes & academic staffing profile) dues to an emphasis on quality and an increasing Risk to Financial Position (short-term & long-term financial standing).

Councils, Boards and Audit Committees would do well to refer to this study as a health check of the risk register at your institution.

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