Export Controls


Export controls are needed for a variety of reasons, including national security and international treaty obligations. In the UK, the control of strategic goods and technology is undertaken by the Export Control Joint Unit (ECJU) (formerly ECO), and compliance with export controls is a serious obligation. The British Government recognises that UK researchers in various fields are frequently in contact with scientists and researchers in a wide variety of other countries. Their aim is not to restrict the publication of scientific papers and research but to prevent the misuse of knowledge and materials. The Government provides helpful guidance on export controls applying to academic research.

Guide for researchers

Both researchers and their universities must adhere to the legal requirements of export control legislation, although many activities conducted in universities are exempt from export controls. The University is committed to complying with UK Export Control law as set out in the Lancaster University's statement on exporting controlled items. The responsibility for compliance with export control regulations ultimately rests with the Principal Investigator (PI) and University's guidance on exporting controlled itemsis available to help researchers fulfil their obligations under UK law. It is important to note that failure to adhere to the requirements of the legislation is a criminal offence and penalties may involve fines, legal costs and potentially a prison sentence (up to a maximum of 10 years).

Please note: Following the UK’s exit from the European Union, from 1 January 2021 export control requirements have been expanded to include all exports of controlled dual-use items and technologies to the European Union, including within the consortium of an EU-funded research grant. For detail please see the guidance on exporting controlled items and technologies to the EU

Export control can affect research activities and occasionally teaching. All University researchers need to know whether their work has the potential to be subject to export control legislation.

It is particularly relevant to researchers in the scientific and engineering disciplines but is the duty for all researchers to ensure that any University business they undertake is carried out in compliance with all applicable legal obligations.

In the academic context, export controls are most likely to apply in relation to scientific and technical research with potential military or Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) applications, particularly relating to but not limited to the following:

  • the development of military and security-related goods, software or technology;
  • nuclear science or engineering;
  • missiles, aerospace and space technology;
  • autonomous vehicles and stealth technology;
  • some high strength materials and material production techniques;
  • some chemicals with toxic properties;
  • some viruses, pathogens and vaccines;
  • some sensors and lasers;
  • some high specification electronics and cryptography.


Export control affects the physical, electronic or oral transmission outside the UK of the following:

Direct military use: Items as listed on the UK Strategic Export Control Lists.

  1. Dual-use technology: Technologies designed for civilian end uses but have the capability to be used for WMD or military purposes as listed on the Control Lists.
  2. WMD end use: Items that are not specifically listed on the Control Lists, but are intended, either in their entirety or in part, for WMD purposes. WMD controls only apply if you have been informed of, are aware or suspect WMD end use.
  3. Sanctions/embargoes: Items to be exported to a specific country, which is subject to an embargo or sanctions (note that sanctions may include items that are not included on the Control Lists). End use controls apply to sanctioned activities; i.e. an export cannot occur if the exporter knows that the items would be used in relation to a sanctioned activity.
  4. Military end-use: Items that are not specifically listed on the Control Lists, but you are aware or are informed that the items are (or may be) intended for the incorporation into or for the development, production, use or maintenance of military equipment in a location subject to an arms embargo, or where you are aware that items will be used as parts or components of military goods illegally obtained from the UK. (These circumstances are unlikely to apply to academic research).

Transfers of items or information within the UK are only subject to export control when it is known that the ultimate end use is related to WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction) outside the UK.

Controls may apply to material goods (e.g. equipment, materials), and also software, data, technology (e.g. blueprints, plans, diagrams, models, specifications, formulae, manuals or instructions) and know-how (through e.g. consultancy or, in some cases, teaching).

With the exception of nuclear technology, technology listed in the UK Consolidated Lists is only controlled of it is ‘required’ and ‘necessary’ for the development, production or use of the controlled items. The fact that it is for civilian use does not dispense with the need to seek a licence, thought it would be relevant to whether a licence would be granted.

Export may involve a physical transfer of goods, or it may involve a transfer of software, technology or knowledge by any means e.g. via the internet; in physical or virtual meetings, telephone conversations, emails, presentations or conferences; or licensing of IP overseas. Controls also apply to trafficking or brokering goods between two overseas countries and for exports of items.

An activity may be classed as an ‘export’ for the purposes of export control if it involves:

  • Transfer (physical or electronic) of goods, technology, software and / or know-how from the UK to a destination outside the UK (including transit through the UK).
  • Arranging or being involved in a transfer between two overseas countries.
  • Transfer within the UK when it is known that the ultimate end use is WMD-related outside the UK (this includes teaching taking place in the UK).

In brief, key concerns are:

  1. Technologies, material, equipment or know-how that could be used in nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons or their means of delivery of WMD.
  2. Items that have been specially designed or modified for military use and their components
  3. Dual-use items (those that can be adapted for use for civil or military purposes) which meet certain specified technical standards, and some of their components.

Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS), which controls access by students from abroad to courses, which might be relevant to non-proliferation objectives, runs in parallel to export control legislation and compliance, does not satisfy export control obligations. Both need to be addressed: ATAS focuses on entry to the UK. Export control focuses on knowledge and material leaving the UK.

