On 8 July, the Dutch universities presented the Knowledge Security Framework to outgoing Minister of Education, Culture and Science Ingrid van Engelshoven. Pieter Duisenberg, President of the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU): ‘We cherish transparency in science while also maintaining awareness of its potential downsides. With this framework, scientists and universities are gaining an even more precise tool for weighing the interests of open science against those of preventing undesired knowledge transfer.’
International collaboration is crucial for top-tier research and the best academic education. Such collaboration entails both opportunities and risks. In early 2021, the AIVD, MIVD and NCTV concluded that universities are a popular target for attempts to sway opinion-forming, conduct espionage activities and obtain sensitive technologies. Henk Kummeling, Rector Magnificus of Utrecht University: ‘We must constantly seek a balance between the open academic society and the privacy that is needed to ensure safety. Clear regulations and guidance from the government on national security risks will help universities in weighing-up the risks of collaborations and to discontinue them or take measures where necessary. This Knowledge Security Framework also empowers universities to accept their own responsibility.’
Knowledge security has to do with preventing the undesired transfer of knowledge. Risks include knowledge theft by other countries and attempts to influence employees in higher education and science, which can lead to external or internal censorship and be detrimental to academic freedom.
All universities intend to adopt this framework. The following six instruments will enable Dutch universities and scientists to take well-informed and substantiated decisions regarding national and international partnerships:
- A nationwide network of advisory teams for universities;
- A checklist for collaborating with universities abroad;
- A risk and incident register to simplify the monitoring of risks;
- A framework for quality assessments and audits to facilitate the exchange of experiences and best practices between universities;
- The development and implementation of training programmes for employees;
- Joint campaign to raise awareness of the risks of international collaboration.
Duisenberg: ‘There is no reason for anyone to avoid seeking out cross-border collaborations. That being said, it is vital that every university employee be aware of the risks and take well-considered decisions. We also intend to continue our dialogue with the Dutch government regarding what is needed to safeguard knowledge security and maintain the open nature of science. It is crucial that any measures be feasible and that universities do not find themselves acting as intelligence agencies.’
As of today, the Knowledge Security Framework can be found on the VSNU website.