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Guidance on Export Controls

Export Controls

Overview of UK Export Controls and guidance for UoL staff including when an export licence is required and the application process.

What are Export Controls?

UK Export Controls are designed to restrict the export and communication of sensitive technology or strategic goods, with the aim of preventing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) proliferation, human rights abuses, and countering international threats such as terrorism.

The controls apply to the academic community as to any other exporter. From an academic viewpoint, they may touch on a range of areas of academic exchange which might enable technology transfer, either verbally, physically or electronically. You might be affected if you work with colleagues overseas on research projects, take your research overseas or export your technology. This guidance is aimed at academics or those individuals doing applied research in fields where there is a high risk it could be used for non-civilian purposes.

Export Controls are administered by the UK Government’s Export Control Joint Unit (ECJU). The ECJU grants licences for a wide range of export items. Failure to obtain a licence to export controlled goods (or transfer knowledge on related controlled technologies) may result in a criminal offence being committed. The University operates a system whereby all licences are reviewed, submitted and managed centrally via the Trusted Research Environment Manager which can be contacted by email at

High Risk research areas

Applied research in certain fields is high risk and could potentially be misused for non-civilian (i.e. military) purposes; hence, doing research in these areas might be subject to Export Controls. These areas are usually in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.

High risk research areas include:

  • aeronautical and space technology
  • applied chemistry, biochemistry and chemical engineering
  • applied physics
  • biotechnology
  • electrical and mechanical engineering
  • instrumentation, navigation, lasers and sensors
  • submarine technology
  • materials technology
  • nuclear technologies
  • production and process technology
  • telecommunications and information security technology

Items affected by Export Controls

University work potentially affected by Export Controls is primarily post-graduate work involving one of three types of item:

  • Dual use items: items intended for civil use but which could potentially be used for military, WMD or security-related purposes. Extensive, detailed technical criteria that define dual-use items are set out in the UK’s Dual-Use Lists. The main relevant disciplines are: nuclear engineering; viruses, pathogens, vaccines; chemicals with toxic properties; high strength materials; high specification electronics, computers, and telecommunications; automation; cryptography; optics and sonar; navigation; submersibles; aerospace; and space.
  • Military items: any item is subject to control if it is specially designed or modified (however minor the modification) for military use; and
  • WMD end-use: any item is subject to control if you have been informed, you know or you have reason to suspect that it is or may be intended to be used in a WMD programme outside the UK. This applies not only to exports/transfers outside the UK but also to teaching and research in the UK. These controls do not apply if there is only a theoretical possibility that items could be used in a WMD programme. But staff should be alert to any grounds to suspect that a recipient may divert an item for use in a WMD programme.

‘Items’, as used in this guidance, includes the following:

  • Goods: equipment, components, materials, samples, chemicals and biological agents that meet the definitions of dual-use, military or WMD end-use as set out above;
  • Technology: the specific information required for the development, production or use of controlled goods. Controls apply to only that technology which is peculiarly responsible for achieving or extending the controlled performance levels, characteristics or functions (as defined in the Military or Dual-Use Lists). Controlled technology can take any form including data, research papers, designs, manuals, formulae and prototypes; and
  • Software: that is specially designed for the development, production or use of controlled goods.


There are exemptions for some areas of academic research. Export Control exceptions fall into 3 areas:

1.      In the Public Domain: controls do not apply to software or technology that is “available without restriction upon further dissemination (no account being taken of restrictions arising solely from copyright)”. The main considerations are:

  • the software or technology must be available to anyone, for example on a website, at an exhibition or at a conference open to the public;
  • the exemption applies if the software or technology is available to anyone in return for payment, for example in a subscription journal;
  • research intended to be published is not exempt until after it is published. Sending unpublished research work overseas, for example in the course of teaching, research collaboration or for peer review, is not exempt; and
  • the act of publication is not itself subject to licensing unless the technology is otherwise restricted, for example if it is subject to the Official Secrets Act.

