Global Security: Non-Proliferation - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

 Submission from Universities UK

  1.  Universities UK is pleased to provide this short memorandum on the Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee enquiry on Global Security: Non Proliferation.

  2.  The former Voluntary Vetting Scheme (VVS) which focused on postgraduate research students in specific subject areas from specific countries, was reviewed by the FCO and Cabinet Office from 2004-07. The review was initiated following concerns about the effectiveness of the scheme as a counter-proliferation measure raised both by Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.

  3.  A new scheme, the Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS), has been developed and the FCO began formal operation of the new scheme in November 2007 following a two-month trial period. Ahead of its implementation there was considerable dialogue between the higher education sector and the FCO to try to ensure the new scheme operated appropriately. It is also Universities UK's understanding that the timescales outlined for the operation of the scheme are shorter than those in place in a number of competitor countries including the USA.

  4.  As at November 2008 Universities UK has not received any significant concerns from HEIs about the new scheme. There were some delays in October but it appears that those delays have been cleared. The view from the sector appears to be that the scheme is a proportionate response to an important national security issue. HEIs welcome the fact that the scheme applies equally to all HEIs and all relevant students. It is appropriate that the UK Government controls this vetting process as they will have intelligence information on which individuals it is appropriate to allow into the country. This is preferable to the situation that operated under VVS where HEIs had to decide whether to refer applicants to the Government or not.


    —  The new scheme applies to all international (non-EEA) postgraduate research students in specific subject areas (identified by the Joint Academic Coding System (JACS)) and a small number of Masters programmes in specific subject areas.

    —  It requires students who fall into the above category to seek and obtain "clearance" before they can apply for a visa or entry clearance to come to the UK or to renew a visa if they are already in the UK.

    —  "Clearance" is sought through a free, online application process to the FCO.

    —  The student is asked to provide information on their proposed research area in the application.

    —  The FCO aim to decide on most applications within 5-10 working days and all applications within three weeks.

    —  Participation in ATAS has been mandatory from 1 November 2007.

    —  Once "clearance" has been obtained a student is able to enter the visa process and as part of the visa process students are required to provide evidence of the "clearance" in the form of a "clearance certificate".


  5.  There remain some issues to consider around the new scheme.

  6.  There could be difficulties for students who are renewing visas and require "clearance" as length of leave does not always correspond to course length so there could be students who have progressed onto research programmes using existing visas but then seek "clearance" and are refused. The FCO has said that this scenario is very unlikely but Universities UK has already been alerted to at least one case of an ATAS refusal involving a student who was already part way through their research programme. This scenario can cause significant difficulties for the student involved, the HEI involved and obviously does not reflect well on the UK.

  7.  It is still a comparatively new scheme. Work needs to continue to ensure information about the scheme is communicated both overseas and in the UK.

  8.  The new system does not link directly into the existing visa system and will not link into the new points-based immigration system.

  9.  If the turnaround time for the processing of applications becomes longer it could present difficulties for the recruitment and admission of international postgraduate students.


  10.  The scheme primarily focuses on postgraduate research students but a small number of taught Masters in certain subject areas are included.

  11.  If the exit qualification will be a Doctorate or Masters by Research (MRes, MPhil etc but not MEng, MPharm, MSci) the following subject areas are included:

Subjects allied to Medicine:

  JACS codes beginning:

    —  B1—Anatomy, Physiology and Pathology

    —  B2—Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmacy

    —  B9—Others in Subjects allied to Medicine

Biological Sciences:

  JACS codes beginning:

    —  C1—Biology

    —  C2—Botany

    —  C4—Genetics

    —  C5—Microbiology

    —  C7—Molecular Biology, Biophysics and Biochemistry

    —  C9—Others in Biological Sciences

Veterinary Sciences, Agriculture and related subjects:

  JACS codes beginning:

    —  D3—Animal Science

    —  D9—Others in Veterinary Sciences, Agriculture and related subjects

Physical Sciences

  JACS codes beginning:

    —  F1—Chemistry

    —  F2—Materials Science

    —  F3—Physics

    —  F5—Astronomy

    —  F8—Physical and Terrestrial Geographical and Environmental Sciences

    —  F9—Others in Physical Sciences

Mathematical and Computer Sciences

  JACS codes beginning:

    —  G1—Mathematics

    —  G2—Operational Research

    —  G4—Computer Science

    —  G7—Artificial Intelligence

    —  G9—Others in Mathematical and Computing Sciences


  JACS codes beginning:

    —  H1—General Engineering

    —  H2—Civil Engineering

    —  H3—Mechanical Engineering

    —  H4—Aerospace Engineering

    —  H5—Naval Architecture

    —  H6—Electronic and Electrical Engineering

    —  H7—Production and Manufacturing Engineering

    —  H8—Chemical, Process and Energy Engineering

    —  H9—Others in Engineering


  JACS codes beginning:

    —  J2—Metallurgy

    —  J4—Polymers and Textiles

    —  J5—Materials Technology not otherwise specified

    —  J7—Industrial Biotechnology

    —  J9—Others in Technology

  12.  Subjects included for Taught Masters as well as Doctorate and Masters degrees by research (but not MEng, MPharm, MSci):

    —  F2—Materials Science

    —  F3—Physics (including Nuclear Physics)

    —  H3—Mechanical Engineering

    —  H4—Aerospace Engineering

    —  J5—Materials Technology not otherwise specified

10 December 2008

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