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Guidance on Trusted Research

Overview of Trusted Research principles and guidance for UoL staff including who to contact if you need assistance.


The University of Leeds has a thriving research and innovation (R&I) community and numerous fruitful international research collaborations, which are vital to the continued success of the UK’s R&I sector as a whole. The University’s vision is to be a truly international university with global reach and impact through internationally relevant, accessible and high-quality education and world-changing R&I. Creating global partnerships that provide international learning and research opportunities to develop engaged global citizens and world-changing R&I is therefore at the centre of this goal.

While the university encourages international research collaborations, it also endorses all Trusted Research principles. Trusted Research is a term used by the government and R&I sector for safeguarding international research collaborations. Trusted Research guidance helps university staff understand and manage the potential risks of these partnerships. The aim is to conduct safe, secure and transparent research whilst supporting the UK’s research integrity and strong ethical frameworks.

It is everyone’s responsibility to reflect on their work, partnerships, including collaborators and funders and to identify and mitigate the risks of hostile interference. The Trusted Research advice presented here would help our community:

  • Identify the potential risks and make informed decisions around those;
  • Conduct international collaborations confidently;
  • Protect intellectual property, sensitive research and personal information.

Identify the risks

International research collaborations are susceptible to mistreatment by organisations and institutions who function in nations where their democratic and ethical values contrast from our own. Joint research with hostile institutions and states has the potential to allow individuals access to expertise in fields of cutting-edge research and innovation. It can provide those with hostile intent access to know-how, IT networks and research.

If your research is trying to solve a problem or develop a commercial application especially in STEM subjects, you might be more at risk of exploitation. The consequences could be far reaching and result in the misuse of your research and loss of intellectual property. There could be the following outcomes if your research is exploited:

  • Theft of IP, research data or personal data for military, commercial and authoritarian uses;
  • Misuse of research and damage to integrity;
  • Harm to staff or students working overseas;
  • Damage to institutional or UK reputation;
  • Financial loss to the institution;
  • Damage to personal reputation.

According to the National Protective Security Authority (NPSA) Trusted Research for academia guidance, the following should be considered:

  • Are there any potential ethical or moral concerns for the application of your research?
  • Could your research be used to support activities in other countries with ethical standards different from our own, such as internal surveillance and repression?
  • Could your research be of benefit to the military in a hostile state or be supplied to other hostile state actors?
  • Are there any dual-use (both military and non-military) applications to your research?
  • Is any of the research likely to be subject to UK or other countries’ export licence controls?
  • Do you need to protect sensitive data or personally identifiable information? This may include genetic or medical information, population datasets, and details of individuals or commercial test data.
  • Is your research likely to have a future commercial or patentable outcome which you or your organisation would want to benefit from?

Who are you at risk from?

According to the National Protective Security Authority (NPSA) Trusted Research for academia guidance, a hostile state may:

  • Seek opportunities to increase its own economic advantage, in particular to develop a research and innovation base to increase military and technological advantage over other countries;
  • Prioritise the stability of its regime and focus on preventing internal dissent or political opposition;
  • Seek to deploy its technological and military advantages against its own people in order to maintain the stability of the regime.

The different methods used are:

  • Exploitation of collaboration through access to people, IT networks and research participation;
  • Targeting of individual researchers by hostile state actors, or equally by an academic institution to undertake research strategically beneficial to that country;
  • Cyber-attacks such as phishing;
  • Financial and political leveraging.

How to protect your research

When engaging in research or funding collaborations with international stakeholders, you should follow the steps below to ensure you are meeting all your Trusted Research obligations. These will also help you in making informed decisions about your collaborations:

  1. Conduct due diligence on your potential partner. It should not only contain financial considerations, but also ethical, legal and national security assessments;
  2. Be aware of potential conflict of interest;
  3. Seek advice from the Commercialisation Team at at an early stage i.e. before publishing or even speaking at a conference if you have developed anything that is patentable;
  4. Segregate your work both physically and virtually to protect your IP, research or personal data from unauthorised access;
  5. Work with the IT department to implement effective cyber security measures such as access control, unauthorised access monitoring and prevention and robust supply chain security;
  6. Meet with research partners regularly and have a security-minded agenda where there are on-going discussions about conflict of interest, IT/network security and data protection;
  7. Have a clear understanding of the impact of your contractual arrangements and each party’s expectations.
  8. International collaborations will need to comply with foreign jurisdictions. Your data, information, communications, research and assets by law could be disclosed to foreign states if your area of research is of interest to them.
  9. When attending conferences or other commitments overseas protect your IP and sensitive data. Take care when inserting USB drives or memory cards handed over to participants at a conference for example. More guidance from the NPSA including the challenges and practical tips can be found here;
  10. When inviting visiting researchers to the university, work with HR to ensure they are centrally recorded as a member of staff or as a student and have appropriate visas before they are given access to your facilities and IT network;
  11. Last but not least, abide by the UK legal frameworks on Export Controls, GDPR and National Security & Investment Act.

For more advice please contact

Conducting due diligence checks

UoL wants to attract visitors and researchers from overseas in support of its aim of delivering global impact. However, before inviting visitors and researchers, there needs to be a degree of understanding of a colleague’s background, prior work and lasting commitments in order to avoid potential conflicts of interest. In addition, think about the expectations in regards to the end of their work, paying attention to confidentiality and non-disclosure.

UoL already conducts financial and fraud risk associated checks on research partners and funders. Safeguarding international collaborations also require ethical and national security due diligence checks that go beyond Export Control laws. In other words, reputational risks should be considered alongside compliance questions.

According to the National Protective Security Authority (NPSA) Trusted Research for academia guidance, these are things you should consider:

  • Is there any publicly available information about an organisation, institution or entity which might give you cause for concern?
  • In view of that information, what might be the broader application or unintended consequences of working with them in the area of research that you intend to undertake?
  • What information is available about the level of freedom and the state of law of the country where your research partner is based?

UoL has tools to help you check different international sanctions and entities lists, trade restrictions and country corruption and human freedom index. If you need assistance with this please contact