The Office for Students, our regulator, defines risk as “the threat or possibility that an action or event will adversely or beneficially affect an organisation’s ability to achieve its objectives.”

Our College risks are developed as risks to the delivery of our strategy and our risk management framework supports identification of risks across the College, promoting the use of risk as a decision-support tool for Imperial.

In developing our College risk profile, we consider both top-down and bottom-up threats and opportunities alongside external factors and influences.

We frequently discuss and review our significant risks throughout the academic year through our governance framework with oversight and assurance from our Internal Auditors.

Our external auditors form part of our overall assurance framework, providing assurance over financial reporting.

The Higher Education (HE) sector has navigated significant uncertainty for some time and while last year’s priority themes of Brexit, Pensions and Climate Change remain important, COVID-19 has created unprecedented challenge and opportunity adding a new dimension to all risks.

Our current significant College Risks are summarised, including reflection on the context of COVID-19, below:

College risks and risk management approach


Financial sustainability


We are unable to generate sufficient funds, both short-term and long-term, to maintain our position as a world class academic institution. This includes both generating sufficient income to fund attractive salaries and sufficient unfettered cash flow to support our capital expenditure programme.

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased this risk in the short-term through students deciding to defer their studies and in the long-term through potentially accelerating a move to new educational models.

Risk management approach

Work had already started prior to the crisis to improve the operating cashflow of the university through both reducing costs and increasing revenue. This work is overseen by the Finance Task Force (a sub-committee of the Finance Committee) and is on track to date despite the impact of COVID-19.

We are also now starting conversations as part of our overall strategy on how the nature of higher education may be affected by the crisis and how we take advantage of this opportunity.

Income diversification


We remain over-reliant on the fees generated by international students and postgraduate courses to fund the short falls  in our research funding and our capital programme.

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased this risk through reducing our ability to travel in support of our fundraising activities; the cash generated by our property assets; the returns from our Endowment.

Risk management approach

This remains a key risk for the university. We are still not resilient enough to deal with a major drop in demand from foreign students. In part we are hampered by our success in delivering our mission as the continued growth of the core university increases the amount of diversified revenues  we need to generate.

The Advancement division is focused on increasing philanthropy through its systematic approach to building relationships with alumni and other potential donors. 

The Related Ventures portfolio continues to market our commercial real estate, against adverse market conditions, and the Enterprise division our Intellectual Property.

Infrastructure and capital plan


We fail to invest sufficiently in our infrastructure resulting in an inability to meet staff and student expectations and potentially in safety incidents or near misses.

Risk management approach

We maintain a significant investment in infrastructure and  our estate, at a level commensurate with the institutional needs and our academic mission priorities. We have developed a plan for increasing the operating cash needed to support this investment, including increasing teaching and cost recovery  on research, as well as reducing operating costs.

There may be opportunities in the longer term as we learn from our current mode where our campuses are operating at circa 25% occupancy.

Professional and academic services transformation


We are unable to deliver the planned improvements in the effectiveness and efficiency of the College operating model. The COVID-19 pandemic has reduced the amount of management time available to focus on this.

Risk management approach

A full review of our Support Services Operating Model is nearing completion and builds on lessons learnt from previous change programmes. The end date of the review and pilot phase has been delayed from November 2020 to February 2021 to allow for the loss of management time  during the pandemic.

Business interruption


A serious incident or event could cause physical and/or reputational damage to the College in addition to severely impacting continuity of our critical operations.

Risk management approach

This area has been tested extensively during the recent crisis with our Gold and Silver crisis management structures being in place in the last six months. In general, these structures have worked effectively with the College being seen to have navigated the crisis well. We have also learnt lessons on how to maintain consensus and buy-in whilst making rapid decisions which are being factored into ongoing governance.



The College experiences low to medium level cyberattacks or a high impact targeted cyberattack resulting in extensive disruption to our teaching, research and support services  and reputational damage to the College.

Risk management approach

The recent restructure of ICT has increased the emphasis on and resource invested in cybersecurity. We have a number of technical measures and resilience in place to mitigate cyberattacks however human behaviour remains a key risk and the need for information security awareness training needs reinforcing.

Our COVID-19 research has significant external interest and extra measures are in place to protect the security of this work.


Student experience and wellbeing


Our failure to innovate and improve the quality of our education and support student experience and wellbeing threatens both our ability to support and recruit the best students, and our reputation for excellence, impacting our competitive position and ability to meet our regulatory requirements.

