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Title: Operational risk assessment in a higher education institution : a social systems perspective
Author: Wheatley, Sharon
Awarding Body: King's College London (University of London)
Current Institution: King's College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2011
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The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has recommended the implementation of operational risk management in universities since 2001. This case study investigated risk assessment in this context, aiming to critically examine variety in different groups in a single institution. Social Systems Theory formed a framework to create new insights into reflexive understandings of risk, utilising data from interviews, and group discussions during risk assessment training. The study makes a significant contribution to knowledge about real-life risk assessment practices, revealing two parallel and unrelated systems. Firstly, the formal process exhibited calculative difficulties. Assessment discussions relied on qualitative data, historical events and narrative accounts to assess potential severity and frequency, with 19 of 20 participants unwilling to assign risk ratings. Secondly, existing management controls demonstrated successful mitigation of risks, particularly in relation to funding access, but were not recognised as ’risk management’, hampering the integrated approach recommended by HEFCE. The influence of group illustrated that the rating of risk could vary, as could the type of risk that caused concern. In addition, boundaries associated with group roles influenced the attribution of responsibility, illustrated by academic unwillingness to be involved with formal risk management processes. Risk acceptability differed between groups and individuals, making it difficult to establish a single risk appetite that reflected all organisational views. Uncertainty was evident in the formal process in lack of clarity of strategic aims, absence of data and unpredictability of future events, particularly in relation to the actions of others. Most significantly, risk prioritisation had to contend with conflicting perspectives and competing organisational aims, including those of the regulator.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available