Export control legislation

Individual academics and researchers in the University have an obligation at law to consider whether they may need a licence from the UK Export Control Organisation (ECO), part of the UK Department of International Trade to 'export' goods, technology, software, designs or other related 'know-how'. Failure to obtain a licence or to comply with its provisions may constitute a criminal offence involving potential fines, legal costs and/or prison sentences of up to ten years.

Under UK law, the key concerns are

  1. Technologies, material, equipment or know-how that could be used in nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons or ballistic missiles other explosive devices or their means of delivery (Weapons of mass destruction, for short)
  2. Items that have been specially designed or modified for military use and their components
  3. Dual-use items - those that can be used for civil or military purposes - which meet certain specified technical standards and some of their components

There is no automatic exemption or dispensation for research or researchers.

'Export' means the physical removal of goods or the transfer (by any means) of technology or software and/or knowledge from the UK to a destination outside the UK, including via email, fax, video-conferences and shared data environments.

'Technology' means 'specific information' necessary for the 'development', 'production' or 'use' of goods or software that is not in the public domain.

Does the legislation apply to my research?

There will be some areas of research and collaboration where researchers should always take advice. These are commonly known as the 'red flags'. All activity that raises any weapons of mass destruction (WMD)-end use control concerns is for example an automatic 'red flag'.
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  • If your work involves conceiving, developing or using 'military, security and para-military goods, software, technology or arms, ammunition and related material' that are on the 'military list', for export to any country, you must apply to the ECO for a licence.
  • If your research involves conceiving, developing or using 'dual use' items that have military and civil applications, including lasers, autonomous vehicle systems and imaging equipment, and that are on the 'dual Use list', you must apply to the ECO for a licence to export outside the European Union.

Check whether your work – technology, equipment, materials, software or know-how – is on any of the UK strategic control lists.

If you are in any doubt, contact the ECO.

Even if your work does not seem to relate to one of the strategic control lists, carefully consider whether there are any WMD or military end use concerns about your customer or other overseas entities involved in your proposed export.

There is a need to be particularly alert when working with parties from certain countries which are either subject to arms, trade or other sanctions, embargoes or, more commonly, when there are concerns about military/weaponry/terrorist activities. Click here to check current arms embargoes and other restrictions.

Note: Other controls apply if you are planning to export other categories of goods such as medicines, animal products, plant material, arts or antiques. These are not the focus of this  page.

Export Controls Organisation

020 7215 4594 (helpline)


Information security is vital for those working on security-sensitive research: security of data, prototypes, building layouts, software, drawings, chemical formulae, human or animal vaccines etc.


It is suggested that academic researchers may find it helpful to think about intellectual property, information security and export controls as three points of a triangle, and to consider them together.

The government's higher education guide and toolkit on export controls provides:

  • a broad summary of UK export controls in relation to academia
  • an explanation of where the various exemptions apply
  • a discussion of what this means in practice for academics
  • a decision tree
  • illustrative case studies


Support at Oxford

The University is registered on SPIRE so that researchers can submit licence applications and queries (SPIRE is the ECO’s online export licensing system). Oxford researchers can register directly on SPIRE.

Research Services is sending periodic updates to the administrators of departments most likely to be affected.

Material will be added to this website in due course to provide further information and guidance.

Holders of US research grants, contracts or sub-awards or sub-contracts must also comply with US Export Controls. For further information see Appendix H of the higher education guide and toolkit on export controls.


University colleagues with questions or any concerns are invited to contact Linda Andrews, Assistant Registrar, Research Services.

The University contact in relation to ATAS (for those cases where a certificate is required for nationals of some countries in order to study certain subjects in the UK) is James Tibbert in the Academic Administration Division.

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