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Briefing paper

Framework for the development of principles-based guidelines to counter foreign interference in the Australian university sector

Universities Higher education Higher education reform Academic freedom Academic integrity Freedom of speech Australia

The Australian university sector and the broader Australian community benefit significantly from the presence of international students and collaboration with international researchers and scholars. This level of engagement contributes to the success and achievement enjoyed by the sector, which produces advanced research, cutting-edge technology, closer partnerships with a range of countries and truly insightful scholarship – which, by extension, contributes significantly to the competitiveness of Australian companies and growth of the Australian economy.

However, this open environment of international collaboration has the potential to put the university sector at risk of exploitation by foreign actors who do not follow the same rules of academic integrity as we do, or share our values.

Foreign actors can use a range of coercive, clandestine and deceptive means to achieve their aims in the university sector. Those aims include:

  • the acquisition of Australian research and technology for transfer overseas;
  • suppression of ideas that they see as dissident, and promotion of narratives which support their strategic goals;
  • gaining commercial advantage; and
  • enabling long-term access to information

Foreign actors can use a range of vectors to achieve their aims in the university sector. These may include:

  • academic collaboration;
  • economic pressure;
  • solicitation and recruitment of post-doctoral researchers and academic staff;
  • cyber intrusions; and
  • direct foreign investment.

Understanding and responding to foreign interference in the Australian university sector requires closer engagement between the Commonwealth and the sector. Enhanced engagement will ensure the sector preserves its reputation for excellence while recognising and mitigating the risks of foreign interference.

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