In today’s blog, Alan Campbell, Research Integrity Manager in Edinburgh Research Office, explains the potential implications that the export control system has for remote and blended models of teaching and research in sensitive technologies.
The UK Government’s export control regime is designed to prevent goods, technology and knowhow deemed sensitive from a national security perspective from falling into the wrong hands.
The regime applies to certain military and WMD (weapons of mass destruction) related items, as well as to so-called ‘dual-use’ items. Dual-use items are goods, technology and knowhow which, although having an ostensibly peaceful purpose, could be turned to a military or WMD related use were they to fall into the wrong hands. The items which are subject to export controls are listed in the UK Strategic Control Lists.
How Export Control Impacts on Teaching and Research
The export control regime works by regulating exports of listed goods, technologies and knowhow using a system of export licences, end user controls and catch-all controls. In this context, the definition of ‘export’ is not limited to physical shipments of goods, but includes instances where intangible knowhow is sent or shared abroad. Educational and research settings are not exempt and so in cases where we’re working with controlled technology, disseminating teaching or research materials to students or colleagues abroad could require applying to the UK government for an export licence.
Examples of the types of everyday activities that could be caught within the export licencing system include course materials emailed to students abroad or shared with them via online platforms such as Teams, collaborative research that involves sharing data with colleagues overseas, emailed or shared PowerPoint presentations, or online events with students or researchers joining from overseas.
The expectation that many more students/researchers than usual will begin their courses or programmes remotely from their home countries next session means that Directors of Programmes that involve working with controlled technology will need to consider whether export licences may be required.
Exemptions are Important!
You can check whether the subject matter of your teaching or research is controlled by searching the UK Strategic Export Control Lists, which are enabled for keyword searching. Other useful information is available from the UK government on WMD, military, software and technology controls and on the export of dual-use materials, software and technology.
Bear in mind however that although teaching and research per se are not exempt from export control, there are general exemptions which colleagues in the higher education sector can take advantage of:-
- Information already in the Public Domain is exempt from export controls and is defined in the relevant legislation to include information “available without restriction upon further dissemination (no account being taken of restrictions arising solely from copyright)”; and
- Dissemination of basic scientific research, defined as “experimental or theoretical work undertaken principally to acquire knowledge of the fundamental principles or phenomena or observable facts and not primarily directed towards a specific practical aim or objective” is also exempt. One way of deciding whether material is exempt from export control under the basic scientific research exemption is to assess it against NASA’s technology readiness level (TRL) scale. Generally speaking, where the developmental stage of technology or knowhow falls within the parameters of TRLs 1-3 it will qualify for the basic scientific research exemption, at TRLs 4 or 5 possibly not and at TRLs 6-9, clearly not.
Action Plan for Programme Directors
- Use the UK Strategic Export Control Lists to decide which of your research and taught programmes involve the dissemination of technology or knowhow which (i) is subject to control and (ii) does not qualify for either the public domain or basic scientific research exemptions.
- Where students or researchers on the relevant programmes will begin the coming academic session studying or working remotely from a location overseas, consider whether the need for an export licence can be mitigated by delaying dissemination of controlled elements of the syllabus until those students or researchers have arrived in Edinburgh.
- In the event that delaying dissemination of controlled elements is not possible or practicable, then export licences will require to be obtained in respect of each country in which a student or researcher is located. Please note however that the export application process can take many weeks, depending on the nature of the technology and its destination, and there is no guarantee that a licence will be granted in any given instance. Colleagues are therefore strongly advised to take the steps suggested above to avoid the need to apply for export licences wherever possible.
For further information, please visit the Export Control webpages of the Edinburgh Research Office website. For additional guidance and assistance in applying for an export licence, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.