These case studies provide examples of how Export Controls can affect universities. They also explain the relevant Controls that should be considered.

College staff are also advised to review the case studies for export controls on academic research, published by the Export Control Joint Unit.

Important: The following scenarios are intended for illustration purposes only. They might not accurately predict whether the items that you intend to use or produce are subject to Export Controls or other restrictions.

Whether certain goods, technology or software are controlled under UK Export Controls depends on several factors, including design intent (e.g. for military or paramilitary purposes), composition and performance characteristics (e.g. for Dual-use items), and intended end-uses. Some of the examples below simplify these concepts and associated assessments. If you are in doubt about the status of your research or teaching in relation to Export Controls, contact the Research Office.

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'Basic scientific research' exemption

A group of Imperial researchers are testing the behaviour of certain metal alloys under different stress conditions in collaboration with a US aircraft manufacturer. They would like to share their research results with the company without obtaining an export licence because they consider their work ‘basic scientific research’. Can they do this?

No, the researchers cannot rely on the exemption for basic scientific research because:

  • Even though they are conducting research into fundamental properties and behaviours of materials, their work is relevant to specific engineering applications with utility for the collaborating company, and is therefore not sufficiently ‘blue sky’; and
  • The research is sponsored by a company headquartered or based outside of the UK.

The researchers must obtain an export licence from HM Government before sharing any part of their research with the US company.

Note: The ‘basic scientific research’ exemption also cannot be used for:

  • The export of any physical goods;
  • The export of any items on the UK Military List; and
  • Transactions with any associated end-use concerns.

Please see the Exemptions page for more details.

Exports that do not require individual licence applications

A researcher at Imperial wants to discuss their research into ceramic powders with another Imperial colleague, who is currently undertaking a visiting professorship in Australia. Do Export Controls apply?

Yes, Export Controls apply because ceramic powders and related technology - meaning know-how and information - are controlled under the UK Control Lists. However, this research can be discussed without making an individual export licence application by using the Retained General Export Authorisation (GEA) 001.

This is an open licence, retained from EU legislation, which authorises the export of certain dual-use items to Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and the US without the need for an individual licence. It allows unlimited exports of items covered by GEA 001 to the specified countries. However, before using GEA 001, the staff member making the export (e.g. researcher, academic or professional support) must contact the Research Office for an assessment regarding its suitability.

Afterwards, the person responsible for the exports (usually the project lead) must keep records of every export made under GEA 001. These have to be declared to HM Government each year. For more details on this, please see the Reporting and recordkeeping page.

Advice: There are many open licences authorising exports of certain items to certain countries. To establish if an open licence covering your activities is available, please see the Government’s guidance. Before making an export under any open licence you must first contact the Research Office who will verify that you fulfil the conditions of the licence you wish to use.

Exports to EU Member States

A researcher in London wants to send software used in the production of fibre composite materials to a colleague in France. Do Export Controls apply?

Yes, Export Controls apply as the software in question is a Dual-use item on the UK Control Lists. However, the researcher can export the software without obtaining an individual export licence by using the Open General Export Licence (OGEL) for exports of dual-use items to EU Member States.

OGELs are ‘off-the-shelf' licences that allow the export of certain items to certain countries without the need to apply for an individual export licence. Some additional conditions apply. Before the researcher can use this OGEL, they must contact the Research Office to confirm whether the relevant conditions are and will continue to be fulfilled.

Importantly, the researcher must keep records of every export or transfer made under an OGEL. See the Reporting and recordkeeping for more details.

PhD students in research projects

A research team at Imperial is recruiting a PhD student with Brazilian nationality to work on a project concerning aerospace propulsion technology. Do Export Controls apply?

No, Export Controls do not apply to the hiring of the PhD student if the PhD student undertakes the research in the UK. However, the team must obtain an export licence if the research is discussed with the PhD student, any other team member, collaborator, or funder located outside of the UK. This is because propulsion technology is controlled under the UK Control Lists. A licence is also required for any member of the team to access files stored in the cloud whilst outside the UK, and for taking any part of the research, both tangible and intangible materials and information, overseas.

Additionally, because propulsion technology is linked to ballistic missiles (which are a means of delivery for WMD), the team must consider potential misuse of their research. If the team becomes suspicious that the PhD student or any other colleague might misuse any part of the research for WMD purposes, they should immediately contact the Research Office and their Head of Department for further evaluation.

Further restrictions apply under the Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS). As a postgraduate-level research project in a controlled subject, and because the student is not a national of an exempt country, the student must obtain ATAS clearance from HM Government before coming to the UK and commencing their studies and associated projects. You can find more information about ATAS on the College Registry’s website.

