Global Responsible Engagement
Lund University participates in education and research collaborations with partners from all over the world. Geopolitical changes affect our organisation, and when international collaborations are to be developed or deepened, global responsible engagement becomes more significant.
Global responsible engagement entails that through international collaborations the University promotes academic freedom and global development, and respects human rights. Global responsible engagement also means that collaborations are rooted in Lund University’s core values, that staff are supported in managing ethical dilemmas, and that risks are minimised while project results are promoted.
In the current multipolar global context, collaboration with foreign partners and transborder research have become more complex, and the current security and geopolitical situation bring several risks and challenges for academic collaboration. Increased geopolitical tension as well as increased collaboration with partners in countries with non-democratic governance, rapidly growing research systems, or violation of academic freedom, makes greater demands for universities’ global responsible engagement.
Global Dynamic Engagement is a prioritised part of the University’s Platform for Strategic Work 2023-24. Collaboration with international partners is encouraged at the same time as ethical and security risks are highlighted. One action in the Platform is to develop support for guidance on ethical issues in international collaboration. This checklist constitutes one part of such support.
The checklist is intended to highlight potential risks and ethical considerations in international collaboration and activities, and thereby provide support for staff and doctoral students in securing global responsible engagement. The checklist is also intended to assist in preparing international collaboration and projects, and to guide on a possible decision to enter or abstain from a project, collaboration, or visit.
The checklist is not in itself prescriptive or associated with any form of clearance or approval. However, a risk discussion should be elevated to a higher level, such as a discussion with the head of department/equivalent or a designated group at department, faculty, or University level, if:
- any of the indicators below points towards a risk with high likelihood or with severe consequence, or
- the visit, collaboration, or project, to the best of your knowledge, will raise any other ethical or security concerns.
The list of indicators, presented below, is not exhaustive and there may be other relevant issues to consider.
Indicator 1: Democratic principles and restricted academic freedom
- Is the partner located in, or associated with, a country where sanctions may have been imposed by the EU or UN, where democratic freedom and rights are restricted, or where violations of human rights or academic freedom are well documented?
- Is there a risk that authorities of the country or the university will influence project content, choice of research area, or data collection?
Indicator 2: Misuse of research and negative unintended applications
- Could the visit/project/collaboration be directly misunderstood, misused, or have obvious unintended applications which would be negative?
- Does the collaboration include, or could be associated with, an actor within or closely linked to armed forces or the defence industry, or a partner violating human rights?
- Will the collaboration or project conflict with the Swedish dual-use item legislation? Will the technology readiness level of the research be unsuitable for collaboration with the specific partner?
Indicator 3: Partner reputation and University values
- Are there any potential ethical or reputational risks to you, your partner, Lund University, or other partners to Lund University?
- What is the partner’s relation with the government and political parties in the partner country?
- Will the project or any activity related to the project conflict with Lund University core values?
Indicator 4: Conflicts regarding use of data, IPR and patent rights
- Do you and your partner have a common understanding of access to data before use, implications of confidentiality, ownership of results, intellectual property rights including the right of staff to exploit research results for patent and commercialisation?
- How will proper data protection be ensured?
Indicator 5: Ethical dumping and security around personal and biological data
- Does the project/collaboration raise significant ethical concerns related to the use of animals, humans, human tissue, or personal data?
- Has the research project, if needed, obtained ethical clearance in the collaborating country and by the Swedish ethical review authority?
- Does the collaboration include sharing of personal data or large-scale biological data that can be linked to personal data without ethics permit and data transfer agreements in place?
Indicator 6: Personal safety
- Is there any risk for discrimination or repression of Lund University representatives or partner representatives in the partner country – legally as well as in practice?
- Will the visit/project/collaboration expose Lund University staff or doctoral students, partner colleagues or students, to an increased personal risk related to areas such as transmittable diseases, terror threats, criminality, corruption, espionage, or information theft?
The University strives for openness and international collaborations are a precondition for the organisation. At the same time, cooperation across national boundaries entails risks. This applies to areas such as data security, intellectual property rights, deficiencies in research ethics, attempts to impose political influence, corruption, poverty and that products and research are used for undesired purposes such as military applications. Other risks include the erosion of academic freedom, human rights and democracy, and that the University is adversely affected. International cooperation with low-income countries or those ruled by authoritarian governments may entail increased risks not only for our employees and students but also for project partners in the country concerned and the implementation of the project.
To promote global responsible engagement, the University and its staff need to be aware of the University’s core values and existing risks but also develop the ability to manage different risks. The University’s employees and students may be considered as representatives not only for their own project but also for Lund University and Sweden. Risks need to be minimised at the same time as collaborations and consequent results are promoted.
Which collaborations have a particularly high level of risk?
Country descriptions are regularly published by, for example, the Swedish Institute of International Affairs and Sida.
International cooperation may require particular caution if the collaboration partner’s home country contravenes internationally recognised values and principles such as the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the rule of law, academic freedom and the individual’s/institution’s independence from the state. In this context, various indexes can support risk assessment.
