An image from a lab for illustration only

The UK’s research and innovation sector attracts collaboration and investment from across the globe. Most of the College’s research activity and collaborations continue unhindered. International research collaboration has huge benefits but there are also some potential risks. Those working in academic research need to understand these risks and how to protect their research and staff.

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 to help academics working in STEM 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. 

Why protect your work?

Why protect your work?

It is important to protect both yourself and the College when your work may involve sensitive information, or a sensitive technology area. 

Misuse of your work 

Joint or collaborative work can be vulnerable to misuse by organisations and institutions who operate in nations whose democratic and ethical values are different from our own, providing those with hostile intent access to expertise and research which they may use for unethical or illegal purposes. Misuse of research can undermine international research collaboration in the UK, and result in reputational damage both to you personally and to the College, as well as potential legal sanctions.

Examples of sensitive technology which can be misused include:

  • work on facial recognition technologies, perhaps intended for mobile phone applications, can be diverted for use by regimes with hostile intents, to suppress or track their populations;
  • work in and around industrial metal forming techniques may be misused for military component manufacture, where those components require certain properties or tolerances.

All research can be at risk, but certain technologies may be more open to misuse, and applied research can be particularly vulnerable, as described in the examples above.


Interference in your research can also be a factor, be that influencing the direction of the work, limiting the ability to publish, or coercion that could negatively affect both your reputation and that of the College.

Who are you at risk from?

College administration will carry out due diligence prior to entering into contract, including financial, ethical, legal and national security considerations, but it’s important for you to understand who your proposed partner is and what their true interests are.

Academics also have a role in conducting early due diligence on collaborators as well as considering:

  • any potential conflicts of interests;
  • if there are national security risks to factor in, based on the subject matter and purpose of the collaboration;
  • legislation that might apply to the collaboration;
  • possible need to segregate online and physical workspaces.

Principle Investigators are often best placed to conduct these checks early on, before moving forward with a new research or funding collaboration as they will know their specialty and existing research portfolio best. At the College, we have processes and support in place to help Principal Investigators take these important factors into consideration to protect the work they and their teams do. Visit the further information page to review relevant guidance.

Know your partner 

When considering a new research and/or funding collaboration you should ask questions of the potential partner: what their interest in the work is; how do they intend to use it; what does the partner do in the field; and even if there is any risk of subversion or reputational damage to yourself or the College by working with them.

Conflicts of interest

You should be aware of potential conflicts of interests between research and/or funding partners that you work with. Be open with your partners and discuss your arrangements, and their needs, regularly.  Conflicts of interest may be security-related also, so you should be aware of the situation and how it may be perceived, or may be used against you or the College. Review the College’s conflicts of interest pages for further guidance.


Ensure that, where necessary to protect IP, research or personal data, there is appropriate segregation between research programmes, both physically and online. 

Implement information security measures such as online access restrictions to data and platforms used for each of your research projects, only giving access to those who have a valid requirement. When deciding on what information to control access to, think about factors such as conditions of any IP agreements; data protection requirements; whether any export control considerations are required. Appropriately controlling access to your research and separating information from different research programmes will prevent partners of one project from having unauthorised visibility of other important and potentially sensitive work that you might be doing.

The College provides a range of support and guidance encompassing information security, export controls, data protection and intellectual property. Consult the relevant guidance available on the further information page for guidance on factors discussed above, to consider for separating different projects. 

The College provides guidance and support covering the pillars of Trusted Research to help our academic community protect their work, their reputation and the College’s.