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Information for Researchers on International Collaborations

Importance

UC Santa Barbara remains committed to the freedom of inquiry and open innovation. We support a diverse global community of researchers and are proud of our history of international collaboration. We understand that both are critical to our university’s research mission. At the same time, the university has an obligation to be a good steward of Federal and state research funding.


Recently several federal agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Energy, have publicly communicated specific concerns to universities across the country around undue “foreign influence” on federally sponsored research. The term “foreign influence” in this context refers, in part, to attempts by foreign governments to unfairly exploit U.S. researchers for that country’s gain.


Federal funding agencies are particularly concerned about a failure to disclose foreign financial support on grant applications, failure to disclose foreign conflicts of commitment or interest, and the improper sharing of confidential materials (e.g. those available through peer review). As both a state funded institution of higher learning and a recipient of federal research funding we have a responsibility to ensure transparency and integrity in all of the above matters.


It protects everyone’s interests – the Federal government, UCSB, individual researchers, and their international collaborators – to have certain international relationships disclosed and reviewed to determine if there are any potential conflict of commitments, duplications of research, and/or diversion of intellectual property in the performance of federally funded research.


In extreme cases, failure to disclose all relationships could result in the termination of funding for a project and potential ineligibility for future funding. Noncompliance not only threatens funding for individual projects, but overall funding for the University and from federal appropriations as a whole.

 


Guidance for Researchers

The Office of Research is here to assist UCSB researchers with understanding and appropriately responding to this issue of foreign influence. The guidance on this webpage is merely a starting point, and you are encouraged to contact the Director of Research Integrity with any questions or concerns.


Guidance regarding the types of relationships and activities that UCSB researchers are expected to disclose, as part of existing university and federal funding requirements, are summarized below. While much of the below guidance is broadly applicable to all research faculty, some of the guidance is specific to Federally funded research. Please note that each Federal sponsor has their own specific guidance, much of which is currently being revised. Additional guidance and resources may be found at UCOP's Foreign Influence webpage.

A. Federal Funding and Foreign components

Federal research sponsors have expressed specific concerns about a lack of complete disclosure of foreign components of proposed/awarded projects (i.e. relevant foreign collaborations that are expected to result in shared authorship). Historically, universities interpreted funding agency guidelines to mean that only activities with an effort commitment and a scope of work should be disclosed as “Other Support”. However, agencies are now communicating a more expansive interpretation of their existing guidelines.


Funding agencies appear to be particularly concerned about PIs “double-dipping”, meaning they are receiving funding from multiple sources for the same specific research project. Funding agencies are reviewing foreign collaborations or activities that appear to overlap, or create an over-commitment, in relation to the PI’s Federal funding. In particular, agencies are comparing funding sources listed in publications with funding sources reported in grant proposals and progress reports.


It is the PI’s responsibility to ensure the accuracy of the information provided in the “Other Support” or “Current and Pending Support” sections of proposals and progress reports.


1. Foreign Components

Foreign components of federally funded research must be disclosed on proposals, progress reports, and final technical reports. NIH defines a Foreign Component as “any significant scientific element or segment of a project outside of the United States, either by the recipient or by a researcher employed by a foreign organization, whether or not grant funds are expended" [emphasis added]. Foreign components may include a large number of collaborative activities, including “collaborations with investigators at a foreign site anticipated to result in co-authorship; use of facilities or instrumentation at a foreign site; or receipt of financial support or resources from a foreign entity.” Other sponsors have similar requirements to disclose foreign components.


There are multiple ways in which foreign components can be disclosed, e.g.,

Identifying a “foreign component” in a grant application;
Listing a “non-U.S. performance site”;
Identifying foreign relationships and activities in a biosketch;
Checking “yes” to the question on the Cover Page Supplement Form asking, “Does this project involve activities outside of the United States or partnerships with international collaborators?”

Principal Investigators (PIs) should review all pending proposals and active awards to ensure that all foreign components have been disclosed. If a PI identifies an omission or error in a previously submitted proposal, the PI should contact their designated Sponsored Projects Team. If you are unsure who your Sponsored Projects Team (SPO) team is, please visit /spo/sponsored-project-teams/.


2. Other Support & Current and Pending Support

UCSB researchers should ensure they disclose all applicable “Other Support” as required by federal sponsors.  “Other Support” may include financial resources, domestic or foreign, available in direct support of a researcher’s research endeavors. Such support should be disclosed on an “Other Support” or “Current & Pending” form. NIH has provided guidance on how to complete “Other Support”. Some sponsor guidelines may specify that all sources of direct research support be disclosed, regardless of whether they are awarded through UCSB, through another institution, or provided directly to the researcher.


Financial resources should be disclosed to the sponsor, even if they relate to work that is performed completely outside of a researcher’s appointment period. For example, if a researcher with a 9-month appointment spends two months at a university outside of the U.S. during the summer conducting research under a foreign award, that foreign support should be disclosed.


Most federal sponsors will have their own guidance on how to complete “Other Support” forms, and several sponsors are in the process of updating their guidance. It is ultimately the responsibility of the individual researcher to ensure that the report of Other Support is complete and accurate to the best of their knowledge, but PIs are encouraged to contact us if they have questions about reporting a particular activity. If a PI identifies an omission or error in a previously submitted proposal, the PI should contact their designated Sponsored Projects Team.

