Universities must wake up to issues of student safety on study-abroad programmes, speakers told a conference on international education this week.
Tim Birtwistle, European programmes coordinator in the school of law at Leeds Metropolitan University, said safety issues were becoming increasingly important as the number of students studying abroad increased.
He told delegates at the European Association for International Education that institutions should be trying to avoid liability altogether rather than attempting to minimise it.
The issue became a hot topic this summer when American student Erin McLean won support from the Scottish Legal Aid Board to take action against St Andrews University, claiming lack of care. She alleged she had been raped during an exchange to the Ukraine.
Earlier this year, an American undergraduate was shot dead while studying in Costa Rica.
The US already has guidelines for programme sponsors on health and safety and giving advice.
Mr Birtwistle said the US approach had been shaped by the fear of being sued and that the UK was moving in the same direction. He has drawn up a draft paper with Dennis Farrington, deputy secretary of the University of Stirling and an education consultant at Lawford and Co solicitors, which they hope could be the basis of a code of conduct.