Resources for responsible internationalisation

KI participates in educational and research collaborations and receives students and researchers from all over the world. Increasing international cooperation is fundamental for KI's activities and we have a responsibility to maintain and extend opportunities for international cooperation, and to do this in a responsible manner.

International cooperation has become more complex during recent years, and tensions within international political and economic relations affect the activities of higher education institutions. Any international collaboration has uncertain outcomes, and we need effective methods of minimizing and managing the risks, particularly for collaborations with partners in authoritarian countries. 

A strategy to create conditions and to minimize risks

Responsible internationalization is a concept that encompasses strategies for creating favourable conditions for international cooperation and includes the professional responsibility of minimizing and managing risks.  An overall assessment of the benefits, feasibility, impact and weaknesses of any cooperation should be conducted before it is initiated. These trade-offs should also be repeatedly reviewed during the cooperation.

Need for increased awareness

An important aspect of responsible internationalization is to raise awareness of these responsibilities among our employees.  We must also address emerging issues related to cybersecurity and IP rights, security on campus, as well as traditional values such as academic freedom, ethics and human rights. In addition, there are general risks for the misuse of research data, such as for military purposes. A central question we should always ask is what do we risk missing out on if we do not cooperate?

To conduct international operations in a responsible manner we need to be able to assess the impact of our operations on the people affected, on the project partners involved and on KI as a whole.

KI's ethical and value principles

Many of the considerations that need to be made are complex, and the international context can change rapidly. In addition to knowledge of objective conditions, a good anchoring in KI's ethical and value-based principles is therefore also required.  

Who is responsible for risk assessment?

The basic principle is that responsibility for risk assessment is at the level of the management that decides on the specific cooperation. For individual collaborations (researcher to researcher), the responsibility usually lies with the individual researcher, and for formalized collaborations within the framework of an agreement, the responsibility may be with the research group, the department or the university.  

Each manager is responsible for ensuring that risk management is conducted systematically within their area of responsibility. Both risk and authority (possibility of influence) should be linked, so that the person owning a risk should also have good conditions to be able to manage that risk. The department is responsible for developing competence for responsible internationalization among its employees.

If a risk cannot be managed in a satisfactory manner, it must be reported to the direct superior who can further escalate up the university hierarchy as needed.

Support for risk assessment

An effective risk assessment process is fundamental in order to be able to make decisions about collaborations in a well-considered manner and on the basis of relevant information  and to know how to document them. A risk management plan that includes actions to manage the identified risks is a good starting point, with focus on making an overall balanced assessment of both opportunities and risks in the project.

Issues to consider in risk assessment:

  • The benefits of collaboration
  • The purpose of the collaboration
  • The partners involved
  • Financing and legal relationships
  • Use of project results

When do we need to pay special attention?

International cooperation may require special consideration if the partner's home country violates internationally recognized values and principles, such as UN human rights, the rule of law, corruption, academic freedom and the independence of the individual/institution from the state. In contexts such as these, various indices such as the Academic Freedom Index, Freedom in the World,  the World Justice Project Rule of Law, and the Corruption Perception Index can be used to support your risk assessment.

Things to consider

Karolinska Institutet's ethical guidelines for international collaborations are supported by a number of internal and external policy documents, rules, guidelines and other information concerning ethical issues Overall information on ethical issues at KI has been collected in one portal Ethics at KI.

Dual-use items (PDA) are products with a civilian use, but which can also be used for military purposes. Export controls are rules to prevent such strategically sensitive products or knowledge from falling into the wrong hands.

It is important to know who is funding the project – directly or indirectly. This is especially true when working with financiers in authoritarian countries. Between the lines of agreements on common goals, there may also be other, implicit goals. Agreements that leave room for interpretation can cause friction at a later stage.

The goal with KI’s information security work is to ensure that information is not disclosed to unauthorized people, that it is always reliable, accurate and complete and that it is available when needed. 

Researchers and other employees at KI often have strong ties through, for example, previous and current employments in other organizations. This also poses a potential risk in international collaborations. It is therefore important that KI's regulations on side jobs are complied with and that transparency about dependencies is maintained.

Agreements with a partner need to be formulated carefully to avoid later difficulties.

Students studying abroad through exchanges agreements or on their own need to prepare. The Education Support Office has some advice on what students should think about before studying abroad.

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs (UD) can advise against travel to countries or areas with regard to the current security situation. Current information is available on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' website. Travel information for KI-staff.

The societal context

It is crucial in a collaboration to be sure that you know your partner well, and you should be critical and proactive to unknown and new partners.  A background check is particularly important in cooperation projects with partners from non-democratic countries.

It is important to get to know the partner's country or region in order to be able to discuss the basic principles that should apply in the collaborative project, such as academic freedom and organizational culture.

Special consideration is necessary if the project includes field studies in conflict zones, and so-called HEAT courses (Hostile Environment And Awareness Training) for researchers can be useful in this case. Examples of courses:

Human rights

Karolinska Institutet stands for cooperation, solidarity and academic freedom, and pays special attention to the most vulnerable people in society. With the vision to drive the development of knowledge about life and work for a better health for all, it is in this context that KI works to promote human rights.

KI will not cooperate with parties directly involved in serious human rights violations, nor does it wish to participate in projects that may contribute to or lead to serious human rights violations, either directly or indirectly.

A page under construction

Responsible internationalisation is an increasingly important area of development within many higher education institutions, as the world situation changes and the concept becomes more accepted. The information about resources for responsible internationalization is updated continuously and we are happy to receive suggestions for resources and relevant links. Contact person for the site is:

Isabella Palomba Rydén

International Coordinator