Anonymise online courses ‘to protect students from foreign laws’

New guidance suggests UK universities could introduce Chatham House rule for seminars to protect recruits from countries with repressive governments

October 15, 2020
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Students could submit coursework anonymously or attend seminars without being identified under new guidance issued to British universities on how to tackle foreign interference and promote academic freedom.

The report, Managing Risks in Internationalisation: Security Related Issues, published by Universities UK (UUK), highlights that institutions have introduced measures to protect international students from laws in their own country, such as identifying course material that might be considered politically sensitive in certain states.

But it suggests that universities could go further by “introducing the Chatham House rule to seminars or other oral discussions” and “introducing measures that allow students to submit coursework anonymously”.

It adds that there are “specific challenges to consider in the delivery of online programmes that could potentially be recorded” and universities should consider carefully how they can protect staff and students in these contexts.

Under the Chatham House rule, participants are free to use the information received during a meeting but the identity and affiliation of the participants cannot be revealed.

In the guidance, universities are also advised to develop an exit strategy for transnational education partnerships in case they “need to be ended” and ensure that students are protected in such an event, through appropriate transition or other arrangements. The guidance says these partnership should be supported by “high-level principles” and “comprehensive, rules-based arrangements that address issues such as academic freedom, [intellectual property] and assets”.

The document, which is the first of its kind, also includes guidance on protecting staff and students travelling and working overseas, cybersecurity attacks and campus visitor policies. It recommends that universities produce an annual report on how they are managing and mitigating risks of internationalisation.  

The guidance follows the publication of a new code of conduct drawn up by UK academics earlier this week, which called for universities to consult with scholars in advance of establishing international partnerships and publicly advocate for academics at risk abroad.

The UUK guidance says that where academics are area specialists, they should be engaged as experts on a country to inform university decision-making on risk levels and in providing information to staff.

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