Trusted research

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):

  1. Due diligence on international collaboration
  2. Compliance with legal and regulatory frameworks
  3. 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.

Due diligence on international collaboration

Questions for researchers to consider

  • Is there any publicly available information about an organisation, institution or entity which might give you cause for concern? 
  • Does the collaboration or research partner raise issues of ethical or national security concerns?
  • Is the proposed partner linked to the military or to the state, in particular to a state whose democratic and ethical values are different from our own?
  • What information is available about the level of freedom and the state of law of the country where your research partner is based?
  • Would the proposed partnership create any conflicts of interest for you or the University?
  • For academic visitors and students, are you aware of the identity of their employer or source of funding which may be supporting their visit or students?

Internal sources of support

  • advice on international research collaborations, including where these should be covered by a research contract, from Research Services
  • a checklist   covering different aspects that might need to be considered when working outside the UK and/or with international research partners, with details of sources of advice and information within the University 
  • for strategic partnerships, an evaluation mechanism, including a review process overseen by the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research) in consultation with the academic divisions
  • guidance on the acceptance of donations or research funding, including the role of the Committee to Review Donations and Research Funding
  • guidance on identifying and managing conflicts of interest

External sources of information

These resources from NPSA Trusted Research could help inform your decision about the suitability of research with specific partners:

Compliance with legal and regulatory frameworks

Questions for researchers to consider

  • Will the collaboration lead to the physical movement of goods or the transfer of software, data, technology or know-how by any means from the UK to a destination outside the UK? If so, might this fall within the scope of UK Export Control Regulations?
    Failure to obtain an appropriate licence to export controlled goods is a criminal offence.
  • Will you be sharing any information or goods or materials which are subject to other restrictions such as US Export Control regulations (including those which may have been in the terms of funding or research agreements with third parties)?
  • Will the collaboration involve the sharing or transfer of personal data held by the University, which must always be processed in accordance with the requirements of data protection law? 
  • Will the application for a student visa (and from 21 May 2021, researcher visas including research and academic staff and visitors) fall within the scope of the Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS)? ATAS is security clearance where knowledge could be used in programmes to develop Advanced Conventional Military Technology (ACMT), weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) or their means of delivery. 

Internal sources of support  

External sources of information 

For US Exports Controls

Protection of intellectual assets

Questions for researchers to consider

  • Will the collaboration be covered by an agreement which protects results, information and intellectual property held or generated by the University?
  • Does the collaboration maintain the ability to publish results and not restrict or interfere in normal academic freedom or discourse?
  • Can the project be segregated from other research projects (including those being undertaken with or funded by third parties)?
  • Will access to information and results available to the collaborator (including visitors) be restricted solely to that necessary to perform the project?
  • Are appropriate information and cyber security measures in place in your research group?

Internal sources of support