Today sees the Cabinet presenting a package of measures geared towards bolstering knowledge security in higher education and science. Pieter Duisenberg, VSNU Chairman: ‘It is good to see that the Cabinet is opting to improve clarity in terms of this exceedingly important dossier. Our knowledge security working group, which was set up before the summer, will be factoring in this new guidance when it draws up nationwide guidelines on knowledge security for the universities’.
International collaboration is crucial for universities. Dutch universities work with researchers from across the globe in order to carry out leading research. In that respect, universities are committed to academic values and freedom of thought. These things can be put under pressure by unwanted transfer of knowledge or if researchers are encouraged to self-censor. Duisenberg: ‘The universities not only endorse academic freedom as a core value but also take responsibility when it comes to protecting this. Screening and risk assessment are already set components in their handling of this complex issue. Moreover, the sector has started to draw up guidelines for knowledge security of its own accord’.
In addition to international collaboration, open science is one of international academia’s key values. Knowledge developed using public funds is made public so as to enable everyone to use that knowledge and continue to build on it. The flip side to this joint task between government and universities is the unwanted transfer of knowledge, which entails state actors or companies using this knowledge for purposes that could have an adverse effect on the economy or security of the Netherlands. Clear regulations and guidance from the government on national security risks will help universities in weighing-up the risks of international collaboration and to discontinue this or take measures where necessary.
Duisenberg: ‘Universities are doing their utmost to work on the guidelines, which should be complete during the first half of 2021. This entails us incorporating these risk frameworks, for instance, though we are also focusing on the division of responsibilities between universities and central government. In that regard, it is important to note that our intention is not to take over responsibility for national security from government. Coordinating national security is and will continue to be the remit of central government’.
The broader package of measures proposed by the Cabinet threatens to bring about a sharp increase in universities’ administrative costs. The Cabinet is making proposals for intensifying screening, information provision and self-regulation that will be enshrined in administrative agreements. Finally, the Cabinet is to provide an assessment framework to combat the unwanted transfer of knowledge and technology. Duisenberg: ‘The end result will need to be a well-considered, risk-based package, e.g. for cybersecurity and raising awareness of risks. It is an important topic and we need to make decent agreements on it in the guidelines we are drawing up, but it goes without saying that the administrative costs must be proportionate to the goals we are trying to achieve.
Further details can be obtained from:
Femke van Zijst
Acting spokesperson Association of Universities in the Netherlands
+31 (0)6 33 31 30 16