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Geopolitical Security Of University Staff In Teaching / Research Activities Abroad

Innovative And Prospective Proposal To Identify And Prevent Emerging Geopolitical Risks

Research Article
Authors: Vanacore Giuseppe,Niola Giovanni,Ruotolo Fabrizio


Vanacore Giuseppe1, Niola Giovanni2, Ruotolo Fabrizio3

1Head of the Prevention and Protection Office at the Federico II University of Naples
2Prevention and Protection Service Officer at the First Prevention and Protection Office - Federico II University of Naples
3Prevention Technician Prevention Technician c / o ASL Napoli 1 Centro - Supervisory Inspector


Pubblication Date: 2022-11
Printed on: Volume 4, Publications, Online Issue


This report aims to address the problem of occupational safety for people, whether structured or not, belonging to universities, engaged in scientific, research or study activities in the context of scenarios exposed to possible geopolitical risks.

The term geopolitics refers to the science that analyzes the relationships between geographical factors and political choices, which are constantly evolving due to new world structures, emerging problems affecting different areas of the world, dynamics capable of redesigning geopolitical realities by creating imbalances and instability.

Globalization, although it has reduced physical distances, has not been able to neutralize the cultural, ethnic, religious and political divisions that require a continuous process of assessment and monitoring of the risks to which travelers may be exposed so: plan activities; schedule an immediate return; identify trusted people of reference and support once you reach the foreign location; communicating in advance one’s movements and having a knowledge of the cultural and anthropological factors of the social fabric of the host country become factors that, inevitably, must be taken into account in order to avoid unexpected consequences,

At the same time, international scientific research, which represents one of the key factors for the growth and development of society in the medium-long term, by virtue of its potential ability to provide innovation through technological application, has now assumed a leading role for the activity of researchers; the frequent exchanges of scholars of different nationalities make it possible to pursue collaborative projects that determine growth in the scientific and technological fields. More generally, international exchanges are an opportunity for intercultural, social and linguistic learning that determine, for our country, a more competitive and attractive presence at the international level of all Italian research and higher education institutions as a qualified contribution to construction. of the EU and non-EU scientific and technological space

In light of the news reports of the disappearance of Erasmus students and researchers engaged in research activities abroad, the need has emerged to combine the growth of international exchanges with that of preparing suitable security measures for personnel who carry out research or studies. in foreign locations

Therefore, knowledge of geopolitical risks is essential for the purposes of the correct assessment of the factors that may influence the “safety” of researchers whether they belong to employees or students, doctoral students, etc. .. The preventive analysis of these factors allows, with a sufficient degree of approximation, to give an assessment of the different levels of risk.

Methodology And Materials

The topic is addressed in the light of the obligation provided for by art. 28 of Legislative Decree 81/08 which requires the employer to assess all risks to the health and safety of workers. If the assessment of the risks ordinarily attributable to one’s activities is taken for granted, the assessment of those dependent on the danger deriving from socio-political, health and economic scenarios is not taken for granted, although they can cause accidents, even lethal ones, and the onset of serious professional diseases

Therefore, a procedure has been drawn up which, starting from the elaboration of a regulation governing the management of the safety of workers engaged in research activities in contexts where the incidence of specific geopolitical factors is found, leads to a methodology that allows first identify the factors that can affect the psycho-physical integrity of staff abroad. The procedure, in addition to focusing on the owners and with delegated functions, defines the steps from the preliminary monitoring phase of these factors to the administration of a specific questionnaire upon return from abroad. In the preliminary phase of risk assessment, all the information and training tools offered by new technologies and by governmental, international and non-governmental institutions will be used

To this end, the Italian Government offers travelers numerous travel support and assistance tools in relation to the health situation, the presence of embassies and consulates, information on public order, crime, terrorism and mobility. This information is integrated with that from international and non-governmental organizations that provide information of various kinds, from health and humanitarian to those on political and financial stability. In addition, the Farnesina offers a specific collaboration service dedicated to Universities and Research Centers, which have a greater vocation for internationalization, with the support of the skills and experience gained by the Crisis Unit.

