Excellent research in an international context 

Australia’s world-class university research is intrinsically linked to the globally engaged and open nature of our universities. University researchers play a key role in developing new knowledge and technological innovation. The Australian Research Council (ARC) recognises that this role is vital to Australia’s continued prosperity, economic growth and international engagement.

Guidelines to Counter Foreign Interference 

Given its important contribution to developing the technologies that underpin our future, and this global interconnectedness, Australian university research can be an attractive target for foreign interference.

The Australian Government and higher education sector work in partnership to mitigate risks and promote Australia as an attractive international research partner, resilient to foreign interference. This approach is reflected in the Guidelines to Counter Foreign Interference in the Australian University Sector (Guidelines), developed collaboratively through the University Foreign Interference Taskforce (UFIT).

The Guidelines recognise that the vast majority of the university sector’s international interactions benefit Australia, and are not intended to inhibit research activities that are low risk.

Critical Technology 

On 17 November 2021, the Prime Minister launched the Blueprint and Action Plan for Critical Technologies, which sets out a vision and strategy for protecting and promoting critical technologies in our national interest.

The Blueprint notes that critical technologies are “current and emerging technologies that have the capacity to significantly enhance or pose risk to our national interest”. The Blueprint articulates Australia’s strategy for maximising the opportunities offered by critical technologies as well as managing the risks related to them.

Due Diligence for the National Competitive Grants Program (NCGP)

Risk identification 

Consistent with the UFIT Guidelines, the ARC identifies key risks that may be associated with applications for Australian Government funding through the National Competitive Grants Program (NCGP).

Where an application is for a project relating to one of the high benefit, relatively higher risk technologies outlined in the Blueprint for Critical Technologies, the ARC will consider whether other risks may be present. Risk factors may include:

  • Current or recent financial support or education or research related activities from a country other than Australia (as per UFIT Guidelines)
  • Current or recent involvement in a foreign talent program or obligations to a foreign university (as per UFIT Guidelines)
  • Current or recent associations with a foreign government or foreign military, policing or intelligence organisation (as per UFIT Guidelines)
  • Recent association with a regime, person or organisation with which Australia has sanctions in place.

In undertaking this work, the ARC makes use of publicly available sources such as the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) sanctions regimes and consolidated list, as well as the information researchers and their universities have supplied as part of their researcher profiles.

Where the ARC identifies that additional foreign interference risks may exist, national security agencies are invited to undertake further consideration of these projects and advise if there are concerns.

What happens next?

As the UFIT Guidelines indicate, the presence of a foreign interference risk in relation to a research project does not necessarily mean a project should not be funded, but does require universities and project researchers to ensure that effective controls are in place to mitigate these risks.

Should national security agencies confirm that a risk may exist, the relevant Administering Organisation (lead university) will be advised, and will be provided the opportunity to outline the controls they have in place at both the institutional and the project level. The ARC will not contact researchers directly; however Administering Organisations may contact researchers as part of their processes.

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

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