Working with overseas partners: Understanding due diligence

Information for researchers and professional service staff about due diligence, the University of Edinburgh's due diligence process and who is responsible for due diligence across the University.

What is Due Diligence?

Due Diligence is the investigation, or exercise of care, that a reasonable business or person is expected to take before entering into an agreement or contract with another party. It supports good decision-making – understanding costs, benefits and risks.

Why do we do Due Diligence on Overseas Research Partners?

UKRI now require research organisations that are involved in partnering with overseas organisations to have policies and processes in place to enable risk-based due diligence.  Research organisations are being asked to evidence this as part of the funding assurance process and as part of the awarding process for calls.

An assessment of risk is required prior to working with overseas partners. Carrying out due diligence provides a way to mitigate the risks, share good practice and have assurance that research organisations have the capacity and expertise to carry out the research.  

The University of Edinburgh Due Diligence Process

The process is risk based and project specific.  As part of funder requirements, due diligence must be completed before the start date of the grant.  

Edinburgh Research Office will complete due diligence checks at 2 different stages:  Stage 1 is at application and Stage 2 is at award.

Stage 1 - Application

If you are the lead PI on a proposal, please let your Research Funding Specialist know as early as possible of any overseas partners you are considering working with. 

Your Research Funding Specialist will complete a brief preliminary Stage 1 check on the partner; if there are any concerns at this stage, we will advise you and your School on the outcome, flagging any concerns of reputational or financial risk. 

Find my Research Funding Specialist

Where there are major concerns of high risk at Stage 1:

  • We will inform you and your School Research Office to advise you of the high risks identified and discuss further steps.  The aim at this point is to allow you, your School and the potential partner to try to resolve any issues which may pose a risk to the project and to the University’s reputation, and to agree whether to proceed with collaborating with this particular partner.  
  • Should the proposal and collaboration go ahead and is successfully funded, mitigating actions will be included in legal agreements. 
  • Examples of possible steps to take at pre-application stage include choosing an alternative partner; initial agreement on potential financial arrangements (eg, scheduled payments, or payment upon receipt of invoices); requiring a comprehensive due diligence check to be completed by the partner, for a full risk assessment. 
  • We must receive an email from the lead PI’s School understanding the risks involved and agreeing to any mitigating actions proposed.

Stage 2 - Award

Any project where an international organisation may be in receipt of over £30,000 of funding as part of the award, a Due Diligence Questionnaire must be completed by the partner organisation and a risk assessment carried out by the Research Funding Specialist.

As UoE lead PI, your Research Funding Specialist will liaise with you and your overseas partner to collate the required information, using the completed questionnaire to carry out a risk assessment. 

Once these checks have been completed, your Research Funding Specialist will be able to evaluate the risk rating for each organisation. This will range from low, to medium or high risk.  

The responsibility of Edinburgh Research Office staff lies solely with flagging high risk concerns and suggesting possible mitigating actions to the PI and to the School.

Find my Research Funding Specialist

Responsibilities for Due Diligence across the University

Edinburgh Research Office has responsibility for due diligence only on overseas research – please contact the relevant Research Funding Specialist for your School. 

If the partner comes through any other teams within the University, the responsibility for due diligence lies within those teams: 

  • Industry due diligence:  responsibility lies with Edinburgh Innovations (University login required), and the Business Development Executive (BDE) will perform the due diligence checks, providing evidence to Edinburgh Research Office via the relevant Research Funding Specialist.
  • Donations: responsibility on due diligence for donations received by the University of Edinburgh lies with Development & Alumni.   
  • International partnerships, involving Memoranda of Understanding between the University of Edinburgh and another institution:  responsibility lies with the Partnerships Team at Edinburgh Global. 

In working with partners in lower- and middle-income countries, we will ensure that the PI or Co-I is aware of the risks and responsibilities of working together.

View our International Development Research resources