Export Controls and Your Research

Academics have a legal obligation to ensure their work complies with export control regulations. As such, they will be held accountable should they fail to comply with the Export Control laws.

If the research work requires a licence, the Principal Investigator (PI) must have a licence in place before engaging in any project activity. Although very few activities at the University require an export controls licence, if the PI engages in an activity which requires a licence and they do not have one in place, the consequences of non-compliance could include:

  • Unlimited fines
  • Up to 10 years imprisonment
  • Disciplinary action in accordance with relevant University policies
  • Termination of contract.

Determine whether export controls apply to your research

The responsibility for compliance with export control regulations ultimately rests with the Principal Investigator (PI). Compliance with export control legislation requires the PI to consider whether they may need an export licence from the ECJU to carry out an activity and, if required, to obtain the licence before any export is made. Failure to obtain a licence or failure to observe the terms of a licence is a criminal offence for which the PI responsible is likely to be liable.

When planning a new project, an export or transfer, export controls checks must be considered before applying for funding or proceeding with the transfer or export.

Export controls cover the following:

  • Export controls cover the following:
  • Export of goods, software and technology/know-how
  • Physical and electronic transfer of items to a destination outside the UK
  • The transfer of knowledge within the UK for use in a WMD programme outside the UK (including teaching taking place in the UK)
  • The transit of controlled items through the UK
  • Trafficking and brokering (arranging the transfer of certain items - particularly military goods – between two countries): this is less likely to affect universities or academics and researchers.

Export Controls Assessment

To determine whether export controls apply to your proposed research, you should make an assessment of two key areas:

  • The ‘items’ in question (physical goods/technology)
  • The end use.

This assessment can be progressed by answering the following questions.

If you’re satisfied that there are no export control concerns, then you can proceed with your project as usual. However, if you answer “yes” to any of the questions below, please contact the Research Strategy and Services Division via export-control@contacts.bham.ac.uk for advice on whether an export control licence is required.

Please answer the following questions regarding the items in question:

N.B. “Items” refers to physical goods, materials, equipment, software, technology, or know-how) used or produced in the course of your research. For example, “item” could refer to a high-powered laser, OR “item” could refer to technology required to develop or use a high-powered laser.

N.B. “Technology” means specific 'information' necessary for the "development", "production" or "use" of goods or "software."

  1. Is the item on the UK Controlled List of military or dual-use items?
  2. Is the item being transferred/exported outside of the UK?
  3. Has the item been imported from the US or has it been provided under a specific licence from the US government?
  4. Does the item fall into any of the red flag categories (see ‘activities subject to export control’ pages)

If you have answered “yes” to any of the above questions, please contact export-control@contacts.bham.ac.uk for advice on whether an export licence is required.

Even if you have answered “No” to all of the above questions, you may still need a licence under End-Use Controls. These apply if the items are likely to be sent to an end-user where there are concerns that they might be used for WMD purposes, or for use in conjunction with military items that have been obtained illegally.

Please answer the following questions regarding end use and end users:

  1. Do the items have the potential to support the development, production, handling, operation, maintenance, storage, detection, remediation, identification, or dissemination of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons?
  2. Do the items have the potential to support in the development of weapons, armour, or defence items?

If you have answered “no” to both of the above, then we can be assured that no end use controls apply. If you have answered “yes” to either of the above, please continue to answer the questions below.

  1. Do you have any concerns that the end user of the items could use them to support the development, production, handling, operation, maintenance, storage, detection, identification, remediation or dissemination of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons?
  2. Are you going to disclose/share the items with any non-UK nationals inside or outside the university whether in the UK or overseas?
  3. Are you collaborating with an organisation which operates in any military related areas (e.g., a defence contractor)?
  4. Do you have any concerns that other organisations, collaborators or funders that you are engaging with might be involved with items intended for military use?
  5. Are any of your collaborators, project partners or funders based in a key country?

If you have answered “Yes” to any of the above, please contact the Research Strategy and Services Division via export-control@contacts.bham.ac.uk for advice on whether an export control licence is required.


You can also use this flowchart to help you decide whether you should consult the UK Consolidated Control List:

Further information

Developing My Proposal

Develop your proposal with as much detail as possible and assess whether any physical goods – or the technology or knowledge related to them – you want to share are controlled, and if they are, whether there are any codes relating to them.

If there are controlled items involved in your research, please get in touch with your local Research Support Office who will support you in assessing whether a Licence is necessary. You can still keep in touch with your collaborators in the meantime. However, please do not share technical information, research data, or knowledge which is not publicly available until the Research Support Office informs you it is safe to do so.

