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Foreign states targeting sensitive research at UK universities, MI5 warns

๐ŸŒˆ Abstract

The article discusses the warning from MI5 to UK universities about hostile foreign states targeting sensitive research, and the UK government's consideration of measures to bolster protections.

๐Ÿ™‹ Q&A

[01] MI5 Warning to Universities

1. What is the threat that MI5 has warned universities about?

  • MI5 has warned universities that hostile foreign states are targeting sensitive research to steal technology that can "deliver their authoritarian, military and commercial priorities".
  • The domestic security service's director general, Ken McCallum, and National Cybersecurity Centre (NCSC) chief, Felicity Oswald, briefed vice-chancellors from 24 leading institutions on this threat.

2. What measures is the UK government considering to address this threat?

  • The UK government is looking at increased funding to improve security at sensitive sites.
  • The government is planning a consultation on a package of measures that could include:
    • Requiring key university personnel to have security clearance
    • Strengthening the process to improve transparency of funding, particularly with foreign institutions
  • The measures will focus on a small proportion of academic work, with a particular focus on research with potential dual uses in civilian and military life.

3. What is the rationale behind the government's proposed measures?

  • The government ordered a review of protections for higher education in its refreshed foreign and security policy last year, amid concerns that hostile states โ€“ particularly China โ€“ were gaining undue influence over the sector.
  • The deputy prime minister, Oliver Dowden, has previously warned that some universities' reliance on overseas funding could leave them open to being "influenced, exploited, or even coerced" by a foreign power.

4. How have university leaders responded to the government's actions?

  • Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group of leading research universities, said universities take their national security responsibilities seriously and already work closely with the government and intelligence community to protect UK breakthroughs.
  • Vivienne Stern, chief executive of Universities UK, said universities have worked with the government for several years to ensure they are supported and equipped to recognize and mitigate risks to national security, and they welcome the government's approach to working with them.

[02] Protecting Sensitive Research

1. What is the focus of the proposed measures to protect sensitive research?

  • The consultation will explore proposals to protect cutting-edge technology under development in sensitive sectors that are being targeted by states intent on stealing intellectual property to enhance their own economic and military capabilities.
  • The NCSC and the National Protective Security Authority have also launched a tool to help universities assess their research security.

2. What is the government's rationale for protecting sensitive research?

  • According to the science and technology secretary, Michelle Donelan, maintaining the UK's world-leading reputation as an academic superpower relies on having strong safeguards to protect research from those who wish to do harm.
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