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Foreign states targeting UK universities, MI5 warns

April 26, 2024

Vice-chancellors from 24 leading universities were briefed on the threat by the security services and the government on Thursday.

They were warned cutting-edge research could be targeted by states to boost their own militaries and economies.

The deputy prime minister has announced a consultation on measures to protect UK universities.

There has been no direct reference to any one state, but Parliament's intelligence and security committee warned last year that China could be gaining undue influence in British academic research.

Leaders from institutions including the University of Oxford, University of Cambridge and Imperial College London were told research in sensitive areas could be targeted by states intent on stealing intellectual property to enhance their own economic and military capabilities.

Felicity Oswald, interim chief executive of the National Cyber Security Centre, joined MI5 director general Ken McCallum at the meeting - which followed a government review of the national security threats facing higher education.

The protective measures the government will consult on have a particular focus on academic research that has a potential dual-use in civilian and military life.

They could include processes to improve the transparency of funding, key university personnel being given security clearance and funding options to develop research security capability within universities.

Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden said the measures were about"balancing evolving threats and protecting the integrity and security of our great institutions".

Former head of the National Cyber Security Centre Ciaran Martin told BBC Radio 4's Today programme security services were concerned about university staff being targeted in a bid to influence research, as well as intellectual property theft through cyber attacks and partnerships being abused.

The head of the Russell Group, which represents 24 leading UK universities, said its members take their national security responsibilities "incredibly seriously".

Tim Bradshaw said Russell Group universities already work closely with the government and the intelligence community to help "protect UK breakthroughs" in fields like artificial intelligence.

"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."

The chief executive of Universities UK, Vivienne Stern, said the body has worked with the government for several years to ensure universities are equipped to "recognise and mitigate" national security risks.




Source: BBC

Image: BBC