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Guidelines To Counter Foreign Interference In The Australian University Sector

November 27, 2019

The Australian Government’s University Foreign Interference Taskforce last week released Guidelines to support the Australian University Sector in managing the risks associated with ongoing and valuable international collaboration.

The stated objective of the Guidelines is to “provide additional guidance on which universities can draw to assess risk in their global engagements, and to safeguard their people and data.”

The Guidelines are designed to “uphold the foundational principle of university autonomy” and are thus constructed around a series of questions to guide decision-making and better practice principles, including:

Governance and Risk Frameworks

  • Accountable authorities
  • Foreign interference risk planning

Due Diligence

  • Know your partner (e.g. guidance for staff; legislative compliance; pre / ongoing due diligence assessments; staff capacity)
  • Robust agreements (e.g. explicit agreements; philanthropy and donations)
  • Research and intellectual property (e.g. research contracts; end-use possibilities; dual-use and/or sensitive technologies and research; active IP partnerships)

Communication and Education

  • Promoting communication and education programs, plans and staff awareness training

Knowledge Sharing

  • Sharing information between universities and with the Commonwealth (e.g. lessons learning; knowledge sharing with relevant government agencies)

Cyber Security

  • Cyber Security Strategy
  • Intelligence sharing
  • Staff awareness and positive security culture
  • Cyber threat modelling


The Guidelines suggested that universities review their existing protocols and protections against each of the above components. Some examples include:

  • Processes that ensure staff are aware of foreign interference risks
  • Levels of visibility that senior administrators and officials have re staff appointments
  • The potential for staff research to be used for purposes that are inconsistent with promoting economic, social and security benefits for Australians
  • Training requirements to promote awareness of foreign interference risks
  • Collaboration and sharing of information across the higher education sector
  • Cyber security strategies to ensure that resources and capabilities are in place to protect valuable information systems.

Universities (and other higher education institutions) should also give consideration to best practice suggestions, as well as several case studies contained within the Guidelines.


Centium has “up-to-the-minute” experience regarding foreign collaborative arrangements as we are currently partnering with a leading university to review its offshore learning programs. Review components include contract documentation, staff awareness and training, and overall risk assessment and management.

Centium also has vast, hands-on expertise in assisting a range of Australian universities, research organisations and higher education institutions to build cyber security capacity.

We would thus be pleased to work with our existing and new clients to share these learnings and/or discuss ways in which to assess maturity against some or all of the principles outlined in the Guidelines.

For more information regarding our university sector experience, please contact Penelope Corkill, Director Risk & Assurance.

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