UK export controls are designed to restrict the export and communication of sensitive technology or strategic goods, with the aim of preventing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) proliferation and countering international threats such as terrorism. When collaborating with international partners, you must ensure compliance with UK export controls. Certain products, software, and technology (including the intangible transfer of critical, technical knowledge) are ‘controlled’ and therefore require an export licence.
The University is committed to complying with UK Export Control law as set out in the University of Reading Export Control Policy.
The UK maintains a single consolidated list of sensitive items that require export authorisation. These include both military and dual-use items. Dual-use items can be used for both civilian and military applications. The government has additional powers to require an export licence on items, technology, or knowledge even if they are not on the consolidated control list.
UK export controls for research focus on applied research in high-risk disciplines, which are predominantly STEM-related. Institutions are responsible for checking whether items require an export licence.
Export control could affect your research activities if you:
- Work with colleagues overseas.
- Teach overseas students (at an overseas campus or in a virtual/online learning environment).
- Take your research overseas (physically or electronically).
- Access controlled technology whilst overseas from servers or an intranet
- Conduct research activities at overseas institutions that have a weapon of mass destruction (WMD) or military end-use potential.
- Export your technology overseas
It is important to note that computer-based services and activities which take place online are also subject to export control including, but not limited to, e-Research, e-Science and presentations on controlled topics.
The controls apply to:
- Physical exports, permanent or temporary, out of the UK of controlled equipment, components, materials, samples, chemicals and biological agents, and of software or technology stored in a physical format;
- Electronic transfers out of the UK of controlled software and technology by email, video conference, teaching overseas and online learning, downloading or accessing of documents by a person located overseas, and by telephone if information is communicated so as to achieve substantially the same result as if the recipient had read it. Software and technology that has been identified as subject to export controls should be stored, whether on University or cloud servers, under restricted conditions that securely prevents unauthorised access, using end-to-end encryption and identity and access management: please refer to the University’s Information Security Policy for further information;
- Hand carrying out of the UK controlled software or technology on paper or saved on a laptop, mobile phone or memory device;
- Transfers within or outside the UK of any item if you have been informed, you know or you suspect that it is intended to be used in a WMD programme. This includes technology transferred to overseas students during a course in the UK;
- US-controlled items: a US licence may be required to transfer US-controlled items to anyone in the University who is a foreign or dual national or to anyone outside the University, in the UK or overseas;
Exemptions for the academic community
There are exemptions for some areas of academic research. The government aims to prevent the potential misuse of research or collaboration. It is not to restrict research, academic collaboration, or vet publication of scientific papers.
Exemptions to export controls fall into 3 areas.
In the public domain
This is technology or software available without restrictions on its further dissemination. It excludes the normal copyright restrictions that may apply. It is unlikely that undergraduate level or taught masters courses need to consider export controls. Most of the information and technical data used in teaching such degrees is in the public domain. Therefore the exemption would generally apply unless material not in the public domain (i.e. unpublished research) is being used.
Basic scientific research
Export controls do not apply to research in the pursuit of basic scientific knowledge. This is experimental or theoretical work. It is undertaken to solely obtain new knowledge of the fundamental principles of phenomena or observable facts. It is not directed towards a specific practical aim or goal.
This exemption only applies to controlled dual-use technologies. It does not apply where there are end-use, end-user or destination concerns. By definition military listed technology is for a specific application, and therefore is not basic scientific research.
In the case of non-nuclear dual-use ‘technology’, the controls do not apply to the minimum technical information required to support a patent application.
Limits of academic exemption
Any academic exemption is unlikely to apply to all aspects of research focused advanced postgraduate degrees such as MPhil or PhD looking at areas of controlled technology. Especially as such research programmes will typically be applied research. By their very nature, they will include technology not covered by the ‘public domain’.
Research may be able to use the ‘basic scientific research’ exemption. The use of this exemption is limited by the definition of what is intended by ‘basic scientific research’.
To qualify for this exemption any technology generated by the research for basic scientific research purposes must:
- be solely to add to the sum of human knowledge
- not be aimed at a specific (short-term) practical aim
- not address a specific technical problem
A possible way of determining whether a piece of research is ‘basic scientific research’ is to consider the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of the research being undertaken. A low TRL around 1 to 3, is more likely to fall within the area of ‘basic scientific research’.
If the sole intended output of a piece of work is a published article in a peer reviewed scientific journal, then this is a further useful indicator to this being ‘basic scientific research’ especially as the intended output is to be in the ‘public domain’.
US Export Controls
US legal restrictions apply to items and technology in the UK if they are:
- US-origin military or dual-use;
- made outside the US but incorporate any US-origin military components or over 25% (in most cases) by value of US-origin dual-use components; or
- made outside the US on the basis of US-controlled technology.
Although US law provides for a wide range of exemptions, a US export licence may be required to transfer such items or technology either within or out of the UK, or to allow access to it to a foreign or dual national within the University, including staff, students or visitors. Failure to comply with US requirements can result in fines and, ultimately, sanctions on the University.
Some US sanctions also prohibit the supply of all US-origin items (e.g. US-made laboratory equipment, laptops) to US sanctions targets, which include some organisations and their staff operating in the UK and some foreign research institutions (notably in China). The use of US-origin items in working with such persons is not expressly prohibited but care needs to be taken to avoid giving them ownership or possession of such items.