3. Talent Programs

An issue that is garnering a great deal of scrutiny by the federal government is participation in foreign talent programs, such as China’s Thousand Talents Program. In particular, the Department of Energy has expressed strong concerns about these programs and has prohibited its employees from engaging in these activities. There is concern within the academic community that these restrictions will trickle-down to university research.


Not only should participation in a foreign talent program be disclosed to federal sponsors, UCSB researchers should also reach out to the Export Control Officer, even if they’ve previously obtained prior approval from UCSB in accordance with the policy on Conflict of Commitment and Outside Activities of Faculty Members. Carefully review any agreements related to such participating in talent programs, as they may contain provisions that violate UCSB policies. Depending on an individual’s research portfolio, the researcher will be advised of any federal sponsor concerns related to participation in talent programs.


4. Conflict of Interest disclosures

Certain financial interests in a foreign entity, including governments and universities, must be disclosed to UCSB in accordance with applicable federal, state, and UCSB requirements. At UCSB, separate disclosure requirements apply to those applying for, or accepting, funding from the National Science Foundation, Public Health Service agencies (NIH, CDC, FDA, etc.), and non-governmental sponsors.


While NIH exempts disclosure of some activities conducted for U.S. institutions of higher education, foreign entities are not exempt from the disclosure requirements.


5. Conflict of Commitment disclosures

In addition to disclosure of financial interests to UCSB, there may be additional disclosure requirements for outside professional activities. In accordance with university policy, only Category I outside activities require prior approval. Other outside activities may only require annual reporting to UCSB. It is possible that you may need to list these activities within sponsored research proposals or progress reports before they are disclosed to the university. A few common examples of outside activities include: consulting, teaching courses at outside organizations, or entrepreneurial ventures related to your area of research.


B. Protection of data, software, devices, and intellectual property

In the context of “foreign influence”, the federal government has shared concerns about improperly safeguarding certain types of privileged information. Through the peer review process, faculty may have access to confidential information or Intellectual Property in grant applications. Funding agencies are particularly concerned about peer reviewers sharing this information without authorization.


Individuals researching dual-use technology and/or sensitive emerging technologies should be particularly vigilant about safeguarding confidential information or Intellectual Property.

C. International visits and hosting international visitors

Federal agencies are highly concerned about improper diversion of intellectual property and unpublished research results, which is distinct from collaborative activities, routinely engaged in by faculty.


International travel
Travel to sanctioned or embargoed countries may have restrictions or require a license from the U.S. government. Some other destinations are considered high-risk, and we recommend that you follow guidance from the U.S. State Department. You are encouraged to take appropriate precautions when traveling with electronic devices. When traveling to high-risk countries, you should not take devices with unpublished or confidential research data. For more information, please see the guidance provided by UCSB’s Information Security.

Some forms of technology and consumer goods are subject to export controls, even if your destination is not a sanctioned country. Items, such as University owned laptops or tablets, that are kept under your effective control and returned to the U.S. within 12 months are generally exempt from export restrictions. However, other research and high-tech equipment may require review by the Export Control Officer to determine if an export license is needed.


International visitors and scholars
University faculty and staff routinely host international colleagues for short-term visits to campus. In rare cases, visiting scholars may be pressured by their home countries to inappropriately access information or research facilities and equipment.

If you are asked to facilitate the visit of a foreign delegation or asked to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with a foreign institution, please contact Global Engagement. A formal review process exists for these types of activities, and such agreements may only be signed by authorized individuals.

 


How to Get Assistance

Existing activities or general questions - Specific questions regarding export compliance should be directed to the Export Control Officer, Brian McCurdy, (exportcontrol@research.ucsb.edu) and general questions about any of the guidance on this webpage should be directed to the Director of Research Ingegrity, Barry Rowan, (rowan@research.ucsb.edu).


New outside professional activities
- Faculty members are encouraged to contact their Department Chair about any concerns regarding participation in a Category I or II foreign professional activity related to their research efforts. Depending on the nature of the activity, the Chair may refer the faculty member to the Director of Research Integrity for further discussion.


Grant reporting - Questions regarding individual grants and contracts can be directed to your designated Sponsored Projects Team. If you are unsure who your SPO team is, please visit the sponsored projects team website.

 

FAQ

Do these issues only apply to NIH grants?

No. The Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Energy have also issued statements regarding this issue. Given the current U.S. Government focus on this issue, we anticipate similar guidance, statements, or requirements will be forthcoming from other funding agencies.


Do I need to make disclosures related to the work of my graduate students if they are foreign nationals? Does this affect Postdoctoral scholars?

In most cases, there is no reason to disclose participation of foreign students or postdocs on sponsored research, especially if all such work will be performed in the U.S. The university Nondiscrimination and Affirmative Action Policy states that the university does not discriminate on the basis of citizenship. UCSB, therefore, generally does not accept public and private sponsors’ restrictions of research based on citizenship.


However, there may be cases where working with a student or postdoc might be considered a “foreign component,” e.g. if that student or postdoc is performing effort in a foreign country. NIH defines a foreign component as “any significant scientific element or segment of a project outside of the United States, either by the recipient or by a researcher employed by a foreign organization, whether or not grant funds are expended."


Can I add disclosures to current projects or proposals?

Yes – contact your designated Sponsored Projects Team to have your application corrected. If you are unsure who your Sponsored Projects Team (SPO) team is, please visit /spo/sponsored-project-teams/

 

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