Universities are to be warned against adopting commercial-style risk-management procedures in a forthcoming report for the Higher Education Funding Council for England.
Colin Raban, head of quality at Edge Hill College and author of Academic Risk , said mimicking risk-management techniques fashionable in the private sector would fail in higher education.
"Universities are fundamentally different from businesses and government departments whose risk-management procedures do not transpose easily into academia," he said.
Universities are required by their funding council to demonstrate effective risk-management procedures by next July.
In his interim report of the Hefce good management practice project, to be launched on October 23, Dr Raban explores approaches to academic risk and challenges Hefce and the Quality Assurance Agency to give institutions a free rein in deciding which techniques will work for them.
Dr Raban said that while universities needed to manage financial and commercial risks like any other organisation, they also needed to be aware of risks such as damage to their reputations.
The report divides academic risk into categories that include global market forces, changing priorities of external funding bodies and uncertainty about the future requirements of the QAA.
The report identifies some types of courses that are inherently more risky than others; collaborative and especially overseas provision, courses delivered by distance learning and e-learning, new programmes in an area in which the institution has no prior experience, and degree courses delivered in partnership with further education colleges.