Brain Drain: The UK, China, and the Question of Intellectual Property Theft

By Sam Armstrong

Brain Drain: The UK, China, and the Question of Intellectual Property TheftHundreds of scientists at British universities, who would be banned from almost all postgraduate study in the US over their ties to military-linked Chinese universities, are currently researching subjects which involve knowledge useful to the creation of Weapons of Mass Destruction.   
The findings come in a report, published today, by the Henry Jackson Society.  
It explores the number of individuals researching seven subjects considered particularly sensitive by the UK’s Academic Technology Approval Scheme.  It compares open-source information about these researchers against the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s “China Defence University Tracker“.
The report does not accuse the graduates of such Chinese universities of participating in the theft of intellectual property or other wrongdoing. However, it is the author’s opinion that common sense and US experience should surely dictate that the identified categories of graduates/students on these types of courses should be vetted far more carefully before being given access to our valuable, strategic, IP as a ‘belt and braces’ exercise at the very least.
The paper identifies a series of failings in the UK’s regulatory approach, criticising the Government over the facts that:
    • There have been no prosecutions for offences related to IP theft at British universities in recent memory, despite the US authorities indicting 14 individuals for such crimes this year alone.  Jurisdiction for such crimes is split between HMRC and UK Border Force, neither of whom describe such crimes as a priority.
    • Unlike with basic visa information, applicants to study the most sensitive courses in the UK cannot be questioned face-to-face about the responses they provide to the ATAS questionnaire. 
    • The FCDO maintains no central database of Chinese national students researching the most dangerous courses.
    • Applicants for clearance to study such courses are not asked basic questions about military ties, political affiliations, or even if they have agreed to share information with their home governments. 
It recommends transferring the ATAS programme from the FCDO to the Home Office while responsibility for enforcement should be transferred to the National Crime Agency.



High-risk individuals enrolled in high-risk subjects at UK universities

UniversityHigh-risk subject Seven SonsHigh-risk subject Very High RiskHigh-risk subject High RiskHigh-risk subject Medium RiskHigh-risk subject Low RiskHigh-risk subject ASPI Total
University of Oxford163844162100
University of Cambridge422207150
University of Sheffield1624168149
Imperial College London6171711045
University of Manchester8321111256
Loughborough University919176042
Cranfield University917123133
University of Bath4852015
University of Warwick91396230
University of Edinburgh51596030
University of Birmingham411146132
University College London38138029
University of Liverpool11579031
Aston University31188027
Durham University41178026
University of Southampton41573025
Cardiff University61544124
Queen Mary University of London31069126
University of Surrey31370020
University of Bristol91063019
University of Nottingham81045019
University of Glasgow3952016
University of St Andrews0168015
University of Leeds2863017
Newcastle University2273012
University of Exeter1261110
King's College London2343010
Queen's University Belfast3442010
Lancaster University1432110
University of York132207
University of Leicester124107
University of Aberdeen131307
Keele University021003
The number of Chinese-national students studying the UK's most sensitive subjects by British university and risk level of previous Chinese university of graduation.

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