Things to consider before starting an international research project

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Please see below for advice on financial risks, IP issues and the use of Oxford’s name.

For safety and travel restrictions as well as potential embargoes, see the FCO site.

‘Trusted Research’ has produced advice in consultation with the UK research and university community. This guidance outlines potential risks to bear in mind when considering international collaboration.

Where we intend to collaborate with organisations based in high risk countries, additional due diligence work will be needed to ensure that the University has considered and mitigated risks effectively so that the collaboration can go ahead. In particular it is difficult to send money to or receive payment from certain countries.  Please speak to Finance Division before making an application if you think that your collaborator country might present financial difficulties.

The FATF website gives an indicator of high risk and non-cooperative jurisdictions.

You can also check the corruption index on the Transparency International webpages.

Payments to Iran and North Korea are particularly difficult and no payments to these countries should be attempted. Payments to Cuba, Syria, South Sudan, Sudan, Venezuela and Crimea require extensive bank pre-approval of any payments.

Note: UK government sanctions against Iran were lifted in March 2017 but issues with transferring funds to Iran may still exist. The UK government has a guide to doing business in Iran. However, please note that the University is currently still unable to make financial transfers to Iran due to banking constraints.

There are also limitations for some overseas organisations regarding the receipt of funds from organisations other than their own government. Please confirm with the prospective collaborator that they are able to receive payment from the University of Oxford by bank transfer.

Funders/collaborators from different countries may face difficulties sending money to the University (e.g. because of governmental or institutional requirements, cash flow issues). To mitigate the risks of failure to receive payments, it is advised, where possible, to agree a payment plan with your funder including advance payments and/or regular reimbursements of expenses.

Funds sent to the University from Cuba, Syria, South Sudan, Sudan and Crimea may be intercepted and there is a risk that the funds will neither be returned to the sender nor received by the University.

Please consult with Treasury and speak to either Jan Smith or Sean Anderson before entering into any contracts that will involve these countries.


Please contact the Treasury team if you have concerns about the country in which your operations will be based.

The Social Sciences Division have produced guidance on facilitating and supporting large and multi-partner meetings, as well as on pulling together grants. These resources can be accessed through the Social Sciences SharePoint.

Departments and divisions offer different resources and specific research support. Please check with your department or division about what might be available.

When undertaking international research collaborations, the University requires evidence that adequate safeguarding policies and processes are in place within the collaborating organisation or, if not, then the University will need to create an overarching safeguarding policy for the project that would need to be appended to the contract and signed by all parties.

The documents below are examples of project-specific policies which were created for a previous large-scale international project.   


Example: International Safeguarding Policy

Example: International Code of Conduct

Example: International Whistleblowing policy


These documents were developed for a particular project and set of circumstances, and please note that the University’s own Safeguarding, Whistleblowing and other policies will also apply to University staff. The Research Services Assurance Team can assist you to adapt documents to meet the specific requirements of your project which can be appended to the collaboration agreement that is implemented.

When conducting international fieldwork involving human participants and/or personal data, specific issues need to be considered, e.g. ethical and secure data collection/management, the physical and psychological safety of participants, researchers and local fieldworkers, and differences in cultural and societal norms and practices, including the most appropriate way of gaining fully informed consent and, where possible and appropriate, local ethics approval in addition to CUREC approval. Note that for studies reviewed by OxTREC, (i.e. medical and health-related research outside the EU), OxTREC approval is actually contingent upon local approval. It would only be in really exceptional circumstances that OxTREC approval would be granted without local approval.

For studies that fall into OxTREC’s remit, researchers should consult “University medical research conducted outside the UK and the EU: a guide to applying for ethical review” prior to applying to OxTREC.

The Best Practice Guidance on ethical review of social science-based research conducted outside the UK (BPG 16) should be consulted before applying for ethical approval. It also sets out helpful information on gaining local ethics review and/or advice in addition to CUREC review, and recommends a procedure on how to streamline ethics reviews for large collaborations with multiple collaborators. The Ethics Issues Checklist for International Research (Appendix A of this best practice guidance document) may help to ensure that the PI/researcher and their collaborators have given adequate consideration to address possible areas of concern in the local research context.

