Work Integrated Learning: A Study of Risk Management by University Lawyers
333 Pages Posted: 3 Apr 2018 Last revised: 28 Oct 2019
Date Written: December 23, 2016
This thesis explores risk management by Australian university lawyers within the specific context of work integrated learning (WIL) programs. In particular this thesis examines what legal risks university lawyers manage, how university lawyers manage these risks and the factors which may influence their risk management in relation to WIL programs.
WIL is a strategic risk pursued by universities in the prevailing higher education environment, which is characterised by competition, changes in funding arrangements and stakeholder demand for WIL. However the strategic opportunities that WIL presents cannot be achieved without the university taking on unavoidable and distinct legal risks that may have serious financial and reputational consequences for the university. The challenge for universities is to maximise the strategic opportunity that WIL presents but to minimise the risks it entails. University lawyers are involved with meeting that challenge as part of their internal delivery of legal services to the university. Despite this important role, the work of university lawyers remains largely unexplored in the literature – risk management in relation to WIL programs is predominantly addressed from the perspective of WIL staff, not university lawyers.
The mixed methods study of university lawyers used in this thesis is the first known systematic research designed to describe and analyse risk management by university lawyers within the specific context of WIL programs. The first phase of the mixed methods study, a survey of 41 Australian university lawyers, provides an initial understanding about role, legal risk and risk management by university lawyers. The second phase is a case study of 13 university lawyers from 12 universities in Australia.
The findings from this study are that risk management by university lawyers represents a framework of practices, methods and strategies supporting the university goals of maximising the strategic value and minimising the legal risks of WIL. The risk management strategy of university lawyers is to facilitate the delivery of WIL placements for students and to facilitate risk management by WIL disciplines. To execute the strategy, university lawyers use both methods and practices. In terms of methods they are pragmatic and accessible, ask staff questions, garner external support for risk management practices, and communicate and collaborate with WIL staff, insurance-risk and lawyers from other universities. In terms of practices, university lawyers advise, educate, draft and review various WIL instruments in relation to WIL programs.
The risk management framework of university lawyers addresses two categories of legal risk in relation to WIL programs: program and contract risk. University lawyers manage program risks associated with student disability and medical conditions, workplace hazards and student misuse of social media. Nevertheless university lawyers are predominantly engaged in managing contract risks with respect to WIL programs, these being the contractual terms involving the host organisation, university and/or student as well as the contract practices of the WIL discipline.
Strategic, organisational and stakeholder factors may influence the risk management framework of university lawyers. Strategic factors relate to the goals and objectives of the university, organisational factors are associated with the day-to-day operation of the legal office, and stakeholder factors are attributable to the host organisation (external) and the WIL discipline on behalf of the university (internal). The factors are subsequently conceptualised as risks to demonstrate the strategic, operational and reputational risks that university lawyers may encounter and manage which, in addition to the legal risks, may affect the ability of the university to achieve its goals in relation to WIL.
The findings of this research can be applied by university lawyers, WIL disciplines and university management to evaluate and improve risk management at their own institutions and to educate themselves and their colleagues about risk and risk management in WIL programs. The research also reveals a number of issues that may undermine risk management, not only in WIL programs, but in relation to all higher education activities. These issues should be of particular concern to university management, who are ultimately responsible for risk management at an institutional, faculty and discipline level, and who can make decisions which impact the activities of the legal office and the WIL discipline.
Keywords: legal risk, risk management, university lawyers, enterprise risk management, work integrated learning
JEL Classification: I24, K00
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation