Researchers to get government support against hostile activity

A new government team will advise researchers on protecting against disruption, unfair leverage, and espionage

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is setting up a team to help protect British researchers’ work from “those who seek to compromise the UK’s national security”.

The dedicated advisers will help researchers prevent hostile activity such as disruption, unfair leverage, and espionage.

Known as the Research Collaboration Advice Team (RCAT), the advisers will offer researchers government advice on security-related topics, such as export controls, cyber security and protection of intellectual property against theft, misuse or exploitation by hostile agents.

RCAT will be both reactive and proactive, responding to requests from universities who have identified potential risks within current projects or proposals, while also approaching institutions to offer advice and guidance.

The new team will be headquartered in Manchester, with advisers spread across the country.

“Keeping the country safe is the primary responsibility of any government, and it is essential that we do everything in our power to support our brilliant scientists and researchers in pursuit of our ambition to become a global science superpower,” said business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng.

“This new team will give universities and institutions access to the latest advice on safe collaboration with international partners and protections against those who seek to harm the UK.”

We particularly welcome the creation of a single point of contact in government – Julia Buckingham, Universities UK

Science minister Amanda Solloway said:

“The UK is home to some of the world’s leading scientists and researchers. Their vital work over the past year in response to the pandemic demonstrates how crucial it is to foster an open yet secure environment for pioneering research.

“Researchers need to take precautions when collaborating internationally, and this new team will support them as we cement our status as a science superpower.”

The creation of RCAT builds on guidelines drawn up last year by Universities UK (UUK), with government support, on managing security-related risks within international collaboration. The 57-page guidance warned vice-chancellors that “the risks associated with internationalisation… are increasingly dynamic and growing in complexity”. It marked the first time UUK had issued advice on this issue.

UUK has welcomed the creation of the new government team.

“International collaboration lies at the heart of excellent research, delivers huge benefits to the UK and helps to ensure that we are recognised as a global science superpower,” said Julia Buckingham, president of UUK.

“We have a responsibility to ensure that our collaborations are safe and secure, and our universities take these responsibilities very seriously.

“Together with UUK’s guidelines on Managing Risk in Internationalisation, the work of this new team and the specialist advice and support it provides will help to ensure that the public can be confident in our research collaborations.

“We particularly welcome the creation of a single point of contact in government, which builds on recommendations made by Universities UK and will provide valuable insights for institutions and researchers.”

Recruitment for RCAT will begin this week.

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