Resources for responsible internationalisation

KI participates in educational and research collaborations and receives students and researchers from all over the world. While extensive international cooperation enriches and empowers KI's operations, the importance of conducting international cooperation responsibly is increasing.

KI needs to continue to develop and deepen international cooperation throughout the world. All international activities involve a level of risk, and KI must thus take risks. But awareness of the risks and the ability to manage them needs to increase. Responsible internationalisation is therefore a term which describes a strategy to minimize the risks and to increase the outcomes of collaborations with international partners. Some precautionary principles need to be considered for research and educational activities that take place across borders. In particular, this applies to cooperation with partners in authoritarian countries.

For specific guidance on research activities see the Guidelines for Research.

Risks in international collaborations

The vast majority of our international collaborations are unproblematic, but there are some risks in international cooperation and during recent years these risks have become more complex, such as intellectual property rights and data breaches. In addition, security on campus and threats to values such as academic freedomethics and human rights are of increasing importance. Also, there are general security risks as well as risks that research results are used for military purposes, etc.

International collaborative research, especially in the case of authoritarian countries, can lead to additional risks: for the people concerned, for the project partners and for the project itself as a whole.

STINT's Trend Analysis and reports

STINT: Responsible internationalisation: Guidelines for reflection on international academic collaboration 

The Swedish Security Service Year book (full document in Swedish Säkerhetspolisens årsbok)

Who is responsible for risk assessment?

In order to continue to carry out and develop international cooperation, KI needs to be able to identify and manage the risks that may arise. For this, general guidelines for risk management at KI (only in Swedish, soon to be translated) have been developed.

The basic principle is that the responsibility for risk assessment should lie with the management level that decides on the cooperation. This means that the individual researcher or teacher is responsible for risk assessment that concerns individual collaborations. For formalized collaborations within the framework of an agreement, the responsibility rests with, for example, the research group, the department or the university.

Each manager is responsible for maintaining a satisfactory internal governance and control within the delegated area of ​​responsibility, which i.a. means that risk management must be carried out systematically. Risk and disposal (possibility of influence) must be linked, which means that those who bear a risk must also have, or are given, the best conditions to be able to manage the risk.

The individual researcher or teacher has the primary responsibility for conducting  international cooperation responsibly. The department is responsible for developing capacity for  responsible internationalisation. In cases where the risk is still considered high despite mitigation measures, this should be reported to the immediate superior, who assesses whether the management of the risk falls outside the  authority and responsibility of the position.

Decision making in these matters can be complex and the international context can change rapidly. Sound judgement, knowledge about the partner and its context as well as familiarity with KI's ethical and value principles is a good starting point.

Four question areas need to be highlighted when assessing risks:

  • The subject and purpose of cooperation
  • The partners involved
  • Financial and legal relations
  • Use of project results

Which collaborations are particularly risky?

International cooperation may require special caution if the partner's home country violates internationally recognised 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 this context, resources such as the Academic Freedom Index, Freedom in the World, the World Justice Project Rule of Law, and the Corruption Perception Index can support the risk assessment. Association with military or police organisations in such countries is an aggravating circumstance that further increases the risk of inadvertently contributing or strengthening authoritarian rule.

Support for risk assessment

The risks in international research collaboration are multifaceted,  so a fundamental awareness of these is needed.  It is important to be critical and proactive in relation to unknown and new partners, to be sure that you know your partner well, and be able to perform a background check if necessary. Finally, where appropriate, it is necessary to be able to carry out a risk assessment that includes measures to manage any identified risks.

To support risk assessments the following questions can be used - Risk assessment on international partnerships

To keep in mind

Societal context

It is important to use independent country-specific and regional expertise before and during the course of the cooperation. This is a prerequisite for planning a collaborative project with counterparts from non-democratic countries. The focus should be on making an overall assessment of the potential risks of the collaborative project. Check for contacts with the military, government, or potential complicity in human rights violations. 

Acquiring knowledge of the links that exist between the relevant area of cooperation and human rights provides a good basis for making responsible assessments.

Country-specific knowledge is important to be able to discuss with the partner which basic principles should apply in the collaborative project, such as academic freedom and organizational culture.

Human rights

Karolinska Institutet has an important societal task to fulfill: supporting cooperation, solidarity and academic freedom and paying special attention to those most vulnerable in society. This fits with the vision of driving the development of knowledge about life and working for a better health for all. It is in this context that KI works to promote human rights.

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

Cooperation that takes place in countries or regions that are known for human rights violations is not problematic per se. If it is clear that the intended partner is in no way involved in any violations and that the collaboration does not contribute to any violations, then cooperation is not problematic.

Support for the assessment of human rights risks in international collaborations

Academic freedom

For countries in which academic freedom is generally respected, there is no need for a detailed assessment of risks related to valuations. However, when the cooperation concerns institutions or individuals from countries in which academic freedom is under pressure, a risk awareness and possibly risk management is needed. A good start is the Academic Freedom Index (AFi).

Advisory group for the Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions (SUHF)

To deepen the knowledge of Swedish higher education institutions and their ability to proactive assessments in relation to international political and social processes and contexts where higher education institutions are actors or affected, an advisory group for global relations has been created within the Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions (SUHF). The group has its origins in the group created in 2021 by KI.

A page under construction

Responsible internationalisation is in focus for many higher education institutions. As the world situation changes and the concept gains more weight and spread, knowledge increases and new resources are added. This page on resources for responsible internationalisation is continuously updated and we are happy to receive suggestions for resources and relevant links. Contact person for the page is:

Albin Gaunt


The President’s blog posts on responsible internationalisation