Lancaster University: GCHQ announces new academic partnership with universities

Lancaster University, along with three other North West universities, has joined together with GCHQ to create a “Security and Trust Partnership” in the region that will see closer ties between the intelligence, cyber and security agency and academia.

In a first for the agency, the new partnership will see GCHQ publish its own research jointly with the universities. Previously all research written by the intelligence services has been kept within national security circles only.

The move signals a further move towards collaboration between GCHQ, academia and industry, as laid out in the Government’s Integrated Review. This partnership will allow research and knowledge related to national security issues to be shared more widely in order to help further the UK’s science capabilities, enabling faster innovation in a range of strategic areas including machine learning, linguistics, behavioural sciences and criminology.

This approach will allow the agency to tap into fresh perspectives from across the universities, to bring creative thinking to national security priorities in order to enhance the safety, security and prosperity of British citizens.

The institutions involved in the pilot partnership with GCHQ are Lancaster University, the University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Salford. The partnership will see GCHQ working with these institutions holistically; based on their proximity and range of expertise rather than focus on a specific discipline.

GCHQ’s Director General for Technology, Gav Smith said: “Working more collaboratively with key partners, like universities, is crucial for the future of the intelligence services.

“It allows us to combine the expertise and perspectives from across sectors to innovate faster and more effectively to meet the challenge of an increasingly complex set of national security challenges.”

Professor Louise Heathwaite, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise at Lancaster University and incoming Chair of the Strategic Board for the North West Security and Trust Partnership said: “As a research-intensive university and one of only seven universities in the UK with triple accreditation as an Academic Centre of Excellence in Cyber Security we are looking forward to working closely with experts at GCHQ to conduct joint research and help tackle threats to our national security.

“Lancaster University’s approach to security research cuts right across our faculties and departments, bringing together experts from diverse and widely varying disciplines to provide new insights and perspectives, including social as well as technical, to help overcome security challenges facing the modern world.”

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) jointly with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) recognises 19 universities, including Lancaster University as Academic Centres of Excellence in Cyber Security Research.

Lancaster is the only university in the North West with triple-accreditation for excellence in cyber security education and research. This includes NCSC recognition as a Gold Academic Centre of Excellence in Cyber Security Education, having an Academic Centre of Excellence in Cyber Security Research and having its Cyber Security Master’s programme certified.

In addition to creating stronger links with universities, GCHQ hopes to attract a new, more diverse workforce by encouraging students from courses involving subjects like computer science, maths, behavioural science, criminology and linguistics to consider careers with the UK intelligence community.

This latest announcement is one of a series of academic collaborations led by GCHQ. Last year it announced funding for five academics through its Research Fellowship Programme for National Resilience.

The research programme will contribute to the North West region’s “cyber corridor”. The corridor includes the National Cyber Force’s new HQ in Samlesbury, Lancashire, which draws together personnel from GCHQ, the MoD, the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), under one unified command for the first time to conduct cyber operations to keep the country safe.