Therefore, taking into account the importance of the preliminary monitoring of geopolitical risks and the variability of cognitive sources, the preparation of a correct procedural procedure will allow for an assessment of the risks that can capture the actual and concrete criticalities of the host country.

The idea of ​​adopting a regulation also goes to remedy a gap found in the monitoring process of geopolitical risks that concerns the subject “responsible for the purposes of Legislative Decree 81/08”, since, for this problem there is no exact discipline starting from the identification of the subject, in the university system, required to supervise the assessment of the related risks and the possible adoption of corrective and precautionary measures. This criticality is largely dependent on the freedom of research and teaching recognized to teachers, which allows for ample autonomy and independence in planning activities abroad.

Therefore, following an analysis of the current administrative-accounting authorization processes adopted in the Fridericiano University for missions abroad, which generally end with an authorization for expenditure, a geopolitical risk monitoring procedure was added.

The procedure requires that the teacher promoting the activity abroad or the university tutor, who supports the student in the related activity, in producing the request for a foreign mission / trip to obtain the authorization for expenditure, completes the preliminary risk monitoring form in which in addition to their personal and career data indicates:

  • Place of the mission / trip
  • The type of accommodation of the stay
  • Length of stay
  • Purpose of the activity
  • Possible frequency with which the same location is chosen
  • Level of cultural linguistic knowledge of the country / locality

Subsequently, the Employer, or his / her delegate, with the support of the RSPP together with the Tutor / supervisor will evaluate this form by making a preliminary estimate of the risks including contextual factors (social / economic crises, conflicts, crime, sanitary conditions, etc. ) and subjective factors (knowledge of the country, traveler’s health suitability, estimate of the risks at the host facility, degree of linguistic-cultural knowledge of the country of destination, etc.) reporting in form B the preliminary indications on the estimated risk level

This first monitoring of potential geopolitical risks will end with a final opinion from the Director of the Department in which he can indicate any precautions that the applicant for the mission will have to take before and / or during the mission abroad (form C).

Considering that the preferred countries for the aforementioned missions / trips are often identified as they are already recipients of other missions due to the presence of cultural and scientific collaboration agreements with European and non-European universities, in order to allow the establishment of a database containing the ” feed back ”of travelers upon their return, a specific questionnaire was drawn up to be administered upon return from the mission with a request for information on the main risk factors found in the country visited (form D). These elements will constitute a database that will allow both to validate the results of the preliminary risk monitoring and to integrate the information already acquired from institutional and non-institutional sources with that coming from the direct experience of the researchers concerned. The procedure thus set up will allow, when fully operational, to obtain an updated mapping of the risks present in a specific area.

Everything is accompanied by a short “traveler’s manual” in which information is provided on the common behaviors to observe for those who intend to spend a period of study abroad. It was divided into three chapters (territorial and logistical risk, cultural and language differences, crime and social order) and a final part.

Results And Discussion

In the wake of the protest movements born in 2016 following the murder of Giulio Regeni, an Italian doctoral student, some universities have promoted information and training initiatives to identify the most suitable measures for the protection of students / doctoral students / postdocs / researchers / professors who have to go to work in areas at geopolitical risk. Risk communication and the fight against disinformation were the objectives of our working group. Therefore, starting from an analysis of the data of the missions carried out in the last 5 years by staff belonging to a Department of Humanities of the Federico II, we have found that over the years there has been a progressive increase in international exchanges by the staff of the ‘University which also involved the non-employed, precarious and fixed-term one. However, this trend had a turnaround in 2020 due to the Covid19 pandemic. We also found that the share of missions carried out outside the EU was significant, which, in relation to the geopolitical and health context, were indicated as places with greater geopolitical risk. Therefore, we simulated a geopolitical risk assessment by adopting the designed procedure, finding the effectiveness of the proposed methodology in identifying potential risk areas.

Tab. 1

These data will allow us to protect workers abroad by providing them with information on the most suitable preventive measures and to the limit to advise against the mission. The results of the geopolitical risk assessment procedure, collected in this way, will integrate the DVR pursuant to art. 28 of Legislative Decree 81/08.


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