Trusted Research

The UK’s research and innovation sector attracts collaboration and investment from across the globe.  Most of the University's research activity and collaborations continue unhindered. 

The UK Government has developed Trusted Research Guidance to help UK academics and research organisations understand and manage the potential risks  associated with international research collaboration.

Trusted Research is here to help researchers, UK universities and industry partners make informed decisions when working with international collaborators. The advice is designed to help you protect your research from theft and exploitation, ensuring that your work is safe and your reputation remains intact.

The National Protective Security Authority (NPSA) has designed the Trusted research guidance for academia help academics to get the most from working in collaboration with others as well as protecting their own work. These pages cover areas from general information about the kinds of risks that academics can encounter during their research, as well as practical advice.

NPSA Trusted Research Video

NPSA is the UK government's National Technical Authority for physical and personnel protective security. Their role is to protect UK national security, reducing vulnerability to threats such as terrorism, espionage and sabotage, and they work across government, the police, and with partners in industry and academia.


WATCH: Further Trusted Research Guidance

There are 4 short NPSA videos explaining Trusted Research:


What does this mean for Academic Research?

Trusted Research aims to support the integrity of international research collaborations. Universities and academic researchers work in an increasingly complex environment and whilst there are many benefits of international collaboration, there are also potential risks.  Those working in academic research need to be aware of these risks and how to protect themselves, their research and the University. These include:

  • Potential breach of national or international legislation
  • Interference with academic freedom
  • Reputational risk for individual researchers and Institutions
  • Loss of data, results or other intellectual property through theft, cyber espionage, or other means.

International collaborative work can be at risk of misuse by organisations who operate in nations whose democratic and ethical values differ from our own.  It can enable such organisations to work with researchers who are experts in a field of cutting edge research and innovation, and have access to the results of that work. As such, it could provide nations or organisations with hostile intent overt access to expertise, IT networks and research which may be used for unethical or illegal purposes. This type of misuse lends itself more to certain fields and disciplines but all international research collaboration needs to consider the implications.

Assessing the risk:

Partner suitability (including collaborators and funders)

Before working with an overseas partner consider if:

  • They are linked to a state with different democratic or ethical views to ourselves.
  • They work with other organisations that may raise moral or ethical concerns.
  • There is information in the public domain relating to the partner which raises concerns.
  • The collaboration would cause a conflict of interest between researchers and/or funders.
Managing Information & Knowledge Sharing

Researchers should consider:

  • Could the research have dual-use or applications other than the specified or intended use i.e. could it potentially be utilised for military or defence applications?
  • What information will be available to the partner organisation and what measures are in place to offer protection?
  • Could the partner obtain direct or indirect access to information outside of the research project?
Legal Frameworks

There are certain legal frameworks which are applicable to international research collaborations:

  • If there is an acquisition of an entity or asset, which includes intangible assets such as Intellectual Property, then the National Security and Investment (NSI) Act may be applicable. More information can be found here: NSI Act
  • If there will be a transfer of goods, technology or data then export control legislation may be applicable. Dual use should also be considered.
  • If the collaboration will involve new international researchers (or students) coming to work with us the Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) may apply.

Sector Guidance

UKRI have also produced Trusted Research and Innovation Principles which can be found here: UKRI-170821-TrustedResearchandInnovationPrinciples.pdf

This has been supplemented by the Centre for Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI) which includes specific guidance for academics and can be found here:  Trusted Research Guidance for Academia | CPNI

What do I need to do?

Trusted Research is particularly relevant to researchers in STEM subjects, dual-use technologies, emerging technologies and commercially sensitive research areas but all researchers should familiarise themselves with this information.

Key messages to consider:

Who’s funding your research?

It is the responsibility of each researcher to check their funding sources:

  • What interests they represent and whether they conflict with their own
  • What controls are in place – who owns the research, what can funders do with the research
How well do you know your research partners? 

Researchers should look into the background and connections of their research partners and be clear on:

  • Whether they have any conflicts of interest with other research
  • Whether and how they represent or are connected with other organisations/countries
How is your research being used?

Research may be applied in different ways that weren’t intended by the researcher.

It is important to think about how research results could be used and consider how to prevent partners or other people with access to research from doing this inappropriately