2.      Basic Scientific Research: controls do not apply to technology that is “experimental or theoretical work undertaken principally to acquire knowledge of the fundamental principles or phenomena or observable facts and not primarily directed towards a specific practical aim or objective”. The main considerations are:

  • this exemption applies to research work that is not directed towards a specific short-term practical aim nor addresses a specific technical problem;
  • the technology developed in the course of a research project is likely to be exempt if the sole intended output is a published article in a peer reviewed scientific journal;
  • Technology Readiness Levels (TRL) 1-2 are generally considered to be exempt while TRL 3 is borderline and should be considered case-by-case; and
  • this exemption does not apply to software.

3.      Patent Applications: the controls do not apply to the minimum technical information required to support a patent application. This exemption does not apply to nuclear technology.

Principal Investigators

Principal Investigators need to understand the definitions of the terms ‘technology’ and ‘software’ as used in Export Controls and what constitutes an export. The controls apply to the following activities which are all considered exports:

  • Physical exports out of the UK of controlled items, on a permanent or temporary basis, including very small quantities. Such exports include hand carrying controlled software or technology on paper or on a laptop, mobile phone or memory device when travelling, even where it is for personal use and will not be shared or transmitted further;
  • Electronic transfers out of the UK of controlled software and technology by any means including email, video conference, teaching overseas and online learning, downloading or accessing of documents by a person located overseas, and by telephone if information is communicated so as to achieve substantially the same result as if the recipient had read it. Controlled software and technology should be stored under restricted conditions that securely prevents unauthorised access, using end-to-end encryption and identity and access management;
  • Exports and Transfers within or outside the UK of any item subject to WMD end-use controls as described above;

The University pre and post award due diligence checks will include checks on Export Controls. However, informal collaborations and pre-contractual work would not be subject to this level of scrutiny. It is the investigator’s responsibility to ensure that Export Controls are being complied with at all times.

PIs should check whether the products, software or technology that they intend to export are included in the UK Strategic Export Control Lists and therefore require an export licence. The UK Strategic Export Control Lists specify goods that need an export licence for ‘strategic’ purposes. You can either download the UK Consolidated List of Strategic Military and Dual-Use Items that Require Export Authorisation or you can use the Checker Tools database to establish this. The Goods Checker helps to establish if your items are controlled and identify the appropriate control entry (‘rating’) reference from the UK Strategic Export Control Lists. If your item appears in your Goods Checker search, an application for an appropriate export licence will be necessary. There are different types of licences. The OGEL Checker helps to identify if an appropriate Open General Export Licence (OGEL) already exists. If not, an application for a Standard Individual Export Licence (SIEL) will be required. If in doubt as to whether your items are controlled or not and whether a licence application is needed, please contact for assistance.

End-Use controls and red flags

If your goods are not listed on the UK Strategic Export Control Lists Control Lists, you may still need a licence under End-Use Controls. This applies if the goods are intended to be sent to an end-user where there are concerns that they might be used with military purposes or in a WMD programme. You should be suspicious if:

  • Your collaborator is reluctant to offer information about the end-use of the items;
  • Your collaborator is reluctant to provide clear answers to commercial or technical questions which are routine in normal negotiations;
  • An unconvincing explanation is given as to why the items are required, given your collaborator’s normal business, or the technical sophistication of the items;
  • Routine installation, training or maintenance services are declined;
  • Unusually favourable terms such as higher price and/or lump-sum cash payment are offered;
  • Unusual shipping, packaging or labelling arrangements are requested;
  • The collaborator is new to you and your knowledge about him/her is incomplete or inconsistent;
  • The installation site is in an area under strict security control or is in an area to which access is severely restricted, or is unusual in view of the type of equipment being installed;
  • There are unusual requirements for excessive confidentiality about final destinations, or customers, or specifications of items;
  • There are requests for excessive spare parts or lack of interest in any spare parts.

Licence applications

UoL manages all export licences centrally. There are two main types of export licence:

Open General Export Licence (OGEL):

  • Unlimited quantities of low risk items to low risk countries;
  • Immediate registration.

Standard Individual Export Licence (SIEL):

  • Specific quantity of specific goods to specific end user;
  • Requires an End-User Undertaking;
  • Detailed application, takes 3+ weeks.

If you require a licence or have a question about the process, please contact the Trusted Research Environment Manager at

Exporting and record keeping under a licence

All items (hardware, software and technology) subject to export controls must be labelled as such, including their control rating code number. They must be stored securely to prevent any unauthorised access, on a basis approved by the Trusted Research Environment Manager.

