About UK Export Controls

UK export controls are designed to restrict the export and communication of sensitive technology or strategic goods, with the aim of preventing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) proliferation and to counter international threats such as terrorism. Responsibility for implementing and managing export controls in the UK falls under the remit of the Export Control Joint Unit (ECJU).

UK export controls apply to universities specifically with regards to the transfer of technology, material, equipment or know-how from a University to an overseas organisation, and encompassing verbal, physical and electronic.

Therefore, Export Control should be considered when undertaking any research activity or collaboration that has a clear military aspect or link, or where there is nuclear or biological research taking place that in the wrong hands, could prove helpful in the production of WMD.

Export Controls may also apply when sending equipment overseas for research purposes or engaging in research collaborations or teaching with persons or organisations in third countries. Therefore, it refers to both the export of physical goods (samples, equipment, materials, parts, laptops, etc.) as well as the transfer (sharing) of information, including data/knowledge/know-how whether or not it is via face to face conversations.

Academics and Researchers should consider the technology being exported and whether there are any concerns about the recipient of that technology, including current sanctions that might be applicable (see current arms embargoes and restrictions). Export Controls should be considered as early as possible when considering undertaking a research activity.

If a transfer, export or your research activity itself falls within one or more of the export controls, this does not mean that you will be prevented from continuing with your research/activity. However, you will be required to apply for a licence, with the support of the University, in order to continue with your research. Export Controls and any licences required are administered by the Export Control Organisation (ECO). It should be noted that failure to obtain an appropriate licence to export controlled goods may result in a criminal offence being committed.

Export Control Joint Unit (ECJU) offers training each year to increase understanding of the UK’s strategic export controls, catering for a wide range of knowledge levels. 

In addition, this short introductory film issued by the ECO explains Export Control and why it is important. 


Export Controls apply to the transfer, by any means, of goods, technology or software and/or knowledge from the UK to a destination outside the UK and, under exceptional circumstances, to transfers within the UK where it is known that the ultimate end-use is for WMD related matters outside the UK.

There are three primary elements of the UK Export Controls, as outlined below, with all three having potential relevance to research. These are:


  • These are the national controls that apply to the the UK Military List, UK Security and Human Rights List and the UK Dual-Use List (“the UK Consolidated Lists”). In addition, there are controls on certain radioactive sources under the UK Radioactive Sources List. Some examples of these are guns, fighter planes, phased-array radar antennae and weapon-locating systems, thermal imaging devices and tracking systems.
  • If your items are listed, then they will be referenced on the list under a Control List entry or ‘rating’.

Dual Use

  • Exports to destinations outside of Great Britain of controlled dual-use technologies as listed on the UK government Dual Use List. Generally, these are civil items and technologies including software that could be used for WMD purposes or have a potential military application. The term also includes all goods which have non-explosive uses or assist in any way with the manufacture of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.
  • Provisions of the Northern Ireland protocol mean they still follow the EU regulation and thus a license may be required to export items from Northern Ireland to Great Britain.
  • Intangible technology associated with the design, development, production, or use of controlled goods is often also controlled.

Catch All

This is based on end-user concern and is intended to control goods and technologies which are not listed but which have a possible utility in an area of concern:

  • For WMD, namely for chemical, biological or nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or their delivery; or
  • For a military end-use in an embargoed destination. This applies to dual-use items not otherwise subject to Control, where the exporter has been informed that they are, or may be, intended for incorporation into military equipment, or for the development, production or maintenance of such equipment, or for use in a plant for production of such equipment in an embargoed destination. You can check whether a country is currently subject to arms embargoes on the current arms embargoes and restrictions list.

End Use Controls

The end user controls look at who the end user is and what the end use is. WMD End User Controls apply when the goods or technology are not on the UK Consolidated Lists but are intended, or may be intended, either in their entirety or in part, for “WMD purposes”. For the purposes of Export Control “WMD end use” means “use in connection with the development, production, handling, operation, maintenance, storage, detection, identification or dissemination of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, or the development, production, maintenance or storage of missiles capable of delivery of such weapons”.

If the PI or a member of staff knows or has reason to suspect that an item not on the military or dual use control list may be used for WMD purposes, a licence is required.

The following questions will help you to determine whether there are WMD End User Concerns:

  • Is the partner reluctant to offer information about the end use of the items?
  • Has the partner asked that the goods be transferred to a forwarding address in the UK?
  • Are unusual shipping, packaging or labelling arrangements requested?
  • Is the partner new to you and is your knowledge about them incomplete?
  • Is the partner located in an area under strict security control or in an area to which access is severely restricted, or which is unusual in view of the type of equipment being installed?
  • Are there unusual requirements for excessive confidentiality about final destinations, or customers, or specifications of items?
  • Is the partner or end user a military or government research body?
  • Is the project requested unusual in any way, e.g. the quantity or performance capabilities of the goods significantly exceed, without satisfactory explanation, the amount or performance normally required for the stated end use?


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