GCHQ forms first research partnership with UK universities

New partnership with institutions in north-west should drive innovation and even recruitment

十二月 10, 2021
GCHQ Bude satellite ground site near Morwenstow in Cornwall on stormy day
Source: iStock

According to a recent speech by Richard Moore, director of MI6, the UK’s security services “must become more open, to stay secret”.

A striking example of such necessary opening up and reaching out is the decision by GCHQ, the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters, to join forces with four English universities to create a “security and trust partnership”.

“We have been a top-secret organisation and not published our research,” explained Simon C, GCHQ’s head of outreach for the north-west. But while some of the intelligence, cyber and security agency’s work would still naturally not be shared, it could no longer rely solely on “solving problems in-house behind the metaphorical barbed wire. We need broader and deeper expertise than is available to an organisation with a limited number of people. Only by co-creating the solutions can we meet the challenges.”

The new pilot partnership brings together four universities based in the north-west of England: Lancaster University, the University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Salford. It will see the agency publishing jointly with universities for the first time and so represents a further step towards the kind of collaboration between GCHQ, academia and industry discussed in the government’s 2021 Integrated Review of security, defence, development and foreign policy.

Sharing research and knowledge related to national security issues, it is hoped, will not only boost the UK’s science base but spur swifter innovation in crucial areas such as technology, behavioural sciences and criminology.

The new initiative builds on earlier academic collaborations led by the agency. Last year, GCHQ announced funding for five academics through its Research Fellowship Programme for National Resilience. Successful applicants included people working in areas such as counterterrorism and cyber security.

Other government bodies in this field have also embraced academic links. The National Cyber Security Centre was set up in 2016 to help “make the UK the safest place to live and work online”. Together with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, it now recognises 19 universities as Academic Centres of Excellence in Cyber Security Research.

With “technology changing faster than ever before”, argued Mr C, GCHQ “needed to do different things to retain our competitive advantage”. The new partnership provided a way of producing wide-ranging research and much-needed innovation, but also “engagement with the sector and the country, since universities have massive convening power” both as “thought leaders” and in communicating ideas more widely.

There was also a final possible benefit for GCHQ. Reaching out to universities might well help it diversify and strengthen its workforce if it encouraged talented people studying subjects such as IT, maths, criminology and even linguistics to consider careers within the intelligence community.




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