Exports of controlled items must be conducted in accordance with the conditions of the licence. The main requirement is that shipping documents (for physical exports) must include the full title of the licence and/or reference number; freight forwarders must be clearly instructed to include these details on the customs export declaration. For technology exports, documents containing controlled technology should state the full title of the licence and/or reference number (for example in their header or, for emails, in the subject line).

All exports or transfers made under an export licence must be recorded. This includes those made under an Open General Export Licence (OGEL). Records should include:

  • Name and address of consignee and any person known at the time to be the ultimate consignee;
  • Particulars of goods or technology exported (type, quantity, what it is used for, control rating code number);
  • Date of exportation i.e. the date of the transfer or the period of time the transaction takes place over (start and end dates in cases where the transfer takes place over a period of time);
  • Licence used;
  • For SIELs, a hard copy of the original, signed End User Undertaking;
  • For physical exports, copies of the commercial invoice and the completed export declaration;
  • Any other information required to be kept by the licence.

Please contact the Trusted Research Environment Manager at to set up an information management plan. This plan would include measures that help you organise and record the numerous electronic transfers including emails, virtual meetings, or phone calls involving recipients abroad. You should consider using a dedicated email address when communicating with your collaborator abroad, saving all emails exchanged, keeping notes on all meetings and all files shared in a secure storage space.


Students doing applied research in high risk areas should know that UK Export Controls apply to:

  • Goods, software and technology that appears on the UK Strategic Export Control Lists;
  • When there are concerns about end-use or end-user;
  • When destinations are subject to sanctions or other restrictions.

Please contact the Trusted Research Environment Manager at if you need assistance in checking the government’s control lists, have concerns about the end use or end user or to check whether your collaborators might be subject to sanctions or other restrictions.

Teaching & Learning

Teaching and learning can be affected by Export Controls in the following ways:

1. Computer-based services and activities that take place online, in the cloud or through distributed computing can involve the transfer of controlled technology or software overseas and may require an export licence. Activities include:

  • virtual learning environments (VLEs)
  • e-Research
  • e-Science

2. Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS). The ATAS Scheme applies to all international students and researchers (apart from exempt nationalities) who are subject to UK immigration control and are intending to study or research at postgraduate level in certain sensitive subjects. International students will not be able to join a programme in high sensitive areas unless an ATAS certificate has been issued satisfactorily.

3. End-use concerns. If in the course of teaching or research, a tutor or student comes to the knowledge or suspicion that a member of staff or student intends to use research or course contents for military use of WMD programs, the Trusted Research Environments Manager should be contacted at and research or teaching suspended with immediate effect.

Electronic transfers and cloud-based storage for controlled items

The use of cloud-based storage for controlled items does not require a licence, provided that they are stored and transmitted in a secure way that effectively prevents all unauthorised access. However, a licence is required if controlled items are sent or made available to any person outside the UK using cloud-based storage or UoL servers. This would include UoL staff travelling overseas and accessing cloud-based or UoL stored data and any intra-institutional transfers if the recipient is outside of the UK. It all depends on where the intended recipient is located – not the location of the server or data infrastructure through which technology is routed.

UoL staff should understand whether internal or third party administrators for its cloud storage, or other providers of technical services for data infrastructure, located overseas would have access to the controlled technology on such cloud storage and infrastructure. An export licence would be required if the administrator will have access to, or the power to grant access to, controlled technology provided from the UK. Where safeguards are in place to ensure that administrators would not be able to access controlled technology, then such administrators would not be intended recipients of the controlled technology.

UoL staff should ensure they have appropriate safeguards in place to guard against unintended access to technology, including to intended recipients before a licence is obtained. The Government’s guidance does not mandate that controlled technology transmitted via the cloud is encrypted (in contrast to guidance from other countries like the US), but it indicates that measures to safeguard information against unintended access could include applying industry standard methods of end-to-end encryption and identity and access management.

Transnational Education (TNE)

Both Export Control restrictions and exemptions apply when a UK institution offers STEM-based courses through an overseas campus and to overseas-based students by electronic means.

