Federal government sets up foreign interference taskforce for Australian universities

The Federal Government has stepped up the fight against foreign interference and boost cyber security at Australian universities with a new taskforce to protect the country’s national interest.

Federal education minister Dan Tehan revealed the taskforce on Wednesday in Canberra, following heightened concerns about the higher education sector’s reliance on Chinese international students and research partnerships.

The taskforce will focus on four priority areas, including focusing on cyber security incidents, protecting intellectual property and research, ensuring collaboration with foreign entities is transparent and develop a positive security culture.

“The taskforce will be comprised of 50 per cent from the university sector and 50 percent from government agencies, providing a perspective of the sector’s unique position partnered with frank advice from our government,” Mr Tehan will tell the National Press Club in a speech.

Mr Tehan says the taskforce is needed to guard against deception, undue influence, unauthorised disclosure or disruption to research, intellectual property and the research community.

It will complement work in the defence sector to prevent defence technology from being used against Australia’s interests.

Mr Tehan’s address will also announce steps to increase public scrutiny of the state of free expression on university campuses.

Questions about freedom of expression will be added to Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching survey completed by university students.

“I will work with the sector on what questions to ask to measure diversity of opinion on campus and whether students feel empowered to voice non-conformist opinions,” he says in the speech.

“I believe universities want to know if students and staff are afraid to discuss certain topics.”

Foreign university students are worth $35 billion a year in export income to the Australian economy.

Chinese students account for about one third.

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