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Countering Foreign Interference

Australian world-class research is an important contribution to developing technologies that underpin our future. As a result, Australian research can be an attractive target for foreign interference.

The Australian Government is working together with the higher education sector to take steps to keep Australian research secure. The University Foreign Interference Taskforce (UFIT) was formed in 2019, is a key part of this collaboration.

Guidelines to Counter Foreign Interference 

The Guidelines to Counter Foreign Interference in the Australian University Sector (Guidelines) were developed by UFIT. The Guidelines assist decision makers to assess and manage the risks from foreign interference. They build on existing risk management policies and security practices in Australian universities.

Critical Technology 

On 17 November 2021, the Blueprint and Action Plan for Critical Technologies was launched. It identifies critical technologies as “current and emerging technologies that have the capacity to significantly enhance or pose risk to our national interest”.

The Blueprint sets out a vision and strategy for protecting and promoting critical technologies in our national interest. It also articulates Australia’s strategy for maximising their opportunities while managing the risks related to them.

Countering Foreign Interference for the National Competitive Grants Program (NCGP)

ARC Countering Foreign Interference Framework 

An overview of the ARC's approach to managing national security risks within the NCGP is provided by the ARC Countering Foreign Interference Framework.

Risk identification 

The ARC identifies key risks that may be associated with applications for funding through the NCGP.

Where an application identifies technologies outlined in the Blueprint for Critical Technologies, the ARC will consider whether any other risks may be present. Risk factors may include:

  • Current or recent foreign financial support, education or research related activities.
  • Current or recent involvement in a foreign talent program or obligations to a foreign university.
  • Current or recent associations with a foreign government, military, policing or intelligence organisation.
  • Recent association with a regime, person or organisation with which Australia has sanctions in place.

Assessments will take into account information supplied within applications and researchers' RMS profiles. Open source information such as the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) sanctions regimes and consolidated list will also be considered.

Where the ARC identifies that a risk may exist, national security agencies may be invited to review and advise if there are concerns.

What happens next?

The presence of a foreign interference risk in relation to a research project does not mean a project should not be funded.

Should a potential risk be identified, the relevant Administering Organisation (lead university) will be contacted. They will be provided the opportunity to outline the controls they have in place at both the institutional and the project level to mitigate the risks. The ARC will not contact researchers directly about the assessment. Administering Organisations may choose to contact researchers as part of their processes.

Information on risk factors and mitigations will also be provided to the Minister to support their role as decision-maker on ARC grants.

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