When providing these STEM-based courses you must ensure any training, advanced study, continued professional development, or individual research projects comply with Export Controls and are not undertaken in support of a WMD programme.

Care must also be taken if research is undertaken as part of an applied or work based programme, such as an engineering doctorate or through a split-site programme of study involving a non-UK based component.

Handling and storing US originated controlled items

Contact if any of your collaborations involve export control legislation from other countries. In particular, attention must be paid to US controlled goods, software and technology that is used at UoL because items subject to US controls remain so outside the US.

US controlled items are those of:

  • US-origin: military items regulated under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) and dual-use/lower-risk military items regulated by the Export Administration Regulations (EAR);
  • UK-origin: items containing a ‘de minimis’ proportion of US-origin controlled components, in most cases, 25% by value, but in case of military items it can be any US content, no matter how small. Also certain direct products of US-origin technology.

US controls apply to:

  • Granting access to foreign and dual-nationals in the University to US controlled items;
  • Transfers within the UK;
  • Exports out of the UK.

The US regulations treat revealing controlled technology to a foreign or dual national as the same as exporting it to their home country. This includes telephone conversations, emails, sharing computer data, briefings, training sessions, visual inspection of equipment, or even visits by foreign nationals.

Although this rule does not apply to controlled equipment as such, access to it may constitute a release of technical data if mere viewing of it would reveal controlled information. Giving access to a foreign national to US controlled technology may require a US licence, but there are many exceptions. In the rare event that a US licence is required but denied, for example to grant access to foreign and dual-nationals in the University to US controlled items, care should be taken to avoid breaches of UK anti-discrimination laws.

Suppliers of US-origin items should be contractually obliged to inform you of all applicable US controls. Please contact if your contract stipulates that US export controls should be complied with. US authorities ultimately hold UK organisations responsible for correctly identifying and handling any US-controlled items in their possession.

If you identify any items or technology liable to come into the possession of the University that are subject to US controls, please contact No activities related to US-controlled items may proceed without the prior written consent of the Export Control Director. If approved, a compliance plan will be put in place by the Trusted Research Environment Manager.

UoL statement on Export Controls

UoL understands the importance of export compliance and takes its responsibilities seriously. We are a global university with strong and fruitful international collaborations aiming to advance knowledge and tackle major issues with the final goal of improving the future of our world.

Export control regulations are enforced in countries throughout the world to support national security policies and prevent proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), human rights abuses and terrorist activities. Over the past few years, the geopolitical climate has increased the focus on export controls and as a consequence regulations have evolved and enforcement enhanced.

We have therefore undertaken a strong stance within our University to understand the controls and ensure they are complied with fully. We at UoL have an Export Controls and Sanctions Policy and mechanisms in place to screen all our new and existing funders, donors and suppliers to ensure that we do not do business with prohibited entities. UoL will obtain all the necessary licences before exporting controlled items and will work closely with all researchers involved in the export offering them support and guidance.

If you are a recipient of controlled items generated at UoL (including software, equipment, data and/or technology), we shall expect compliance with all applicable national and international (re-) export control regulations. It is essential that we all comply with the legislation. Failure to do so would result in serious penalties for the exporter and for the University’s reputation.

Key Countries List and Sanctions

The UK uses sanctions to support foreign policy, national security objectives and to maintain international security and peace. Sanctions measures include financial sanctions, arms embargoes and other trade restrictions. When embarking on new collaborations or revisiting existing ones, partner sanction assessments should be carried out and documented. These assessments should be made by checking the name, address and country of the prospective partner individual or organisation against three sources:

For an up to date list of countries subject to financial sanctions, arms embargoes and other trade restrictions please follow this link. If you need assistance checking these lists or are unsure on how to proceed if your research partner or their country appears on this list, please contact

Penalties and Fines

Breaching export controls is a strict liability offence, meaning that the law will still apply even if the exporter did not have any knowledge of the law. Penalties can vary depending on the nature of the offence.

They include:

  • Revocation of licences;
  • Seizure of items;
  • Issuing of a compound penalty fine;
  • Imprisonment for up to 10 years.

UoL Export Controls Policy

The University now has a ratified Export Controls Policy.