A selection of other useful CUREC guidance:

  • Best Practice guidance documents; including Researcher Safety (BPG 1) [which also addresses local fieldworker safety], , Guidance on Data Collection/Management (BPG 09), Elite and Expert interviewing (BPG 3), internet-based research (BPG6).
  • Approved procedures: e.g. Approved Procedures on research including children (AP 15 and 25, with age-appropriate informed consent templates; and an Approved Procedure on research involving minor deception (AP 07))
  • Guidance on informed Consent, including recommended templates for oral and/or written consent.

Further information is available from the research ethics (CUREC) web pages

Legal Services should be consulted if the University’s brand and name are intended to be used as part of the name of a research collaboration project with external organisations. If the use of the University’s name involves a new legal entity or new joint research project, prior evaluation of the partnership must be carried out. 

This evaluation will be based on a list of questions in the form of a tabular scorecard. This process will be operated by the International Engagement Office, with specialist input from relevant teams across the University.

The evaluation mechanism, including the scorecard, can be found on our Scorecard page.

Although some research projects start only when funding has been received and a Grant Agreement signed, others start in a more informal way. It is important to regularly consider if this is the right time to formalise aspects of your working relationships. A contract should be put in place if you are sharing materials, data, confidential information, sending or receiving funding, conducting research with human participants, or if intellectual property is being used or created in a project, and may also be necessary for other situations. Some funders have particular requirements regarding collaboration agreements. Please discuss this with the Research Services Contracts Team.   

In order to find information on the different types of contracts, please visit the Research Services contracts pages.

If a contract is not required, you might also want to formalise an existing collaboration through a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). Partner institutions in some countries might expect to sign an MoU to initiate a collaboration and, although Oxford does not require an MoU to be in place to collaborate, these documents can be a good way to record the intention to work together without creating a legal obligation to do so.

A template MoU, together with guidance on MoUs, can be downloaded from the ‘Staff Resources’ section of the International Oxford website. It is strongly advised to adhere closely to the template; any major changes to the template text should be discussed with the International Engagement Office or Legal Services Office. No MoU should include provisions that require a formal contract (e.g. Intellectual Property). Please be aware that countries vary in the legal weight they give to MoUs. It is ESSENTIAL that you take advice before using the Oxford name in an MoU.

Clarity:  it is important to recognise that some parties use the term ‘IP’ to mean data, physical materials (e.g. biological and chemical compounds, plant varieties), copyright materials (e.g. questionnaires, software) in addition to patentable and non-patentable IP. Everyone involved in an international research collaboration should have a clear understanding of the IP aspects of the project. Knowing what pre-existing IP each partner may contribute to the research collaboration and what each partner will do with the information, results and data (i.e. ‘Arising IP’) generated during and after the project is essential. It is also important to agree on how the expected arising IP should be protected and used to maximise public benefit. This will also help inform your discussions with the Research Contracts Team at a later stage.

Local laws and regulations: the legal landscape of a partner’s country needs to be considered. Regulations and national provisions of the country where the research will take place, and the terms and conditions of a partner’s funding, might affect the right to gather data and/or the right to use the results within or outside of the partners’ country, and may also affect ownership of arising intellectual property and/or determine which institutions have rights to use background and arising IP, and for what purpose. There may be mandatory registering or licensing provisions when bringing a particular technologies, materials or data into or out of a country.

Award terms and conditions: read these carefully to ensure that you and any international collaborators can agree to these should you be awarded the funding.

Background IP:  if pre-existing IP (i.e. ‘Background IP’) is going to be used in the project it is important to consider who owns it at an early stage so there is clarity when any contractual arrangements are put in place, it may or may not be the party introducing it to the project.

Access rights: you may need to consider the possible impact of granting access rights to both Background IP and any new IP created during the course of the project (i.e. ‘Arising IP’). This will provide clarity when any contractual arrangements are put in place.

Internal sources of information:

Further information