Home > Policy and analysis > Reports > Oversight of security-sensitive research material in UK universities

Oversight of security-sensitive research material in UK universities

Report page Security-sensitive material is sometimes open to misinterpretation by the authorities, and can put authors in danger of arrest and prosecution under counter-terrorism legislation.

In seeking to address these dangers, this guidance:

  • Outlines specific ethical issues and gives a template for a questionnaire which universities might incorporate into an ethics approval process.
  • Offers a model for a typical internal university rapid response process if problems do occur, which might be used by institutions to adapt practices and processes.
  • Outlines what training might involve for university ethics officers (or their counterparts) adapting or applying the mode.

The guidance recommends:

  • The expansion of existing research ethics approval processes, involving new online questionnaires for researchers at universities.
  • Security-sensitive research material should be kept off personal computers and on specially designated university servers supervised by university ethics officers.
  • Ethics officers should be a first point of contact for internal university and police enquiries about suspect security-sensitive material associated with a university or a university member. 
  • The issuing of comprehensive advice from universities to all university-based internet users highlighting the legal risks of accessing and downloading from sites subject to the provisions of counter-terrorism legislation: reading this advice should be a condition of university email account ownership.
  • Implementation of a training scheme for ethics officers and IT officers in universities regarding the ethics review process and secure storage of sensitive material.

The team

Stephanie Harris

Policy Manager
Universities UK


Number 10 Downing Street

Response to Prime Minister's statement on tackling extremism in universities and colleges

17 September 2015
Universities have strong partnerships with the police and security services and have engaged with the Government’s Prevent strategy for a number of years. This new duty is a continuation of that work.

Promoting freedom of speech and ensuring safety on campus

2 April 2015
Universities are committed to the free exchange of ideas and are the natural place where any lawful ideas can be voiced and debated.