Publishing I - Basic principles

A research group at Imperial has been developing new radiation-hardened integrated circuits. Their research proposal foresees the publication of their results in peer-reviewed journals and at international conferences. Can they publish?

Yes, they can publish their research in the open literature. Even though the investigated technology is controlled under the UK Control Lists, publication is permitted because they can demonstrate that the objective has always been to make this research freely available, as set out in the project proposal.

However, if this project was funded or participated in by an overseas individual or organisation, the researchers would need to obtain an export licence before transferring or disclosing research outputs concerning controlled technology to any recipient outside the UK (e.g. progress reports containing research data).

Publishing II - Circumventing Export Controls

A research group at Imperial received an offer from a Chinese company to fund research into control software for UAVs. Due diligence on the company identified concerns about connections to foreign armed forces. It appears unlikely that an export licence would be granted by HM Government. The funder has said that they would agree to the research results being published in the open literature in lieu of receiving them directly. Can the researchers publish?

No, they cannot publish because this was not their original intent. In this example, the publication would serve to transfer the research results to the funder without applying for an export licence, despite the fact that the transferred technology is controlled and that the due diligence process identified concerns around the funder. Circumventing Export Controls in this way is a criminal offence.

Sanctions and embargoes I - Embargoed destinations

An Imperial researcher wants to collaborate on investigating armoured, extreme impact-resistant structures with a colleague based at a research institute in China. Do Export Controls apply?

Yes, Export Controls apply because armoured structures suitable for use in military vehicles, body armours, helmets, etc. and any technology and know-how related to them are controlled under the UK Military List. The researcher needs an export licence to discuss this research with anyone located outside of the UK – including colleagues, collaborators, and funders.

Furthermore, China, including Hong Kong and Macao, is subject to an embargo on:

  • Lethal weapons, such as machine guns, large-calibre weapons, bombs, torpedoes, rockets and missiles;
  • Specially designed components of the above and ammunition;
  • Military aircraft and helicopters, vessels of war, armoured fighting vehicles and other weapons platforms; and
  • Any equipment which might be used for internal repression.

As this research can be used to produce body armour worn by riot control police and therefore used for internal repression, the embargo prohibits the export. Any export licence application for this research is likely to be refused.

Advice: When considering due diligence and Export Control requirements, always consider whether embargoes or sanctions apply to individuals, entities, or regions involved in your work. See the Government’s guidance on trade sanctions, arms embargoes and other trade restrictions, the UK Sanctions List, and OFSI's Consolidated List of financial sanctions for details.

Sanctions and embargoes II - Suspicious behaviour by a collaborator

An Imperial research team wants to collaborate with a company located in Germany on developing a new flight control system. When discussing contractual details, the company refuses to provide meaningful information about its corporate structure, ownership, and activities. The company only makes vague references regarding the third parties that it plans to develop and utilise the research results with. Do Export Controls apply?

Yes, Export Controls apply because the technology in question is on the UK Control Lists. It is possible that the planned exports can be made under the Open General Export Licence (OGEL) for exports of dual-use items to EU Member States, without having to apply for an individual licence. The researchers need to consult the Research Office before exporting under the OGEL.

In addition, they should assess whether the behaviour of the company is suspicious and may give rise to WMD End-use Controls, notwithstanding any commercial sensitivity. It could be that the German company is owned or controlled by parties involved in military, WMD, or ballistic missile programmes. Compliance with UK Export Control law would require the collaboration to be halted pending an assessment of the situation. The PI should immediately contact the Research Office and their Head of Department for advice.

Advice: When undertaking due diligence assessments on your prospective partner, consider whether they might be making false or inconsistent claims about their identity or activities.

Teaching I - End-use concerns

A lecturer at Imperial teaches an undergraduate module on infection and immunology. One of their students shows extraordinary interest in the module contents and frequently approaches the lecturer for information about advanced applications of the taught material, e.g., the engineering of pathogens. Do Export Controls apply?

Yes, Export Controls apply because the student’s behaviour could indicate that they are trying to acquire knowledge on the development of biological weapons. At undergraduate level, the course contents are likely to be exempt from Export Controls as most undergraduate taught materials are already in the public domain and generally concerned with basic scientific principles. However, if a lecturer has reason to suspect that the course contents may be misused for WMD purposes, End-use Controls apply. The lecturer should immediately contact the Research Office and their Head of Department for advice.

Advice: Remember that the information conveyed in courses and in conversations with students could be misused. Focus on communicating the information your students need to complete the course and question a student’s motivation for enquiring about more advanced knowledge, particularly non-public information, if you have reason to be suspicious about their conduct and intentions. Although nationality does not determine whether Export Controls apply, consider whether the student has connections to a country of proliferation concern regarding military or WMD purposes.

