person in front of a big computer screen
Many scientists have queries on knowledge security, regarding the number of questions the new helpdesk recieves. (Photo: Chris Yang / Unsplash)

Which scientists can we work with and how careful should we be? Over the course of almost 12 months, the national Knowledge Security Helpdesk received 148 questions.

Lees in het Nederlands

One year ago, the government launched a Helpdesk intended to help universities and research institutions with all of their knowledge security queries. By 21 December, 148 questions had been logged. Forty were about international collaboration with a knowledge institution or a company and another 39 were about collaboration with a specific researcher. 

In a letter sent to the House of Representatives at the end of December, Education Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf indicates that in many cases the submitter already has some doubts about the collaboration, but “turns to the helpdesk for the information they need to make a final decision”. 

Military purposes
A total of 89 questions were about collaboration with partners in China (52), Russia (21) and Iran (16). The institutions need information about current sanctions, for example, and some have concerns about dual use: research that could unintentionally be used for military purposes. 

“There appears to be a need for more information about which fields of study could be sensitive or susceptible to dual-use and which sanctions apply exactly”, says the Minister. “I intend to share more information about this with the knowledge institutions, for example through the knowledge security network.” He wants to continue developing this network and believes all knowledge institutions should participate. 

Problems with knowledge security have been the focus of considerable attention in recent years. Some countries are suspected of attempting to secretly acquire knowledge in other countries, to help bolster their own military position. In December, the House of Representatives increased the budget for universities’ knowledge security (set at 12 million euros per year) by 2.8 million as a one-off. 

A bit naive
In June of last year, Minister Dijkgraaf said that institutions of higher education needed to “clear out the attic” and that they need to start taking a closer look at collaborations with countries that restrict basic freedoms. “It is safe to say that we have been a bit naive in recent years.” 

Various journalists have recently written about Dutch knowledge and expertise that is benefitting the Chinese armed forces. This knowledge came from Delft University of Technology, for example, but there are also other sources. In the autumn of 2022, intelligence agencies also sounded the alarm. 

At the same time Dutch universities will not close the door to all international collaboration, and will not cut ties with countries that restrict basic freedoms. The government wrote in response to the warning issued by intelligence agencies that it is important “that the Netherlands maintains an open society and economy in which we do not turn our backs on other countries, but keep the dialogue going”. 

HOP, Bas Belleman