Further guidance

A Decision Tree (Q 1 – Q4 below) and flow diagrams are provided to help you make an initial assessment about whether the rules apply and what needs to be done. These can be down loaded in the University's guidance on exporting controlled items. The first flow diagram is simply for awareness raising. The second is more detailed and the following decision tree questions provide further explanation. Use the questions and the second flow chart together and if you answer “yes” to any of the following questions, seek advice as you may need to apply for a licence.

Decision Tree

If you answer ‘yes’ to any of the following questions seek advice.


Red Flags

There will be some areas of research and collaboration where researchers should always take advice. These are commonly known as the “Red Flags”. If the research involves any of the following things then the UK Consolidated Lists need to be checked.

Red Flags

Viruses and pathogens or related research.

Materials production techniques.

Vaccine technology, which might be used to inoculate troops using chemical or biological weapons.

Carbon fibre with high tensile properties, high nickel alloys, high grade aluminium, vacuum systems, propellants etc.

Civil technology which could be used or adapted as a component for military purposes.

High grade radio-active material – could it be emitted into the atmosphere and contaminate the environment?

Technology which could support activities in facilities which house weapons technology or delivery programmes (including hardened underground facilities and hermetically sealed buildings).

Ancillaries and support equipment at some facilities, such as those which house uranium enrichment centrifuges or nuclear fuel reprocessing facilities, can also be of concern even if the technology is itself ubiquitous

Hydrophones or sonar equipment.

Electromagnetic absorption.

Chemicals with toxic properties can cause serious injury or death. Could your research be applied for this purpose?

Unmanned equipment (even if used by you only for atmospheric research).

Fissile materials or radioactive materials or equipment for their detection or handling.

Uranium enrichment for non-civil nuclear energy.

Materials characterisation equipment.

Autonomous vehicles.

Opto-electronics (lasers).

Ground penetrating radar.

Ocean bottom survey equipment.

Stealth technology.

Dual List

This is a summary only – consult the guidance and full list.

The Dual Use List is split into nine categories (detailed below) and importantly, includes not only physical goods, but also software and technology.



Summary (Should not be taken as complete)


Nuclear Materials, Facilities & Equipment

Controls nuclear technologies which are specifically designed for a nuclear end use. Note: licences are typically required for transfers within the EU


Special Materials and Related Equipment

Controls high specification dual-use materials, such as alloys, composites, and similar; and chemical weapon precursors and toxins, many of which require licences for transfers within the EU


Materials Processing

Deals with a wide variety of advanced manufacturing equipment, including high-accuracy multi-axis machine tools



Controls advanced electronic components with military, space, or nuclear applications



Controls high-performance and high-accuracy computers


Telecommunications and information security

Controls communications and information security equipment, including some commercial grades of encryption


Sensors & Lasers

Controls a wide range of sensors with military application, including for use in space and a variety of lasers


Navigation & Avionics

Controls equipment that can be used for military navigation, including shock-proof gyros and accelerometers etc.



Controls underwater equipment


Aerospace & Propulsion

Controls space and aerospace technology

Common Misconceptions

Finally, this Guide should be understood and followed whilst bearing in mind these common misconceptions:

  1. Export Controls and student vetting is new”. It is not the case that Export Controls have only recently been put in place. For many years, Export Controls have guarded against illicit trade activities. However, the emergence of new terrorist threats has made it even more vital to ensure that issues of responsibility and compliance are widely known and
  2. Non-proliferation controls are designed to restrict, vet or censor scientific research.” The purpose and objectives of Export Controls are not to inhibit legitimate collaborative research, which on the contrary, the government works to positively encourage. The purpose of Export Controls is simply to prevent misuse, often unwitting and preventable in nature, of technology in programmes of
  3. Export Controls and student vetting are unique to the UK research community.” It is not the case that research communities in the UK are disadvantaged vis-à-vis their international counterparts. Academics and researchers working in other countries are also subject to similar controls and legislation formulated by their countries of origin and codified by international treaties and
  4. Not all countries are required to, and many do not, have an export control system.” This was the case until 2004, when resolution 1540 (UNSCR1540) was adopted by the United Nations Security Council. UNSCR1540 stipulates that all states should have effective domestic controls in place to prevent the proliferation of WMD and their delivery These controls include those relating to exports and trans-shipment.
  5. Most advanced economies do not insist on the actual implementation of these controls.” Whilst the effective implementation of export control regimes can sometimes present challenges, such regimes are followed, in many cases very rigorously, by most countries housing major producers of controlled technology. In the UK implementation includes robust enforcement by customs and border officials. Other countries also take seriously the implementation of non-proliferation controls by the academic community28.
  6. The UK’s licensing criteria are stricter than other countries.” This is a common fallacy. Whilst successive governments have maintained a policy not to issue an export licence under certain circumstances, the UK’s criteria have also been adopted by the EU as best Therefore, likeminded states will not issue licences for the export of strategic goods in those circumstances.