Teaching II - Online classes

A lecturer at Imperial is remotely hosting a postgraduate tutorial as part of the MSc Advanced Aeronautical Engineering. One of their students is participating in the session while visiting family in Mexico. They are also accessing course materials using their online learning portal. Do Export Controls apply?

This scenario involves exports of technology - meaning know-how and information - to Mexico. An export licence is required if the technology and know-how communicated in the course are controlled, or relate to controlled goods or software, as defined under the UK Control Lists. The same applies to the lecturer sharing course materials with the student, and where the student accesses course materials hosted online while they are outside the UK.

Because it is not feasible to monitor students’ location when participating in classes remotely, or to obtain the necessary export licences, the responsible College staff (lecturers, tutors, etc.) must carefully assess whether any of their course contents are subject to Export Controls before commencing the course. They can use the ECO Goods Checker to search for any Controls on their course contents. If colleagues remain uncertain, they should contact the Research Office for advice. In cases where Controls apply, it might be necessary to mandate that students attend online classes from within the UK.

The same rules apply to discussing controlled technology during any other online event, including conferences, conventions, panel discussions, seminars, fora, or informal meetings and conversations.

Additionally, ATAS restrictions may apply to course participants. You can find more information about ATAS on the College Registry’s website.

Advice: Before commencing a course, establish whether any course contents are controlled and discuss with your Departmental teaching lead and the Research Office measures to ensure Export Control compliance.

Travelling overseas

A researcher travels from London to a conference in Canada, where they will present their research on superalloys. They take with them a laptop with access to the cloud service where they have saved their research data (OneDrive, Dropbox, Google Drive), as well as electronic files saved on the laptop, and paper copies of their notes. Do Export Controls apply?

Yes, Export Controls apply because the information about superalloys on the laptop and in the physical documents they are taking out of the UK is controlled. The researcher needs an export licence before taking these materials overseas. Export Controls also apply if the researcher accesses their research data, containing controlled information, via the cloud from outside the UK, whether through personal or College accounts, even if their laptop had no locally saved files with controlled technology or information.

There are no Controls on the knowledge in the researcher’s head. They are free to travel overseas and utilise that knowledge. However, if an individual is knowingly exporting their knowledge to be used in the development of WMDs or their means of delivery (ballistic missiles and supporting systems for transport, launching, guidance and targeting, etc.), Export Controls apply.

At the conference, the researcher can speak to colleagues about their research, provided they take care not to disclose information that could be misused. They must be conscious of the risks involved in discussing their research methods, tools, or results with certain individuals and organisations.

Advice: Consider restricting the information that you take with you to what is strictly necessary and permitted for the trip. Remember that you might need an export licence to take certain information outside the UK. Customs officers may ask to see such a licence. If you require a laptop when travelling abroad, take a ‘clean’ device that contains only the software and information necessary and that has been cleared for the trip. Take no other research data with you.

When discussing your work overseas, protect sensitive information from unauthorised disclosure or misuse. Do not disclose information that you are not authorised to share and ensure that recipients are authorised to receive it. Minimise the technical detail you disclose and assess critically any questions about your work: why might they be asking about your work, especially non-public aspects of it?

US Export Controls I - Foreign staff in the UK

Imperial is conducting a joint research project on advanced radiation detection devices with a US-based university. Imperial plans to employ a researcher with non-UK nationality on this project. Do US Export Controls apply?

Yes, because US Export Controls also regulate the transfer of items controlled under US legislation to foreign nationals in the UK. Such transfers or disclosures of information within national borders are known as “deemed exports”. A deemed export is a concept applied under US Export Controls that treats transfers or disclosures to foreign nationals the same as exports to a foreign country.

Both Imperial and the US university would have to apply for a US export licence before sharing any technical details with the foreign national. An administrative or superficial involvement of the foreign national would normally not require an export licence. Reputable US institutions or companies usually inform their overseas collaborators how US Export Controls apply to their joint work, and may ask for signature of a compliance statement.

Advice: If you are concerned about how US Export Controls may impact your collaboration or the way that you intend to use goods, technology, or software that you have received from the US, you should speak to the party providing such items, i.e. your US collaborator or funder, in the first instance. Seek confirmation on Export Control Classification Numbers (ECCNs) applicable to any US goods, software, or technology to be provided.

US Export Controls II - UK research

A group of Imperial researchers want to develop a computer model to predict the performance of silicon wafers in collaboration with an overseas microchip producer that appears on the US Entity List. For the proposed project, the Imperial research team plans to conduct experiments using specialist instruments, computing equipment, and software made in the US. Do US Export Controls apply?

