Communication, education and knowledge sharing

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The Guidelines to Counter Foreign Interference in the Australian University Sector (the Guidelines) are foundational elements essential for building resilience within a university. They are designed to be holistic and reinforce each other. Understanding threats and risks will help drive and build proportionate and calibrated counter foreign interference activities. A positive security culture that supports international engagement is a core component within universities that will help to embed considerations of risk at all levels of the university. Being part of a community of best practice to share our journey and intelligence will promote the resilience of the sector and the nation.

This guidance material is designed to assist universities to develop and implement communication, education and knowledge sharing in accordance with the Guidelines.  It is advisory only. It is intended to provide specific considerations to which decision makers can refer appropriate to their circumstances to address key themes and objectives in the Guidelines.

Mutual support and information sharing within universities and across universities and Government can add to the practices.

Communication plans and education programs to raise awareness

Australian universities produce valuable and world-leading research that will help diversify and grow our economy, and help enhance our national security capabilities and resilience. We collaborate with industry, government, and foreign partners on a variety of project, which may be ground-breaking, sensitive and lead to commercialisation. And in the pursuit of free inquiry and scientific advancement, our academics may provoke new ideas and controversy resulting in unwanted attention.

Addressing the risks of foreign interference, including harassment and intimidation that may lead to self-censorship, and supporting the safety of staff and students requires shared knowledge, effective communication and educational support. Communication plans and education programs enhance a positive security culture that is proportionate to risk and promotes awareness of foreign interference risks.

Examples of actions universities could take to raise awareness and promote actions related to foreign interference, including harassment or intimidation in their particular circumstances, include:

  • Providing opportunities for students and staff to learn more about foreign interference and the implications for universities.
  • Making information on the university’s complaints process, including how to make complaints or discuss matters confidentially, readily accessible to all students and staff.
  • Tracking all complaints, incidents and responses to alleged harassment or intimidation of — and threats to — staff and students that can be reported to the accountable authority.
  • Linking their Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom policies in materials that discuss foreign interference in the form of harassment or intimidation, in order distinguish attempts at foreign interference from the rigorous debate and contest of ideas that underpins the scientific method.
  • Use existing, or establish, regular engagements with university leaders and student representatives to discuss or share concerns and information related to foreign interference.
  • Measuring understanding of foreign interference risks and mitigation pathways amongst students and staff, and using results to improve future communication efforts.

Universities are encouraged to consider professional development training for teaching staff on managing sensitive conversations in classrooms, using a range of scenarios including issues related to foreign interference, such as harassment or intimidation of individuals due to topics discussed as part of the course.

Training for those at risk of foreign interference

The nature of university activities, including foreign collaboration can offer multiple entry points for potential foreign interference. Universities can provide training to staff and students on how foreign interference activities may manifest and provide information on the supports in place should they become of aware of or suspect foreign interference. 

Researchers should consider how their research or foreign collaboration may be the target of foreign interference. Key questions include:

  • Who might be affected by the outcomes of this research or foreign collaboration?
  • How might they be affected?
  • Who might be targeted due to the area of research?
  • Are there other considerations that should be taken into account for this research or foreign collaboration?

University guidelines and advice could adapt existing security and personal safety protections as required in light of the changing threat environment, or as advised by government.

Knowledge sharing between universities and with Government

Universities and Government share information amongst and between institutions and sectors. This includes sharing examples of foreign interference, attempts to exert undue influence, or otherwise undermine academic freedoms and values. Security agencies equally assist universities to identify risks and proportionate responses, including through online resources.

Being part of communities of practice to share university experiences of foreign interference risks and mitigations will help to spread leading-practice and raise the level of expertise across the sector. To strengthen communities of practice, universities are encouraged to consider actively contributing to the body of knowledge on countering foreign interference. Collectively this leads to sharing of knowledge amongst the sector and between the sector and Government.

Universities are encouraged to take part in sector-wide forums, workshops and other opportunities to share knowledge and leading practice.

The University Foreign Interference Taskforce is an important mechanism for knowledge sharing at the highest level.

The Counter Foreign Interference Coordination Centre (CFICC) within the Department of Home Affairs can assist universities to establish and maintain relationships (see Government Contacts page), including through officers based in the states and territories.

Useful resources and tools

Communication plans and education programs to raise awareness

  • What communications and protocols support staff and students' awareness of foreign interference and related university policies and procedures? 
  • How can current university policies — for example those pertaining to disclosure of interests, human ethics, safe travel arrangements, facility access and event management — be used to identify potential risks and support staff in high-risk or sensitive research areas to proactively manage their risks?
  • How do students and staff access information about support available to them to minimise the likelihood of harassment and intimidation that could lead to self-censorship?
    • Options might include the provision of information at orientation and reminders as required throughout the academic year.

Training for those at risk of foreign interference

  • What training does your university provide to promote awareness of foreign interference risks?
  • How is training appropriately targeted to identify those at highest risk and provide information about the different kinds of foreign interference that might occur?
  • Does training provide a complete picture on how concerns of foreign interference can be identified, reported, and actions that the university may take in response to reports?
  • Do staff know when and where to seek advice when they have concerns?

Knowledge Sharing

  • How does your university collaborate and share information across the sector?
  • How does your university collaborate and share information with government?
  • Do staff have ready access to information on potential partners that have engaged with the university in the past?
  • How are experiences shared to help others and what opportunities are there to provide feedback and share lessons learned?
  • How do staff understand what risks should be shared with government agencies?
  • How do staff know who their university contact is for liaison with government agencies?