The COVID-19 crisis has intensified this risk by leaving students working remotely far more than previously with impact on their wellbeing and their educational experience.

Risk management approach

Our Learning and Teaching Strategy supports the introduction of evidence-based innovation in education so that we continue to offer all our students a world leading, rigorous, evidence-based and inclusive education. Cross College collaboration has resulted in the development of remote teaching methods at scale with the assumption that a high proportion of teaching could be remote until January 2021 and possibly beyond.

We will leverage the momentum from COVID-19 changes to develop enhanced and new educational offerings.

Student recruitment


We fail to balance the mix of international students leaving us over-exposed to sudden drop in recruitment if there are visa or similar issues with a particular country and promotes a bicultural rather than multicultural experience for our students.

This was a particular concern in the last year when it was unclear whether international students would be willing to travel to the UK.

Risk management approach

We established an Immediate Marketing Group this year to engage students holding offers to reassure them about the provisions we were making in response to the COVID-19 situation. Demand continues to hold up well.

We continue to develop strategies to improve student recruitment with supporting outreach capabilities and are developing scholarships, marketing strategies and our customer relationship management capability to support improved student engagement and a robust student journey.

Widening participation


We do not meet the targets in the Access and Participation Plan agreed with the Office for Students putting us in breach of one of our ongoing conditions of registration.

Risk management approach

Our five-year programme, agreed with the Office for Students, for Access and Participation aims to widen participation through a new series of outreach activities, and more targeted deployment of existing initiatives, for students from disadvantaged groups.

Progress against this is monitored by a specific working group within the College which reports to the President’s and Provost’s Boards.



Failure to deliver high quality research and impact from the research outcomes.

COVID-19 has introduced both risk and opportunity to research, reducing the cash available to some of our funders but also opening up new areas of interest.

Risk management approach

Our key risk mitigations are to ensure we are competitive in hiring excellent academic staff and that we support a vibrant environment to facilitate creative research. Investment in physical infrastructure conducive to discovery and impact, including state-of-the-art laboratories, as well as support for research staff, PhD students and innovation, are key factors. We dedicate resource to building our entrepreneurial ecosystem and relationships with government and corporate partners.



The UK’s departure from the EU impacts our partnerships with European researchers, our ability to attract European students and our access to competitive EC funding.

Risk management approach

We continue to advocate for the UK to remain in a research union with Europe and in building bilateral collaborations in Europe and global partnerships and to engage with the UK government in support of higher education. We have an active Brexit working group to navigate this for the College, developing robust contingency plans such as a Scholarship Strategy to support overseas students.

Legal, regulatory and compliance


We do not follow College policies and procedures, or develop College policies and processes adequately, leading to a failure to comply with legal and regulatory requirements.

COVID-19 has forced wide scale policy review in many organisations and also within our Regulators.

Risk management approach

We are closely monitoring changes in guidance from our key regulators and risks relating to regulatory censure. We are actively managing the Data Protection risks associated with increased remote working and COVID-19 Test and Trace activities across our Community. Internal Audits and specialised audits support compliance throughout the year. Health and Safety risk prevalence due to COVID-19 is a priority and supporting compliance with new safety protocols is essential to protect staff and students.


Staff recruitment and retention


We are unable to attract and retain staff.

Risk management approach

The College’s reputation, environment and working conditions, including total remuneration, are critical to attracting high-calibre staff.

We are continuing to respond to staff needs in terms of working conditions and remuneration, including pension provision, and to monitor recruitment and retention.

Staff and student safety and wellbeing


Failure to protect the safety and wellbeing of our staff and students through and beyond the current pandemic.

Risk management approach

The increased stresses of a changed environment due to COVID-19 demands new measures to support staff and students. These include increased mental health provision, counselling and pulse surveys.

Clear safety protocols, underpinned by a Code of Conduct, have been introduced  and include widespread testing, tracing and containment.


NHS Partnerships


Failure to maintain a strong relationship with the College’s  NHS Partner Trusts.

The impact of COVID-19 on NHS budgets may lead to  reduced focus on our joint clinical academic programmes. New COVID-19 and non-COVID service arrangements will  affect provision of medical placements and the restart  
of non-COVID research projects.

Risk management approach

We put considerable effort into building and maintaining productive relationships with the NHS in London, especially the West London Trusts, through the Academic Health Science Centre and through bi- and multi-lateral meetings with key  NHS and government officials. These relationships impact our clinical research, as well as our education of doctors.