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Toolkit against foreign interference

The European Commission (EC) has published the staff working document Tackling Foreign Interference, aimed for higher education institutions and research performing organisations. Following up on the Commission Communication on the Global approach to Research and Innovation (for more details, see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, May 2021), foreign interference is defined as coercive, covert, deceptive, or corrupting activities carried out, or on behalf of, a foreign state-level actor, and against the interests of the European Union.

The document provides non-prescriptive guidelines that could be implemented in different settings with the intention of promoting international collaboration instead of limiting it. It contains advice on values, governance, partnerships, and cybersecurity. Each of these groups contains several points of consideration when engaging in new research partnerships.

When it comes to values, the document offers guidance on identifying countries and partner institutions where academic freedom is at risk, conducting a vulnerability assessment to understand external pressures on academic freedom and integrity, and provides advice on strengthening them at individual and institutional levels while continuing to cooperate with partners in repressive settings.

At the level of governance, the toolkit suggests publishing a code of conduct for foreign interference and establishing a foreign interference committee. When establishing partnerships, institutions are advised to develop risk management strategies and establish robust partnership agreements. Finally, HEIs and research performing organisations should develop their awareness on risks in cybersecurity to be able to detect and prevent cybersecurity attacks, and subsequently recover from them.

ACA members have been reflecting on the topic of foreign interference in the academic context in an attempt to offer guidance to national higher education institutions. One example of such work includes DAAD’s compass for academic cooperation with countries with different value systems (for more details, see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, December 2020). Further exchange of institutional experience, peer learning, and debate on how to apply the EU guidelines on the ground would be important next steps.

Read more here.