Joint Media Release – Countering foreign interference in the higher education sector

The Australian Government has tabled its response to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) report on foreign interference risks to Australia’s higher education and research sector.

Minister for Home Affairs, the Hon Clare O’Neil MP said the Government welcomed the Committee’s report, which outlines ways to better protect Australia’s higher education sector from the threat posed by hostile foreign actors, as well as data theft and espionage.

“Australian universities and research institutions are attractive targets for foreign interference given their important role in developing the technologies that underpin the future of Australia’s economy and defence and security capabilities,” Minister O’Neil said.

“The Australian Government works closely with higher education providers to strengthen resilience to foreign interference risks and protect students, staff and research from foreign actors and intelligence services.”

Minister for Education, the Hon Jason Clare MP welcomed the findings of the PJCIS report and acknowledged the substantial work already underway by Australian universities to protect against foreign interference. 

“The higher education sector faces significant foreign interference risks. That’s why initiatives such as the University Foreign Interference Taskforce (UFIT) are so important,” Minister Clare said.

“UFIT brings leaders in the sector and Government together to support and provide better protection for universities against foreign interference.

“This is vital work that ensures Australia remains a secure research and education partner and a safe and supportive environment for international students.”

Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator the Hon Penny Wong, thanked the PJCIS for their recommendations relating to Australia’s Foreign Arrangements Scheme.

“Universities play an important role in Australia’s international engagement and I welcome the sector’s close cooperation with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade under the Foreign Arrangements Scheme,” Minister Wong said.

“The Government is working closely with universities to strengthen resilience to foreign interference and ensure consistency in international engagement.”

“The Government remains concerned about potential risks to academic freedom through some foreign arrangements at universities and will keep these arrangements under review.”

Work is progressing to implement many of the recommendations of the PJCIS report, including through initiatives such as UFIT.

The UFIT oversaw the delivery of the Guidelines to Counter Foreign Interference in the Australian University Sector (Guidelines). The Guidelines were developed for, and in partnership with, the Australian University sector to help manage and engage with risk to deepen resilience against foreign interference in the university sector. 

The Government response to the PJCIS report: Inquiry into National Security Risks affecting the Australian higher education and research sector, is available here.