Texas Tech University

Online eLearning and Export Controls


Texas Tech offers over 100 degree programs fully online as well as several certificate programs. These programs allow students to receive instruction while practically anywhere in the world. They range from certificate and undergraduate programs all the way up to doctoral degrees.

Export control laws and regulations control the export of tangible and intangible items, materials, information or services, which may include online learning. Typically, a license is not required to share information that is part of an online course. This video will explain issues that may require a license in a few minutes.

An export includes the actual shipment or transmission of an item or information out of the United States, including the sending or taking of an item out of the United States, in any manner.

A deemed export occurs when releasing or otherwise transferring technology or source code (but not object code) to a foreign person in the United States.

Source of law – the two main sources of export regulations are the International Trade in Arms Regulations or ITAR, and the Export Administration Regulations or EAR.

The U.S. Department of State administers the ITAR, which regulates the export of defense articles and defense services. The U.S. Munitions List or USML is a list of items, services, and related technical data that fall under the jurisdiction of the ITAR.

The U.S. Department of Commerce administers the EAR, which regulates the export of commercial items and items with potential military applications, also known as "dual-use" items. The Commerce Control List is a list of items, materials, and/or services controlled by the EAR.

Compliance with applicable export controls is not optional, and a failure to comply with these government requirements could impose severe penalties. Violations of export control laws and OFAC economic sanctions could result in civil, administrative, or criminal penalties resulting in monetary fines up to one million dollars per violation and imprisonment up to 30 years.

In addition to the regulations, governing agencies impose sanctions against countries, organizations, and individuals.

Sanction programs are currently in place against over 17 countries including, Iran, Sudan, Cuba, North Korea, Syria, Libya, etc. The Export and Security Compliance Office can help determine if there are sanctions on a country if you are in doubt.

The U.S. government also maintains lists of individuals and entities TTU cannot transact business with due to diplomatic issues, human rights violations, or terrorism concerns.

These lists are collectively called "restricted party" lists.

So do these controls apply to distance learning?

Distance education provides individuals from other countries information and services, which may fall under the definition of an export.

As stated previously, typically, no license is required to share information that is part of an online course. The regulations provide for an educational exemption. The ITAR exempts most sharing of information commonly taught in college and universities, and the EAR usually exempts educational information released by instruction in catalog courses and associated teaching laboratories.

However, these exemptions are not absolute. Some issues that may arise in providing distance education are:

  • Providing distance education to individuals located in an embargoed country (certain exceptions apply).
  • Providing a course to an individual listed on one of the restricted party lists,
  • Graduate level courses in the STEM disciplines may not be accessed from embargoed countries. For example, if a graduate level STEM student goes home to Iran during the summer, she cannot access TTU graduate level courses from Iran without a license, even if she has a student visa.
  • Export controlled materials (such as night vision goggles or a 3D printer used to make a gun) cannot be incorporated into a course, and
  • Straying too far from the general course topics into areas that may be export controlled, such as teaching an undergraduate engineering course and deciding to add graduate level material for bonus points. Providing graduate level material is not permitted to some sanctioned countries. It is best to stick to the normal curriculum.
  • There are two types of licenses, a general license and a specific license.
  • Government agencies provide general licenses that allow entities such as TTU to engage in certain activities.
  • TTU may need to request a specific license in certain situations; these licenses are limited to the specific purpose for which they are sought.
  • Specific licenses require a significant amount of time to process.
  • If in doubt as to whether a license is required, please contact the Office of Export and Security Compliance as soon as possible.

Penalties for export control violations can range from loss of funding (in regard to grants) to imprisonment and fines of up to a million dollars per violation. Governing agencies can assess penalties against an individual that commits a violation as well as against institutions.

For questions about whether these regulations and laws affect your course, contact the Office of Export and Security Compliance.