Export control legislation for UK academics and researchers
Members of the UK academic community may need an export licence if they are sharing technical information with colleagues in other countries or dealing with other controlled items.
If you are a member of the UK academic community in the field of scientific or technology subjects, you should be aware of the UK’s export control legislation.
Export controls apply to relevant members of the academic community just as they apply to individuals, businesses and other organisations and are designed to safeguard the position of the UK in the international academic and scientific communities. Their aim is not to restrict the publication of scientific papers and research but to prevent their misuse.
The controls mean that you might need an export licence if you are involved in activities involving controlled items, such as sharing technical information with colleagues in other countries. If your activities are controlled, you will need to obtain the appropriate licence and comply with the licensing conditions.
However, there are also some exemptions from the controls that may cover your information sharing activities. If an exemption is in place, there is no need to obtain an export licence.
This guide aims to help members of the academic and scientific communities understand how export controls may affect them. It gives details of the key principles of export controls relating to the academic community, an overview of the exemptions that may apply and provides links to sources of more detailed information.
Export controls and the UK academic community
Export control legislation applies to academics or researchers involved in technical and scientific subject areas such as computer science, biotechnology and engineering.
What are export controls?
Export controls apply to controlled items such as military equipment and ‘dual-use goods’ and to the ‘technology’ related to them. Controlled technology is specific information that someone would need to develop, produce or use goods whose export is legally controlled.
Export controls apply for 2 key reasons:
- Goods are specifically listed on the UK Strategic Export Control Lists.
- ‘Catch-all’ or ‘end-use controls’ which apply to goods that are not specifically listed on the control lists but are intended for weapons of mass destruction (WMD) related purposes.
You can find out more about UK export controls in our export controls: an introductory guide. You might also find it helpful to read our guide about strategic exports: when to request an export licence.
What controls mean in practice for the academic community
The main area where academics might be impacted by export controls involves the transfer of technology. This might occur through:
- a student and tutor meeting
- the telephone
- a presentation
You can read general information on controlled technology transfers in the guide on the export of technology.
In the case of technology transfers and end-use controls, it is important to understand that the controls only apply where the following important principles apply:
- you are informed by the government - usually the Export Control Organisation (ECO) - that the transfer is intended for WMD-related purposes
- you are aware that it is intended for WMD-related purposes
You should note that there are exemptions from some controls for both ‘scientific research’ and information in the ‘public domain’.
Any members of the academic community who are impacted by export controls are strongly recommended to read this guidance and understand their responsibilities for obtaining a licence if required.
Exemptions in export control legislation for UK academics and researchers
Although normal export controls apply to UK academics and researchers, there are some exemptions.
Exemption for basic scientific research
‘Basic scientific research’ is defined in the Export Control Order 2008 as ‘experimental or theoretical work undertaken principally to acquire knowledge of the fundamental principles or phenomena or observable facts and not primarily directed towards a specific practical aim or objective’.
If technology meets this definition, it may be exempt from export controls as long as there are no end-use controls that apply. For example, an academic research paper on low temperature electrical resistance in metals that was carried out to determine the properties of their underlying electronic structure might be exempt from control as basic scientific research.
Exemption for information in the public domain
Technology that is ‘in the public domain’ is defined in the Export Control Order 2008 as being ‘available without restriction upon further dissemination (no account being taken of restrictions arising solely from copyright)’.
For information to be in the public domain, it has to be freely and legally available - for example in a book or on a public website.
If technology is in the public domain it may be exempt from export controls as long as no end-use controls apply to it.
You should note in particular that submitting an article for peer review or for publication does not constitute being in the public domain in terms of export control legislation.
If no exemption applies
If you export or transfer any controlled goods, software or technology not covered by an exemption from export controls then you need a licence. You can find out more in the guide on the export control licensing process and how to appeal.
Getting detailed information and guidance
The ECO is part of BIS and is responsible for licensing exports of controlled goods and technology. They have produced a detailed guide to export controls for academics and researchers. The guide explains what is controlled and what may be exempt, and what the controls mean in practice for members of the academic community.
020 7215 4594
Published: 13 August 2012
Updated: 12 December 2012
- Amended broken links and added related guides
- First published.
Related guides: Supplementary Weapons of Mass Destruction End-Use controls Do I need an export licence? Electronic transfer abroad of controlled military technology and software Overview of export control legislation Weapons of mass destruction: End-Use Control Export of technology UK Strategic Export Control Lists