Government consultation on protecting UK universities from national security threats

26 April 2024

On Thursday 25 April, leading UK universities were hosted by Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden for a security briefing from the Director General of MI5 and the Chief Executive of National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC). 

Vice Chancellors heard about the risks facing academia and ways institutions can protect leading research in partnership with the UK Government, benefitting academia and national security at the same time.

Following this briefing, the Government announced a new consultation on measures to protect UK universities from national security threats posed by foreign states. The consultation will explore proposals to protect cutting-edge technology under development in sensitive sectors.

Responding to the proposed measures, Dr Tim Bradshaw, Chief Executive of the Russell Group, said:

"Protecting the UK’s position as a world-leader in R&D requires a security framework for research which allows and supports joint work on global challenges like climate change without putting us at undue risk. This is a shared responsibility and Russell Group universities are keen to work with Ministers to get this right.

"Russell Group universities take their national security responsibilities incredibly seriously and already work closely with government and the intelligence community to help protect UK breakthroughs in fields like AI, which are important to our national interest. But we also recognise security is a dynamic and evolving challenge which means we need the right expertise and intelligence to keep pace with this.

"Boosting support for the Research Collaboration Advice Team (RCAT) would be a really positive move that will make it easier for universities to identify risks when exploring new research partnership opportunities. Extending security clearance to key university personnel would be another step forward, and extra resources to boost capabilities through a Research Security Fund or alternative arrangements would help universities understand and respond at pace to new and emerging threats."

Writing in Research Professional, Ben Moore, Head of Policy (International), said:

"It is clear the UK needs a security framework that supports collaboration on global challenges such as climate change and AI, enabling it to be a leader in emerging areas of technology without putting its R&D at risk. Achieving this will remain an issue of serious political interest regardless of the outcome of the general election - and rightly so. Briefings like the one hosted by Dowden last Thursday, along with other kinds of engagement, will continue to be important in strengthening the close ties that Russell Group universities and others have built with officials and ministers working in this area.

"With war in Ukraine continuing and geopolitical tensions elsewhere increasing, this is a dangerous moment for the world, and the security risks facing universities and researchers are changing faster than laws can be introduced to mitigate them. Giving academics and universities new tools to protect research is critical, which is why the Government’s announcement at the briefing that it is considering measures that would boost the capability of the sector to respond quickly to new and emerging threats is so positive".

Read the full article on Research Professional News.


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