By: Farah Araj

Director of Audit & Compliance shares her views on internal auditing in higher education institutions

In an exclusive interview, Internal Auditor – Middle East spoke to Naeima Al Menhali who is Director of Audit & Compliance
at The Petroleum Institute in Abu Dhabi. (now a part of Khalifa University of Science and Technology) She began her career
almost 20 years ago and has worked at some of the largest and most prominent corporations in the United Arab Emirates. She
has been a vocal advocate of women in leadership roles and a supporter of the training and development of UAE nationals within
the internal audit profession. Naeima is an active volunteer with the UAE Internal Auditors Association (UAE-IAA) and a member
of its Board of Governors.

What made you become an internal audit leader in a higher education institution?

Internal Audit is a challenging profession.I formerly worked at ADCO, SCAD and other government organizations. The education industry is dynamic in nature and mostly is non-profit oriented. I interact with highly qualified and intellectual professors and administrators which gives
me insights into the challenges faced in the industry. The experiences I have gained during my career have shaped me into an internal audit leader. Further higher education helps to uplift the young UAE nationals and I advocate and support education of young UAE nationals to develop and contribute to our country.

What are some of the potential challenges that internal auditors may face when auditing a higher education institution?

These include maintaining relationships with academics and non-academics, creating awareness regarding the role of internal
audit and compliance in the context of the university, following Abu Dhabi Accountability Authority (ADAA) guidelines, maintaining independence while assisting the management, cost cutting pressures due to budget constraints, obtaining effective data for audit purposes, maturity of the organization etc.

What are some specific risks that should to be taken into account when dealing with internal audit in higher education institutions?

The specific risks include creating an audit culture based on the maturity level of the organization, reputation risks involved due to involvement of students, cyber security risks, risks of accreditation, budget constraints etc.

We understand that managing reputation risk is of utmost importance at higher education institutions. What can internal audit do to support this?
Internal audit can create a robust anti fraud program, fraud awareness sessions, auditing culture, auditing social media to manage the reputation risks in the higher education institutions. Also internal audit can advocate the need for a whistle blowing channel to enable the stakeholders to highlight any fraudulent activities in the organization.
How is technology changing the way internal audit works at a higher education institutions?
There are lot of online courses available to educate ourselves regarding the changing nature of internal audit. Further the technology has made our life easier and helped us to obtain information in the shortest possible time. Also I recommend all internal auditors to attend the UAE IAA conferences to obtain more information and knowledge regarding the emerging key areas in the internal audit professions.

Effective internal audit in higher education institutions is essential to ensure a robust control environment and to become a trusted advisor for the organisation

Do you have any advice for other internal audit leaders in higher education?
My advice would be to develop a healthy internal audit environment in the organisation with the support of management.
The aim of internal audit leaders should be to go beyond the traditional auditing methods focusing on compliance and emphasize more on performance auditing and improving the existing processes and provide advice on innovative and cost saving measures in the organisation.