Unis to assess foreign interference risk

·2-min read

Academics won't be made to divulge whether they belong to an overseas political party under revamped rules to tackle foreign interference in universities.

Institutions will instead be tasked with assessing staff at risk of foreign interference. These people will be required to disclose any links including with foreign governments, military, police or intelligence organisations.

They will also need to disclose any links with foreign universities and whether they receive financial support from countries other than Australia.

The new guidelines, updated from 2019, scrap a requirement for academics to disclose political party memberships in other countries.

"With international students set to return to many Australian jurisdictions soon, we need to ensure our university campuses embody the free, open, transparent debate that is so vital to an Australian education," Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said.

"The guidelines will protect universities, students and researchers from hostile foreign actors and intelligence services, who have been known to target sensitive research, muzzle debate, and intimidate foreign students."

Education Minister Alan Tudge cited concerns from the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation about foreign entities targeting critical university research, and threatening academics and their families.

"These guidelines provide clearer procedures and checks for universities to adhere to and, I think, it will make that difference in terms of protecting our valuable research," he told Sky News.

"We will be, of course, ensuring that those guidelines are administered well. But of course, we're trusting universities to some extent as well."

Australia's Group of Eight universities described the changes as a balanced way to safeguard critical research amid growing geopolitical tensions.

"The geopolitical situation for Australia and its universities has changed significantly," Group of Eight chief executive Vicki Thomson said.

"This balanced approach is critical to safeguarding our place as world research leaders while also being proactive to any potential threats."

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