- Academic Freedom Index
- Freedom in the World
- World Justice Project Rule of Law
- Corruption Perception Index
The security situation is reflected on regeringen.se (in Swedish) in travel advisories from the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
Links to military or law enforcement organisations in such countries are aggravating circumstances that further increase the risk of unintentionally helping to strengthen authoritarian rule and jeopardising the University’s and Sweden’s security. The Swedish Security Service Yearbook provides further information
Collaborations within certain subject areas may have a particularly high level of risk if these relate to sensitive defence or security technology, have potential areas of dual use or unethical applications, contravene any sanctions against the country, violate the country’s culture, values or laws, or are commercially valuable.
In order to continue conducting global responsible engagement, the University and employees need to have the expertise to identify and manage the risks that may arise in collaborations across borders.
The basic principle is that responsibility for risk management is to be at the management level that takes decisions on collaborations. For formalised collaborations within the framework of an agreement, the responsibility lies, for example, with the research team, department, faculty or University Management. At the same time, this means that individual researchers or teaching staff members are responsible for risk assessment relating to individual collaborations.
Every manager is responsible for maintaining satisfactory internal monitoring and control within delegated areas of responsibility, which, among other things, means that risk management is to be conducted systematically. If a person bears a risk, the best conditions are to be in place, or be provided, to manage the risk. In those cases where, despite measures, the risk is still considered high, this is to be reported to the line manager, who assesses whether management of the risk falls outside the person’s responsibility and authority.
The risks in international research and education cooperation are multifaceted, and one starting point is to be aware of the risks. It is important to be sure that you know your collaborative partner well and conduct a background check when necessary. Where appropriate, a risk assessment is to be conducted that contains measures to manage identified risks. Many of the factors that may need to be weighed up are complex and the international context may change rapidly.
Five areas in which questions need to be asked in the risk assessment of collaborations across borders are:
- Personal safety
- Political, cultural and ethical aspects, as well as fundamental academic values
- Legal aspects
- Information security and data protection
A checklist will be produced to support risk assessments.
It may also be important to take into account the societal context, human rights and academic freedom, see below.
The University’s core values and human rights
Lund University is part of a worldwide university community and stands behind the fundamental values that European universities have agreed on in the Magna Charta Universitatum. This establishes the importance of institutional autonomy and academic freedom. Universities are to be free from external pressure and protect the freedom, integrity and quality of education and research.
The University’s core values are rooted in the laws governing Swedish public authorities. The organisation is to uphold democracy, legality, objectivity, free formation of opinion, respect for the equal value of others, as well as democratic principles and human rights. Gender equality and diversity are fundamental principles for all parts of our organisation.
Lund University is not to cooperate with parties that are directly involved in serious infringements of human rights. Furthermore, the University is not to participate in projects that may, directly or indirectly, contribute to serious infringements of human rights.
However, all collaborations that take place in countries, or with partners from countries, that are known for infringements of academic freedom and human rights are not necessarily problematic. If it is obvious that the intended partner is not involved in violations and the organisation does not contribute to infringements, the collaboration may take place.
The University’s working definition is that academic freedom is intellectual independence, both individually and collectively, for a member of the academic community, particularly the freedom to:
- within the framework of their expertise, teach and design teaching activities as well as carry out assessments and define areas for improvement,
- promote and participate in academic debate,
- conduct research, publish results and make them known,
- freely express views on the academic institution or system in which they work,
- participate in professional or representative academic bodies,
- be uncensored, and to carry out their duties without discrimination or fear of oppression.
There is little need for a detailed assessment of risk regarding values for countries in which academic freedom is generally respected. But when a collaboration concerns institutions or individuals from countries where academic freedom is under severe threat there is a need for risk awareness and potentially risk management. A good starting point is the Academic Freedom Index (AFi).
In these contexts, it is important to be aware that the exercise of academic activities and the assertion of academic freedom may have undesired consequences. It is important to take the local context into account to avoid putting yourself or colleagues in the country in unnecessary danger or jeopardising implementation of the project. Employees at Lund University may, for example, be refused necessary research permits, be affected or stopped, and feel required to apply self-censorship, or even be subjected to “hostage diplomacy”.
For collaborative partners there are risks as a consequence of collaborating with Lund University, that in their own country they will be subject to pressure, discrimination, threats or other dangers and freedom of action may be restricted.A challenge for LU employees is to take responsibility for ensuring these things do not happen and at the same time safeguard academic freedom and not accept unreasonable restrictions relating to it.
An issue closely linked to academic freedom is open science.
Read more on the Staff Pages
UN report (2020) on academic freedom by David Keye, the UN’s special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
The EU Parliament’s declaration from 2020 on protecting academic freedom within the Bologna Process, the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) and the European Research Area (ERA).
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The information on resources for global sustainable engagement is continuously updated and we are happy to receive suggestions for resources and relevant links.