Higher education has taken the brunt of COVID-19. As classes transitioned to the online medium and campuses emptied, universities were left to find new ways to improve current and future operations. Inevitably, the question of business continuity for higher education institutions is now a much discussed topic among university boards.
Playing the role of microcities, universities embrace a wide array of functions that are often deeply ingrained into local communities, economy, and the healthcare system. Bearing that in mind, universities need to develop comprehensive business continuity plans to ensure their own short-and long-term welfare as well as the stakeholders’.
Here are the best practices in business continuity planning for higher education institutions.
Prepare a Special Task Force
Establishing a special task force is critical to effectively respond to any kind of crisis. The task force steps in when a disaster situation requires a swift and decisive response.
The task force should consist of multidisciplinary professionals. Distributed across specialist work teams, these professionals use their expertise to define the scope of a disaster and design a mitigating plan, both short- and long-term.
The work teams in a task force are led by an integration team, which manages and coordinates the work of those teams.
Example of work teams that could be included in a special task force:
- Finance and legal
- Faculty and staff
- Teaching and research
- External communications
- Internal communications
- Campus operations
Note: The exact combination of work teams depends on the size of the institution and the range of its operations.
Develop a Comprehensive Communication Plan
With multiple stakeholders involved in the operation of every university, a communication plan will help address the uncertainties that are bound to amount during a crisis.
It’s important to have regular communication with all stakeholders. A communication plan should have directions and steps for various scenarios (even those unlikely ones).
The goal of every communication plan is to:
- Provide reassurance
- Give accurate information regarding the crisis
- Describe mitigating actions that should be taken by the stakeholders
Note: Use secure and collaborative communication tools to help key decision-makers act swiftly. Consider video conferencing for a more engaging experience.
Account for Financial Issues
A plan of action regarding the financial situation of a higher education institution is one of the key elements of a business continuity plan.
You should develop both short- and long-term plans with potential financial consequences and solutions across different scenarios.
Specifically, you should prepare for:
- A COVID-19 outbreak on campus and the funds necessary to continue operations
- Stockpiling supplies (incl. services and equipment)
- IT needs to support social distancing while delivering online classes
- Potential staff reduction and the necessity to support critical staff
Collaborate and Partner with Other Institutions
The COVID-19 crisis has affected higher education institutions across the whole globe. This opens up a wide range of collaboration opportunities between institutions.
These collaboration efforts could include:
- Exchange of information to facilitate crisis response and risk management
- Creation of strategic partnerships to support initiatives (e.g., online learning)
- Repurposing campus space to aid the government in the fight with the crisis
Safeguard the Health and Well-Being of the Vulnerable
Some students might lack the resources to participate in online learning. The transition to online coursework could also result in a greater discrepancy between students who struggle academically and those performing well.
There can also be students for whom a return to home is difficult (e.g., international students). Furthermore, some students may have on-campus employment, which can be disrupted if the campus shuts down.
Prepare a comprehensive assessment and response plan that addresses the well-being of the vulnerable. Also, take into account the concerns of graduating seniors, faculty, and critical staff since they, too, are affected by the crisis.
Act Quickly but with a Future-Proof Mindset
While it’s critical to control the immediate effects of a crisis, leaders should also keep in mind that the short-term decisions will greatly impact long-term response.
The key is to plan the resumption of in-person classes under different scenarios. For example, use work teams to prepare appropriate action decisions. These decisions should support the overarching strategy for future-proofing the university’s operations.
Analyze and reconsider how to deliver student experiences as well as how to approach admissions, testing, and graduation in the new reality.
Guard Values and Principles
During a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic where the disease originated in China, it’s important to have the capacity to deal with potential xenophobic responses on campus.
University leaders should actively dispel misinformation. The goal is to strengthen a university’s values and principles, for example, respect, tolerance, and understanding toward fellow students.
Be active in speaking out against stereotypes and discrimination and supporting affected groups.
Planning Business Continuity for Universities
When developing a business continuity plan for a university, keep in mind that the plan should contain guidance and information describing how to restore critical operations. The overarching goal of a business continuity plan, however, is to fortify the university for the future. Long-term resilience can be achieved through a regular assessment of the plan and introduction of necessary updates. Set aside time slots during board meetings for discussions on business continuity planning. Communicate with stakeholders using convenient communication tools to increase collaboration.
Convene for Higher Education
Used by universities all over the world, Convene is a digital meeting and collaboration tool that allows higher education boards to effectively lead and direct regardless of location. Whether it’s to organize board or department meetings, send across curricula for approval, or gather feedback from colleagues, Convene has got universities covered. Learn how Convene supports business continuity for higher education institutions here.