New taskforce will fight foreign interference in universities

By Shannon Jenkins

Wednesday August 28, 2019

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Representatives from universities and security agencies will band together to form a new foreign-interference taskforce.

Education Minister Dan Tehan will announce the plan in a speech to the National Press Club on Wednesday, according to Guardian Australia.

Tehan says Australian universities will be required to work with the agencies.

“The taskforce will be comprised 50% from the university sector and 50% from government agencies, providing a perspective of the sector’s unique position partnered with frank advice from our government,” he says.

The taskforce will have four working groups to combat key areas of concern.

A group for cyber security “will ensure our ecosystem is resilient to unauthorised access, manipulation, disruption or damage” by preventing and responding to cyber security breaches.

Another group focused on research and intellectual property will “protect against deception, undue influence, unauthorised disclosure or disruption to our research, intellectual property and research community, while also protecting academic freedom”.

A foreign collaboration group will promote transparent collaboration with foreign entities while protecting Australia’s interests.

Finally, a culture and communication group will raise awareness of cyber security in government and the public to “foster a positive security culture”.

The taskforce will build upon work from the Department of Defence, including strengthening rules to “prevent the transfer of defence and dual-use technology to those who may use it contrary to Australia’s interests”.

Tehan’s announcement comes amid concerns that Australian universities rely on Chinese international students and research partnerships. He fears this may cause universities to be complacent about foreign interference.

“What we’ve got to understand is that occasionally what people will be looking to do, or what countries may be looking to do, is look at our intellectual property and then use it for their particular means, rather than for the greater global good or for the good of Australia,” he says.

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