Universities will need a licence to export knowledge

The Norwegian government has proposed a regulation that will force universities to apply for an export licence if they want to export knowledge produced in Norway to other countries.

The proposal was made in a government white paper (in Norwegian) published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs titled “Export of defence material from Norway in 2020, export control and international non-proliferation cooperation.”

The proposal was made on 12 June and approved ‘by the King in Cabinet’ the same day, which means the bill has government approval and can now be voted on by parliament.

In one passage in the white paper, the ministry says: “After serious consideration, the ministry has concluded that control of sensitive knowledge [exported from Norway to other countries] can be best effectuated by making it clear what [knowledge] is in need of a licence, when this licence demand is enforced, and how one can apply for a licence from the ministry.”

It proposes establishing a system for such licencing where stakeholders, who are going to transfer knowledge on licence-demanding goods and technologies and other knowledge that can be used for military purposes for foreign citizens, will have to apply to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before sharing of information or research can take place.

“It will also be made clear that such control will also [cover] knowledge transfer within Norway for use abroad.”

Universities called to the ministry

On 14 June universities were called to a meeting with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for orientation on the work with new control regulations for knowledge transfer.

Control is needed over export of knowledge from Norway to other countries according to the new regulations. Higher education is deemed to be at a special risk since there is a potential threat that someone might be able to use knowledge from research to contribute to the development of weapons for mass destruction.

A consequence of the new regulations regarding research collaboration with people who are not living either in the European Union or the European Economic Area, or who are not members of the defence alliance NATO – that is all countries that Norway does not have a security collaboration agreement with – will be that an application for an export licence for knowledge transfer will be necessary.

The Norwegian Police Security Service (PST) has surprisingly warned of the risks involved in collaborating with countries as diverse as Brazil, Japan, South Korea, South Africa and Malaysia, as well of the threat of espionage from Iran, Pakistan, China and Russia.

At the meeting universities were informed that the changes in the regulations are to be followed up by an extensive information campaign with regard to the licence demanded for knowledge transfer. In particular this will be directed towards Norwegian research and higher education institutions.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has already intensified the information work geared to academics.

PST has also arranged regular meetings with Norwegian technology research institutions that are regarded as being at special risk of attempts to disguise acquisition of knowledge.

The ministry said in this way greater attention is being paid towards the regulations and the way they should be followed and also the distribution of sensitive technology and knowledge.

The new regulations will ensure that the government, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has the final word when deciding upon research collaboration with other countries.

Norway at a special risk

“The change in the regulations will be followed up by goal-directed information work towards actors affected by the [proposed] license requirement for knowledge transfer, notably Norwegian research and higher education institutions,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said at the launch.

Norway is regarded as particularly attractive for attacks aimed at knowledge transfer, among other things because higher education is free from tuition fees, the scientific positions are well salaried, and because Norwegian research and higher education institutions are highly internationalised within research areas that are relevant for export control.

“Over recent years several attempts at illegal knowledge transfer have been uncovered and obstructed,” the ministry said in a statement.

The Office of the Auditor General has also criticised weak controls over the export of knowledge and the PST has, in the annual evaluation of the threat against Norway in recent years, claimed that foreign stakeholders have made attempts to get sensitive knowledge for military use, which is undermining Norwegian security and defence interests.

Impact on scientific activity

Vincent Fleischer, executive vice president, strategy and communications at SINTEF – the largest Norwegian research institution – said the regulation would potentially affect all scientific activity at the institute.

Founded in 1950, SINTEF is an independent research organisation with expertise in technology, medicine and the social sciences, with 2,000 employees from 75 countries. It conducts contract and R&D projects drawing in revenue of NOK3 billion (US$353.7 million) and has a close partnership with the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

Fleischer told Khrono, the Norwegian university web-based newsletter, that the instructions from the ministry are not only targeting research but also supervision, seminars and conferences as examples of knowledge transfer.

Fleischer also said that nearly all research areas in which SINTEF is working can be relevant for another country’s military capabilities.

“We have respect for the geopolitical situation and the security aspects that are a consequence of this, but at the same time we see that several dilemmas will occur,” he said.

“There are very limited options for a small nation such as Norway to draw a line around approximately 75 countries in the world and say, ‘We shall have little collaboration with these countries.’.

“We cannot do as the US or UK and have researchers in absolutely all areas, we have to collaborate with other countries.

“We can of course collaborate only with the French or the Americans, but that will be harmful for Norwegian business and it is not a world that we want,” Fleischer told Khrono. “We are facing huge global challenges and what we now need more than ever is collaboration to find solutions.”