Guidance on Export Control Legislation


Export controls are measures imposed by the government to regulate the transfer of goods to other states. Exports may be controlled because of:

  • Concerns about internal repression, regional instability or other human rights violations in a foreign country
  • Concerns about the development of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) in a foreign country
  • Foreign policy and international treaty commitments (e.g. trade sanctions and arms embargoes)
  • National and collective security of the UK and its allies

Export controls apply to goods designed for military purposes but also to dual-use goods which have been designed for civilian purposes but may have military uses.

Applied research in certain fields is high risk and could potentially be misused for military purposes. These areas are usually in the STEM subjects and include:
aeronautical and space technology

  • applied chemistry, biochemistry and chemical engineering
  • applied physics
  • biotechnology
  • electrical and mechanical engineering
  • instrumentation and sensors
  • materials technology
  • nuclear technologies
  • production and process technology
  • telecommunications and information technology

In the UK, the Export Control Joint Unit (ECJU) is responsible for regulating all exports of strategic goods through the issuing and monitoring of export licences.

Compliance with export control legislation is a legal requirement. The responsibility for compliance is shared between both the University and individual researchers with penalties up to 10 years imprisonment.

When do Export Controls Apply?

Export controls apply to the physical export, electronic transfer or other transfer by any means of goods, software, information or “technology”. “Technology” includes any specific information necessary for the development, production or use of goods which are subject to controls. Export controls apply regardless of the purpose of the export (e.g. research, teaching, sales):

  1. To items on the UK Strategic Export Control Lists
  2. Where there are End-Use or End-User concerns
  3. When destinations are subject to sanctions or other restrictions

Export activities include:

  • Sending or taking physical items, such as research samples, overseas
  • Travelling overseas carrying information on a laptop or USB or accessing controlled technology from the cloud or email whilst overseas
  • Electronic transfers of software, information or data via email, text to overseas recipients
  • Online/virtual teaching resources available for access from overseas
  • Telephone, video conferencing or other communication with overseas participants

Export Control Compliance

In order to comply with export control legislation, researchers initially need to answer three key questions:

Question 1: Is my item controlled?

Use the goods checker tool to search the UK strategic export control list using a range of relevant keywords. Researchers are best placed to understand their research and its implications and therefore determine whether an item is controlled. It is recommended that you keep a record of your reasoning and decision making on whether an item is controlled or not.

Under certain circumstances, dual-use items may be de-controlled. These de-controls cannot be applied to physical samples or where there are end use concerns (see Q2).

  • Information, technology or software in the public domain, freely available without restriction
  • Basic scientific research: experimental or theoretical work undertaken solely to obtain new knowledge of the fundamental principles of phenomena or observable facts. It is not directed towards a practical aim or goal. In practice all three of the following criteria must be met:
  1. Research is low Technology Readiness Level (TRL1-3)
  2. It has no links to industry such as a commercial partner, collaborator or funder
  3. No collaborator involved is imposing any conditions on publication of the results

If your item is controlled, it may need an export licence. Please seek further advice.

Question 2: Are there End-Use or End-User concerns?

If you have reason to suspect that an item you plan to export may be used for military purposes, a licence is required even if the item is not on the controlled list or is de-controlled. If you have concerns regarding an End-User,

End-Use concern red flags include:

  • Is the partner reluctant to offer information about the end-use of the items?
  • Has the partner asked that the goods be transferred to a forwarding address in the UK?
  • Are unusual shipping, packaging or labelling arrangements requested?
  • Is the partner new to you and is your knowledge about them incomplete?
  • Is the partner located in an area under strict security control or in an area to which access is severely restricted, or which is unusual in view of the type of equipment being installed?
  • Are there unusual requirements for excessive confidentiality about final destinations, or customers, or specifications of items?
  • Is the partner or end user a military or government research body?
  • Is the project requested unusual in any way, e.g. the quantity or performance capabilities of the goods significantly exceed, without satisfactory explanation, the amount or performance normally required for the stated end use?

If you have concerns regarding End-Use and think a licence may be required, please seek further advice.

Question 3: Do any sanctions or trade restrictions apply?

Check the list of UK sanctions regimes organised by theme and country to see if any restrictions apply.

If you have answered yes to any of the above three questions, you may need an export licence and should complete an Export Control Enquiry Form before proceeding.


If you have answered yes to any of the questions above, you may need an export licence which is issued by the Export Control Joint Unit (ECJU). There are two main types of export licence that are most relevant to the university.

Open General Export Licences (OGELs)

OGELs are ‘off the shelf’ licences with set terms and conditions which must be adhered to. There are also reporting requirements for annual returns and audits and so we will ask OGEL users to provide details of their exports.

OGELs typically cover exports of certain types of goods/technology to certain destinations. There are over 40 OGELS which can be searched using the OGEL checker tool. Organisations only need to register for each OGEL once and the registration process takes a few days.

Example OGELs include

  • ​​Export of dual-use items to EU Member States
  • GEA 001 - Exports of dual use items to Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, including Liechtenstein, and United States of America

Standard Individual Export Licences (SIELs)

If your export is not covered by an OGEL, we may need to apply for a SIEL. These licences are exporter, consignee and end user-specific. They cover set quantities or values of goods and are valid for up to 2 years. Applications are submitted via the SPIRE online portal and require information about the export and the end user. The ECJU aims to process 70% of applications within 20 working days and 99% within 60 working days.

US Export Controls

US export controls apply extraterritorially (ie. the controls apply outside the US to both US and non-US ctizens and organisations) and so there are additional requirements relating to technology imported from the US which is subject to ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations) or EAR (Export Administration Regulations). At the time of import, the supplier should have made you aware that the technology was subject to US export control. Please seek further advice if your work involves technology subject to US export control.

Export Control and Teaching

The same export control legislation applies to information shared with students accessing it overseas or undertaking project work overseas

  • ATAS is a flag that a course or project may fall under export controls
  • UG teaching material is likely to be in the public domain
  • PG courses are more likely to contain controlled material
  • It is advised that courses are modified to remove any controlled material
  • If this is not possible, an export licence will be required

Who to contact

Please complete an Export Control Enquiry Form with details of your potential export. You can also contact with any export control queries.

We have compiled some FAQs to address common export control questions.