Memorandum submitted by Universities UK
1. Universities UK is pleased to submit
this memorandum to the Select Committee's inquiry on strategic
export controls. We take a keen interest in the issue because
higher education is an inherently international activity. UK universities
have a strong record in recruiting and teaching students from
overseas. Research groups routinely engage in international collaboration
to maintain their cutting edge.
2. Protection of the international dimension
of UK higher education is important for a number of reasons:
the OST's wish for the UK to maintain
its international reputation for research;
the Prime Minister's wish to raise
the numbers of overseas students;
the Government's proposal to establish
an e-university; and
the DTI's aim of making the UK the
world's best location for e-commerce.
3. In response to the 1998 White Paper on
Strategic Controls, CVCP (we changed our name to Universities
UK in December 2000) acknowledged the need for effective controls
on weapons development and proliferation. However, we expressed
concern that the indiscriminate extension of powers to cover intangible
exports posed an unacceptable threat to the operation and standing
of UK higher education. We argued that the proposed controls would
severely damage the international research capability of UK higher
education and undermine the ability of universities to attract
international students to the UK. We also noted, in common with
others, that the proposals could inhibit trade, particularly in
those areas of "dual-use" technologies where the UK
has a substantial share of the world market, and discourage inward
investment by multinational companies with strong R&D interests.
4. Universities UK now welcomes, in broad
terms, the draft Strategic Export Controls Bill that has been
put out to consultation, in particular the commentary accompanying
it. These go some way towards meeting the concerns we expressed
in 1998 about interference with legitimate academic activities.
But we think there is still more to do in order to protect academic
freedom, in particular within the Bill itself. Universities UK
looks forward to taking part in the consultation process now under
way and we are currently consulting our members on the formal
response we will make.
5. Universities UK supports controls on
weapons of mass destruction. But we are concerned that new controls
might have the unintended consequence of damaging higher education.
This is especially true now as we try to build international recruiting
and global research links. Our concerns are, for this reason,
limited to the sections of the Bill dealing with these new controls.
The proposal in the draft Bill to extend licensing controls to
include intangibles could have adverse effects on universities
and on the UK research base generally.
6. The proposals explained in paragraph
44 of the memorandum accompanying the Bill express the intention
to respond to concerns expressed by the academic community. We
welcome this flexibilityincluding, for example, the exclusion
of knowledge in the public domain, and the need for "knowledge"
rather than "suspicion" on the part of the academics.
7. However, this flexibility is not reflected
in the drafting of the Bill itself. Universities UK believes that
the only way to ensure that academic freedom is protected is to
provide for exclusion of the routine academic activities of teaching
and research. We believe that the protection of academic freedom
should be achieved in plain terms on the face of the Bill. This
is justified both by the importance of the principle of academic
freedom and by the economic and cultural importance of the UK's
academic institutions. Failure to do so would hinder universities'
ability to explain issues to overseas students in lectures and
to supervise research students, as well as making it difficult
for researchers to communicate internationally.
8. Our aims could be met by ensuring, for
example, that Clause 2 of the Bill expressly excludes from control
All information in the public domain,
whether it is in the public domain before transfer or whether
it is transferred by being put in the public domain;
All information exchanged in the
ordinary course of academic teaching or research, with the exception
of information which the provider of the information knows or
is informed by Government is intended for use in connection with
a weapons of mass destruction or related missile programme; and
All transfers of information within
the UK, except information which the provider of the information
knows or is informed by Government is intended for use in connection
with a weapons of mass destruction or related missile programme.
9. Sub-clause 2(2)(c) is a matter of particular
concern for universities. It exposes to control the transfer of
any technology "from a person or place within the UK (but
only where there is reason to believe that the information may
be used outside the UK)". Except in the rare case where it
is impossible for the information in question to be used outside
the UK, it will surely always be the case that the information
"may" be used outside the UK. Consequently, the sub-clause
exposes virtually all internal transfers of information to control.
10. Universities UK believes that this matter
should be decided by Parliament. It is wholly unsatisfactory that
the protection of academic freedom should be dependent on the
restraint with which Ministers exercise statutory powers. Therefore,
this protection should be set out in the primary legislation.