UK security services to screen academics for links to Chinese espionage – media reports

London’s intelligence chief claims foreign states, particularly China, have been targeting UK universities

Academics and researchers at British universities will undergo security screening by the nation’s intelligence services amid government plans to crack down on alleged Chinese espionage, according to The Times.
The measures were reportedly announced following a meeting on Thursday between MI5 Director General Ken McCallum and the vice-chancellors of two dozen leading universities, including those from Oxford and Cambridge.
McCallum reportedly warned the vice-chancellors that hostile states are actively targeting universities to steal technology that can “deliver their authoritarian, military and commercial priorities.”
According to the M15 chief, a secret review into the vulnerabilities of the UK’s higher education sector has shown that countries like China were deploying both “overt and covert mechanisms” to “acquire intellectual property and steal advantage.”
Consultations are now underway on a new system of government screening that would see academics who have access to sensitive research face background checks by intelligence services, according to the report.
The government will also be looking at new funding for higher education institutions to increase security around sensitive sites. Universities could also reportedly be required to consult with the intelligence services when entering into funding partnerships and collaborations with foreign institutions.

Alicia Kearns, chairwoman of the foreign affairs select committee, said in a post on X that academia has for “too long” pretended it has “no role to play in our national security” and could operate “free from geo-strategic realities.”
“Significant evidence indicates a systematic attempt by the Chinese Communist Party to infiltrate British academia and exfiltrate critical research, capabilities and technologies,” she said.
Beijing has repeatedly denied any espionage-related accusations, branding them as “malicious smears.” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said this week during a news briefing: “We would like to reiterate that the claim that China could be stealing UK intelligence is a groundless accusation and malicious smear, and we firmly oppose that accusation. Such malicious manipulation aimed at China should stop.”
MI5 had previously identified more than 50 Chinese college students enrolled at UK universities which it said were linked to the People’s Liberation Army, who have left the country in recent years as a result of a crackdown on what the spy agency described as the theft of defense-related technology and other sensitive research materials.