The measures will prevent the undesired transfer of sensitive knowledge and technology in the Netherlands, that could harm the country’s national security or lead to limits on academic freedom, the cabinet outlined in a letter.

“When state actors actively try to acquire this knowledge, it can be contrary to our interests”

“The leading position and good academic reputation of the Dutch knowledge institutions are related to the academic freedom that is guaranteed in our country and the openness of our knowledge institutions to the world,” the cabinet said. 

“At the same time, there is a revival of power-political competition between states. By looking after their own interests, the interests of other states can be affected.”

The measures will be aimed at universities, universities of applied sciences and research institutes, and the package of measures aim to “ensure that international cooperation takes place in a safe way, with an eye for both the opportunities and the risks associated with it”.

The letter explains that the acquisition of “high-quality knowledge” is one of the strategic objectives of various state actors, for economic or military reasons and that this high-quality knowledge is also present in the Netherlands. 

“When state actors actively try to acquire this knowledge, it can be contrary to our interests,” the letter added.  

“Universities are committed to academic values and freedom of thought”

Pieter Duisenberg, chairman of The Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU), welcomed the cabinet’s clarity around the issue of knowledge security.

“Our knowledge security working group, which was set up before the summer, will be factoring in this new guidance when it draws up nationwide guidelines on knowledge security for the universities,” it said. 

In a statement VSNU said that international collaboration is crucial for universities and that Dutch universities work with researchers from across the globe in order to carry out leading research. 

“In that respect, universities are committed to academic values and freedom of thought. These things can be put under pressure by unwanted transfer of knowledge or if researchers are encouraged to self-censor,” the statement read. 

“The sector has started to draw up guidelines for knowledge security of its own accord”

According to Duisenberg, universities not only endorse academic freedom as a core value but also take responsibility when it comes to protecting this. 

“Screening and risk assessment are already set components in their handling of this complex issue. Moreover, the sector has started to draw up guidelines for knowledge security of its own accord,” he said. 

VSNU said that clear government regulations and guidance on national security risks will help universities to weigh-up the risks of international collaboration.

“Universities are doing their utmost to work on the guidelines, which should be complete during the first half of 2021,” said Duisenberg. 

“It is important to note that our intention is not to take over responsibility for national security from government. Coordinating national security is and will continue to be the remit of central government,” he added.  

“The administrative costs must be proportionate to the goals we are trying to achieve”

VSNU noted that the broader package of measures proposed by the cabinet “threatens to bring about a sharp increase in universities’ administrative costs”.

“The end result will need to be a well-considered, risk-based package, e.g. for cybersecurity and raising awareness of risks. 

“It is an important topic and we need to make decent agreements on it in the guidelines we are drawing up, but it goes without saying that the administrative costs must be proportionate to the goals we are trying to achieve,” said Duisenberg. 

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