Yes, because the items, meaning software and technology, to be exported are:

  • Controlled under the Commerce Control List (CCL), which is the US dual-use items list; and
  • Are to be developed using tools that were designed and manufactured in the US.

The Imperial researchers need to obtain an export licence from the US Bureau for Industry and Security (BIS) before they can share any of the research with their overseas collaborator. However, because the collaborator appears on the US Entity List, it should be presumed that an export licence would be refused (known as ‘Presumption of Denial’).

Advice: US Export Controls apply extraterritorially; they are enforced outside the US and against non-US nationals and entities. US Export Controls apply to sensitive goods, technology, and software that came from the US or were made using US-origin parts or technology. US Export Controls apply to all US-origin items on the US Control Lists located in the UK or elsewhere, and you will need a US export licence to export them directly or to arrange transhipments of them.

Unlike the UK authorities, the US government designates individuals and organisations that it considers a threat to national or international security on a number of Lists of Concern, including the US Entity List. Collaboration with any party on the US Entity List is unlikely to be approved by the BIS.

When assessing the applicability of Export Controls to your work, consider whether you will be using or incorporating any US-origin items, or items that were made using US technology. This includes goods, software, technology, and know-how. If your activities involve partners located in the US, you can contact the Research Office to assess whether US Export Controls apply. Your work might also benefit from exemptions for academic research under US Export Controls.

US Export Controls III - Travelling to the US

An Imperial researcher with British nationality travels to the US to participate in a scientific conference. At the conference, they discuss aspects of their nuclear engineering research with another delegate who holds Japanese citizenship. Do US Export Controls apply?

No. The Imperial researcher is discussing technology that is controlled under the US Commerce Control List (CCL). If the researcher was a US national or held a US permanent residence permit, any disclosure or transfer of controlled technology and information within the US would fall under US Export Controls as a “deemed export”. A deemed export is a concept applied under US Export Controls that treats exports overseas and transfers or disclosures to foreign nationals as equivalent. However, those rules do not apply in this example because the Imperial researcher is a UK national.

Nonetheless, UK Export Controls continue to apply. If the Imperial researcher disclosed information to a recipient, knowing or suspecting that it would be used for WMD purposes, this would be a criminal offence. The Imperial researcher would also need a UK export licence to take any controlled goods, software, or technology - including know-how and information - overseas.

Virtual events I - Facility tours

A group of Imperial researchers has established a research centre on laser technology in collaboration with a Saudi Arabian company. The company has requested a video tour of the laser research facilities established with the company’s funding. Do Export Controls apply?

Yes, Export Controls apply because knowledge of the laser research facilities’ design is controlled. It is not relevant that the facilities were created with funding from the overseas company, nor is it relevant that the company already has knowledge of the design of similar facilities.

If Export Controls have been observed throughout the collaboration, an export licence covering exports of technology (including the video tour) should already be in place. Otherwise, the tour should be restricted to non-sensitive areas of the campus that do not contain items subject to Export Controls, in addition to having due regard for the protection of personal data and confidential information.

Before entering into any agreement or conducting any work with an entity from a sensitive country as defined by the College’s Relationship Review Policy (RRP), staff must complete the approval process outlined in the RRP.

Advice: Remember that both the items (goods, software, and technology) and the instruments needed to produce, use or validate those items (experimental design, methodology, specialist instruments, and tools) are controlled if they relate to materials and equipment on the UK Control Lists. When searching the UK Control Lists for relevant entries, it is important to consider all aspects of your activity, so that you can identify all applicable Controls.

Virtual events II - Online meetings

A researcher in London is having a virtual meeting with a colleague in Japan. They are discussing funding options for research into basic particle physics. The London researcher is in their office, which happens to have schematics and calculations related to another collaboration on nuclear reactor cladding visible on the whiteboard behind them. Do Export Controls apply?

Yes, Export Controls apply even though they are discussing funding for a research subject that is not controlled. This is because the content on the whiteboard that is visible during the meeting is controlled and being disclosed via video. This constitutes an export of controlled technology because the recipient is in Japan at the time of the meeting. For an export to take place, it is only relevant that the recipient is outside the UK – nationality or affiliation with the College are not relevant.

Advice: Make sure that no controlled technology or information is inadvertently exported during virtual meetings, whether they are visible or audible in the background. Host virtual meetings in quiet, neutral surroundings – use a screen or virtual background if sensitive materials are visible behind you. Use a headset to filter out background conversation and noise. Do not be tempted to discuss controlled or sensitive subjects prior to securing appropriate export licences and approvals.