If you don’t identify any applicable codes in your project assessment, you still need to undertake due diligence with regards export control. Please, remind that the PI is ultimately responsible for ensuring the project complies with the UK Export Control Legislation.

Collaborators and Funders

Export Control checks should also be made on the collaborators/funders of your projects. Please inform your local Research Support Office as soon as possible if you are going to engage with a collaborator/funder from a key country. They will be able to advise how to proceed in this case. If your project does not involve controlled items and you are not engaging with any collaborators/funders from a key country, there is no action to take with regards to export control.

If your collaborator/funder is based in the UK and you are working with controlled items, you will not require a licence to undertake controlled work or publish it. Nevertheless, you must use the following statement in all your communications (emails, presentations, etc). with your collaborators in the UK:

“This [item/information] is [a] UK Export controlled [item/information], categorised by code XXX of the EU Dual-Use list. A licence might be required by your organisation to export this [item/information] outside the UK: it is your organisation’s responsibility to check whether such a licence is required.”

Please contact your Research Support Office if you suspect your project might be subject to Export Control Legislation. Please note that the decision as to whether to apply for an Export Licence is a technical one that can only be made by someone with knowledge of the project concerned and the nature of the goods, technology or software to be exported. The decision will, therefore, rely primarily on the advice given by the PI.

Are there Controlled Items in My Research?

In order to answer this question, you need to use the UK Strategic Export Control Lists which are a combination of the two main Control Lists, the UK Military and Paramilitary List and the EU Dual-Use List (as well additional lists such as the EU Human Rights List).

The UK Consolidated Lists cover a wide range of items from diverse industries and academic disciplines and is maintained by the ECO. If any items are included on the lists, it does not mean they cannot be exported, but it means those items will require a licence if they are to be exported. Goods or technology which is expressly for use in a military, WMD, or missile system are likely to be listed. Any individual wishing to transfer an item by electronic means or physically to export goods, software or technology specified on the UK Consolidated Lists will require an export licence to do so.

Searches can be carried out either by using the full lists or, alternatively, by registering to use the Goods Checker tool to check for items on the lists. The Goods Checker tool helps to establish if your items are controlled and identify the appropriate control entry ('rating') from the UK Strategic Export Control Lists.  If so, you will need to apply for an appropriate export licence. Use this tool in conjunction with the Control List Classification Search Tool available on SPIRE and the OGEL checker.

Here you can find the goods checker user guide with helpful guidance on how to use the goods checker tool. You can look at some Examples Searches which might help you to make the most effective use of the goods checker tool’s search functionality. Training on the use of the Goods Checker tool is offered by the ECO.

If you are required to apply for a licence, you might need to use the OGEL Checker tool too. The OGEL Checker helps to identify if an appropriate Open General Export Licence (OGEL) exists. If so, ensure you can meet all the terms and conditions, before registering via SPIRE. If either no OGELs exist or you cannot meet all conditions, you will need to apply for a Standard Individual Export Licence (SIEL) via SPIRE. Registered OGEL users are subject to ECO Compliance Audits. As an OGEL user you should opt to receive ECO's Notices to Exporters for future licensing updates.

Here you can find the OGEL Checker user guide with useful information on how to use the OGEL Checker tool.

Please, bear in mind that If you are unable to find your goods, software or technology in the lists using Goods Checker, it does not mean that they are not controlled. End-Use controls can also apply to goods that are not listed.

Further guidance is also available on the ECJU website  about how to self-rate goods as well as the structure of the UK Consolidated Lists, if in doubt further enquiries can be made to the ECO by e-mail exportcontrol.help@trade.gov.uk or call 020 7215 4594.

Please contact your Research Support Office for advice and guidance.

How can I apply for an Export Licence?

The licensing process provides a mechanism to protect academia from inadvertent involvement with activities that pose a threat to international peace and security. It is the mechanism through which HM Government can consider the risks associated with an export and, where relevant, authorise the export.

If your research activity needs an export licence for the transfer of physical items or technology, we must do so via the ECJU online export licensing system SPIRE.

If you think your research activity might need a licence, please notify the Research Strategy and Services Division via export-control@contacts.bham.ac.uk - specifying the nature of your research and your academic department. We will then confirm whether an export control licence is need and manage the application in the name of Birmingham as a legal entity.

Where a licence is obtained, you will be informed and RSD will make you aware of any specific conditions concerning the licence. These conditions will also be set out clearly within the licence itself.

Record keeping is very important and auditable records of any transfers made under a licence and any other relevant information must be retained. The ECJU and HMRC have a right to audit the operation of any licence.



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