Security related issues in international research collaboration
Researchers engaged in international collaboration should consider potential security related issues and take the necessary steps to manage any potential risks. There are three key steps to consider (links to guidance below):
- Due diligence on international collaboration
- Compliance with legal and regulatory frameworks
- Protection of intellectual assets
Benefits and risks of international collaboration
Collaboration with researchers and organisations around the world is fundamental to our research endeavour. Our research community is international, home to some of the most talented scientists and scholars from across the globe. We welcome staff, students and visitors from every part of the world and many people and organisations wish to work with us.
As we operate in this global research endeavour, it is also important that we recognise that some risks associated with international collaboration are dynamic and growing in complexity.
These risks can include:
- reputational risks for researchers and institutions
- constraint of academic freedom or interference with academic discourse
- breach of legal and regulatory requirements (for example breach of export control regulations is a criminal offence) or the terms of funding agreements
- barring from holding funding from certain funders
- loss or compromising of results, data and intellectual property or cyber or physical infrastructure
Security related issues
Many of these risks, particularly in the context of international collaboration, can be described as ‘security related’ issues. The UK and other national governments are taking an increasingly active interest in security related issues, including where they arise (or are perceived to arise) through research cooperation between universities and other organisations.
Universities UK has developed guidance for the sector on managing risks in internationalisation: security related issues.
Universities UK define security related issues as:
‘an umbrella term that describes a broad range of issues and risks that are associated with internationalisation, … that can be broadly grouped into two categories:
(i) attempts by overseas/external actors or those acting on their behalf to illegitimately acquire academic research and expertise; and/or
(ii) interfere with academic discourse.
Universities must manage security-related issues and risks. If left unmanaged, these risks may impact reputation and values; people; campuses; and education and research partnerships of the UK HE sector.’
In addition, the Trusted Research campaign has been developed on behalf of the UK government by the National Protective Security Authority (NPSA - formerly the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI)) and the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC). The purpose of the Trusted Research campaign is:
‘to raise awareness of the risks associated with research collaborations that involve organisations or research partners with links to nations whose democratic and ethical values are different from our own.’
Guidance and support for researchers on security related issues in international collaboration
International collaboration takes on many forms including funding of research, participation in research consortia, informal academic interactions, overseas visits and international conferences, exchange of data, information, research materials and equipment, hosting of short and long-term visitors and recruitment of staff and students. When considering security related issues in these (and other) forms of interactions, three main areas should be considered before proceeding.