TU Delft think tank pores over knowledge security

EEMCS has established a committee for knowledge security as a test. Its task is to prevent regimes that abuse human rights from using TU Delft knowledge. It’s a pilot project.

A promotional video from the National University of Defense Technology shows how students are taught. Researchers from Delft work together with this Chinese university, which falls under the Chinese army. (Source: Youtube)

The Committee met for the very first time at the beginning of this week. Most of the six members are professors at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Sciences. The advisory committee’s full name is the Committee for Collaboration Integrity with Third Parties.They will spend the next half year examining the issue of knowledge security at EEMCS by assessing proposals for joint projects with international parties.

In setting up this pilot, TU Delft is acting on the call (Dutch only) of the Government for universities to take knowledge security more seriously and prevent knowledge that could be of national strategic importance or knowledge that can be used to oppress population groups from ending up in undemocratic countries. Several experts, including the Clingendael think tank, warn (Dutch only) about valuable knowledge finding its way to regimes that do not act democratically or in accordance with human rights.

Russia and China are always named as examples of countries that prey on Western universities. Delta showed that the risks are real in a series of articles about TU Delft-Chinese collaborations on technologies that are interesting to the Chinese army.

‘This pilot will give the issue greater structure’

Executive Board Chair Tim van der Hagen discussed the subject of knowledge security with the House of Representatives last month. He said that universities themselves should consider whether and when they should work with researchers from countries such as China and Russia. He added that it would be useful if universities could approach intelligence services should there be a need for certain information.

His colleague, Rector Henk Kummeling of Utrecht University shared his message. He argued for the Government to set up a desk where universities can obtain information about potential partners. They sometimes got nowhere at the intelligence and security services when they wanted to know about the risks of collaboration, said the Rector, and this makes is difficult to take a well considered decision.

TU Delft’s intention to screen better is now embodied in the EEMCS pilot. Over the last year, committees were set up and documents were issued such as the Partnering with China – Concrete Tools for TU Delft guidelines, that were supposed to give academics some direction. But they were not as concrete as now.

Peter Weijland, Programme Director for Knoweldge Security & International Partnerships, says that while a lot has already been done on knowledge security it is ‘fragmented’. “This pilot will give the issue greater structure.”

Over the next half year, the Dean of EEMCS will present cases to the Committee. They will be proposals for partnerships about which the Dean or the relevant researchers have their doubts and want a better idea about any potential risks of unwanted knowledge transfer. The Committee will only give advice and it is up to the Dean or the Executive Board to decide whether to proceed with the partnership or not.

“The pilot should show whether a Committee consisting of five or six people can gather enough information to issue advice on each case,” explains Weijland. “It will look at what kind of information is needed and if we do indeed need help from intelligence services. The pilot should be able to answer these types of questions. The pilot will then be evaluated and the decision taken whether each faculty has its own advisory committee or whether one committee is enough for TU Delft as a whole.”

The Committee comprises the following people:

  • Prof. Said Hamdioui – EEMCS
  • Prof. Alle-Jan van der Veen – EEMCS
  • Prof. Catholijn Jonker – EEMCS
  • Prof Ibo van de Poel – TPM / Integrity Officer
  • Dr Peter Weijland – Programme Director Knowledge Security
  • Peter Gill – Senior Policy Advisor China

Read also our other stories on scientific cooperation with China:

Editor Tomas van Dijk

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