Universities ok with new foreign interference guidelines

They “are proportionate and carefully tailored” says UA president

The guidelines, announced this morning, follow the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security’s inquiry into national security risks on campus. They update guidelines from 2019. 

The PJIS heard extensive evidence on research-espionage in the sector.  However, in March, there was a  hair-raising briefing from independent monitor Human Rights Watch on harassment of Chinese students by agents/supporters of the PRC, followed by a report from the group in June (CMM March 12 and July 1).

And now the new guidelines require,

* universities raise awareness of staff and students by providing access to information about how foreign interference can occur on campus and how to raise concerns within the university or with appropriate authorities

* universities promote to all staff and students ways to report within their university concerns of foreign interference, intimidation and harassment that can lead to self-censorship, contrary to academic freedom and freedom of speech

The Guidelines also specify that university managements are accountable, with “a senior executive or executive body, responsible and accountable for the security of people, information and assets to counter foreign interference.”

Institutions must have policies and procedures that set out,

* responsibilities, obligations and expected conduct, and consequences if these are not met

* how universities address foreign interference–related issues such as harassment and intimidation that can lead to self-censorship

* who is responsible for tracking responses, and how these responses to foreign interference-related reports or incidents are managed

*  the method and frequency for assessing the effectiveness of security strategy, policies and procedures related to foreign interference,

The “refresh” of the guidelines, comes from the University Foreign Interference Taskforce, which included university representatives

The guidelines are good for universities in that they do not specify a single set of universal requirements, are “intended to be applied proportionate to the risk at each institution.”

But institutions are not entirely out of the surveillance frame. “The government may also seek assurance from universities that their approach to counter foreign interference aligns with these Guidelines and is proportionate to their risks,” the UFIT update states.

Which peak body Universities Australia wants known is ok.

“The guidelines are an important step forward in effectively countering foreign interference on our campuses, and balancing that work with the essential openness of any strong research system,” UA chair and La Trobe U VC John Dewar says.

“Importantly, the guidelines are proportionate and carefully tailored to universities with varying exposure and risk levels.”