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Program Modification or Suspension due to Health or Safety Concerns

The International Risk Assessment Committee (IRAC) is responsible for recommending whether or not to suspend an ongoing or previously approved undergraduate education abroad opportunity if a significant health, safety or security concern is raised regarding that experience. In making this assessment, the group will consider the risk management plan for the students, staff or faculty involved in the program or experience, and the balance between the value of the academic experience in that specific location versus the risks associated with that location/activity.

This concern may arise if a new U.S. Department of State (U.S. DOS) Travel Warning is issued for a location, if a program that currently operates with permission in a country with a Travel Warning and the health or safety conditions presented in a Travel Permission Application change materially, or if health, safety, or security concerns presented in the original program proposal change materially.

U.S. DOS Travel Warnings

From time to time, the United States Department of State (U.S. DOS) announces Travel Warnings for specific countries. Travel Warnings are issued when "long-term, protracted conditions that make a country dangerous or unstable lead the State Department to recommend that Americans avoid or consider the risk of travel to that country. A Travel Warning is also issued when the U.S. government's ability to assist American citizens is constrained due to the closure of an embassy or consulate or because of a drawdown of its staff."

All Northwestern undergraduate students are subject to the University Undergraduate International Travel Policy and Procedures, which allows for review and possible modification or suspension of current and future educational activities in any country subject to the Warning. Such processes permit a cursory review when the impacts of the Warning are not relevant to the program's location or activities as well as a more in-depth review and potential grant of permission to operate in circumstances where the risks are reasonably mitigated. In some cases, a review will result in program or participation suspension and evacuation, if applicable.

Student Impact

When the U.S. DOS issues a Travel Warning in a location where Northwestern offers NU-sponsored, affiliated, or approved unaffiliated and Non-NU Summer educational experiences; in a location currently operating with permission in a country with a Travel Warning where the health or safety conditions presented in a Travel Permision Request has changed materially; or if health, safety or security concerns presented in the original program proposal have changed materially, there are two impacts: students not yet on-site and students currently abroad.

Students Not Yet On-site
All undergraduate educational experiences in the affected country(ies) that have not started are immediately suspended. However, the program's administrative sponsor (or the individual’s faculty/staff sponsor) may apply for permission to operate or to allow students to participate in previously approved education abroad opportunities under the policy. This opportunity for permission to travel is based on the principal that the "dangers" outlined in the Warning do not apply to the program due its location or activities, or that the stated risks can be sufficiently mitigated. A request for travel permission is heard by the IRAC, which after deliberating the merits of the request makes a recommendation to the Provost. Only the Provost can authorize permission for a NU-sponsored program to operate or otherwise permit an undergraduate to participate in a new or previously approved opportunity located in a Travel Warning country.

See the University Undergraduate International Travel Policy and Procedures for information on how to apply for travel permission.

Students Currently Abroad
Though uncommon, it is possible that a specific program, activities in a specific location (city, region, or country), or all activities abroad would need to be modified or suspended by the University due to a health or safety concern if a new Travel Warning is issued for a location; if a program currently operating with permission in a country with a Travel Warning where the health or safety conditions presented in a Travel Permission Request change materially; or if conditions presented in the program’s initial institutional review for approval change materially.

Two outcomes are possible for students currently abroad.

  1. In circumstances where students are perceived to be in imminent danger and the window of opportunity for action is short, the Director of the Office of Global Safety and Security (DOGSS) and/or the Director of the Study Abroad Office have the authority to suspend the affected program(s) immediately and initiate evacuation proceedings. If time permits, they may consult (though it is not required) with the Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education, the Vice President for Risk Management and Environmental Health & Safety, the director of the relevant administrative unit overseeing the program - such as International Program Development or Global Engagement Studies Institute (if applicable) - the program leader(s)/resident director, and/or other appropriate individuals, as available, to determine an appropriate course of action.
  2. If there is no threat of imminent harm, the DOGSS will confer with the program’s administrative sponsor (or the individual’s faculty/staff sponsor) to make a timely assessment and recommendation to the IRAC. Typical recommendations may include, but are not limited to: no material program changes; modifications to program housing, activities, or schedule; or suspension and withdrawal/evacuation. Should there be interest in keeping the program or experience in operation, a request to operate under the policy must be made in a timely manner.

Evacuation Coverage

Students who are already participating in their program abroad when a Travel Warning is issued must comply with any evacuation ordered by Northwestern. Students who refuse to evacuate will lose their student status (impacting their financial aid), evacuation insurance coverage, and health insurance coverage (if provided by Northwestern).

Northwestern requires study abroad participants to enroll in security/natural disaster/political unrest evacuation coverage through HTH Worldwide/Drum Cussac (see exemptions at HTH Health Insurance). Only HTH Worldwide/Drum Cussac can determine whether or not an evacuation will be "covered" under the policy. A covered evacuation will be coordinated by HTH Worldwide/Drum Cussac for a stated time frame. Students who refuse to avail themselves of evacuation services through HTH Worldwide/Drum Cussac during the stated time frame cannot request evacuation services at a later date.

However, students who are permitted to waive NU HTH Worldwide/Drum Cussac coverage because their program provider also works with HTH Worldwide/Drum Cussac are subject to the evacuation conditions of that policy (which may include working with a evacuation provider other than Drum Cussac). Students who are permitted to waive the NU HTH Worldwide/Drum Cussac coverage because their program provider offers comparable coverage are subject to the evacuation conditions of that policy.

Learn more about insurance requirements.

Program Limitations/Duration

There are some programs/experiences that operate with permission under the travel policy. Such permission is valid for two years and upon expiration, must be re-appealed by the program's administrative sponsor (or the individual’s faculty/staff sponsor). Students who elect to participate in such programs/experiences will be required to sign an additional release acknowledging the existence of the Travel Warning.

Refunds in Case of Program Suspension

If NU decides to suspend a program for reasons of health, safety or security, various refund policies apply.