Durham University Research Integrity Assurance Report 2018
The University is required to confirm compliance with the Concordat to support research integrity, as a condition of receipt of funding. This requirement was introduced under HEFCE in 2013/14, as set out in the Circular Letter 21/2013 (Annex I - issued 24th July 2013).
‘The institution is required to comply with the Concordat to Support Research Integrity published by Universities UK in July 2012. Institutions in receipt of research grant from the Council are also required to provide assurance of their compliance with the Concordat through the annual assurance return to the Council and following any guidance that the Council may provide. For 2013-14 only, in recognition that compliance by some institutions may require a period of time to achieve, institutions in receipt of research grant from the Council may provide assurance either of their compliance, or that they are working towards compliance, with the Concordat.’
The primary purposes of this report are to provide the necessary assurance to University Council and for use as part of the Annual Assurance Return to the Office for Students.. Secondary purposes include to:
This report follows the same format and updates the information provided in the 2017 report, which is available here.
Concordat to Support Research Integrity – University Compliance and Alignment
Commitment #1: We are committed to maintaining the highest standards of rigour and integrity in all aspects of research.
1.1 Understand the expected standards of rigour and integrity relevant to their research
The expected standards of behaviour are made clear within University policy and procedures (see 1.4). Links to professional standards are also provided within the Research Integrity and related toolkits.
1.2 Maintain the highest standards of rigour and integrity in their work at all times
The University aims to support researchers to achieve and maintain the highest standards of rigour and integrity. See 1.3 and 1.4.
Employers of researchers are responsible for:
1.3 Collaborating to maintain a research environment that develops good research practice and nurtures a culture of research integrity, as described in commitments 2 to 5
The University works closely with national organisations/forums such as the UK Research Integrity Office, the Association of Research Ethics Committees, and the Russell Group Integrity Forum (amongst others) to share sectoral best practice and resources, to gather intelligence on emergent areas and resolve issues.
The University has a significant training and support network for PGR students and academic staff, significant portions of which are delivered in collaboration with other organisations. (See 3.2 for further details of our training programmes)
In addition, the University runs a collaborative post graduate training programme with Newcastle University offering our Research Integrity Training to Newcastle PGR students. At the doctoral level the University is also involved in the delivery of joint programmes. There are also key framework collaborations which share practice well beyond the UK, such as FAPESBY which involves Brazilian institutions.
1.4 Supporting researchers to understand and act according to expected standards, values and behaviours, and defending them when they live up to these expectations in difficult circumstances
The University has put in place clear policies to set out responsibilities and support for research integrity. The Responsible University Policy sets out the University’s commitment to social responsibility, its framework of accountability, and the key behaviours expected of all members of the University. Specific responsibilities relating to research are set out in the Research Integrity Policy & Code of Good Practice; this, and the related Misconduct Policy, were updated in 2017. In 2018, a new University-wide Ethics Policy was approved (see 2.1). The policies are supported at institution level by the Research Integrity toolkit and the Ethics and Governance Toolkit (the latter significantly expanded during 2018), with more specific support embedded within local documents e.g. within departmental handbooks. The University also provides high level policies on Conditions of Employment, Conflicts of Interest and Personal Relationships at Work.
Training is provided to researchers in different formats and tailored according to research discipline. An assessment of central training provision was carried out in 2017/18. For further detail on training and mentoring available, see 3.2.
Funders of research expect:
1.5 Researchers to adhere to the highest standards of professionalism and integrity
1.6 Employers of researchers to have procedures in place to ensure that research is conducted in accordance with standards of best practice; systems to promote research integrity; and transparent, robust and fair processes to investigate alleged research misconduct
See 1.4 regarding policies and procedures to support research integrity.
See Section 4 regarding Research Misconduct processes.
Commitment #2: We are committed to ensuring that research is conducted according to appropriate ethical, legal and professional frameworks, obligations and standards.
2.1 Ensure that all research is subject to active and appropriate consideration of ethical issues
The University requires that all research is subject to appropriate scrutiny and approval prior to any work beginning. In 2018 a new University-level Ethics Policy was approved, which sets out the University’s expectations regarding ethical review and approval. This year RIS have piloted an online ethics form with four departments in different Faculties, which is intended to remove the need for individual departmental forms and facilitate greater reporting and compliance. Together, these developments will facilitate a more consistent and thorough review of ethical issues across the University.
The senior responsible committee is Ethics Advisory Committee. The Ethics Framework is set out within the Ethics policy and Ethics Framework: Annex to the Ethics Advisory Committee Standing Orders. Practical review of applications for (non animal / non NHS) projects is devolved to each department, who must provide assurance via returns and audit to the relevant faculty committee (which also functions as a forum for sharing good practice and enforcing University policy) and then upwards to Ethics Advisory Committee.
The University also operates an AWERB committee for all animal research (licensed and unlicensed) which reports to Ethics Advisory Committee on a termly basis.
Any NHS projects go through the relevant HRA process, however the University retains a registry of all projects and approvals.
The Ethics and Governance toolkit has been further developed in conjunction with the Ethics Policy and online ethics system. This provides guidance on the high-risk ethical areas and acts as a central hub for support and information. Whilst systems already exists to monitor the completion of funding staff and student projects, the adoption of the new system will both extend this assurance to unfunded projects and make assurance easier. Additional support and training for researchers on ethical considerations is available from a variety of sources (see 2.4 and 2.5).
2.2 Comply with ethical, legal and professional frameworks, obligations and standards as required by statutory and regulatory authorities, and by employers, funders and other relevant stakeholders
The University requires that all research complies with the expectations and standards of all relevant bodies. Where there is a difference in standards the University operates a principle of subsidiarity. This is explicit within the Research Integrity Policy & Code of Good Practice. Sections 6.1 Design, 7.1.1 (g), and 7.2. Information on relevant funder and professional bodies’ codes of practice is now included in the ethics toolkit.
This year, guidance on consent and template information sheets and consent forms have been updated to comply with the requirements of GDPR. Specific guidance has also been provided for researchers on compliance with GDPR.
In addition, more detailed guidance on responsibilities for individuals involved with human tissue have been drawn up and integrated into the Human Tissue governance master file.
2.3 Having clear policies on ethical approval available to all researchers
In addition to the Ethics Policy and toolkit, documentation for Ethics Advisory Committee and for the Faculty Ethics Committees are publically available on the University webpages. Terms of Reference and detailed duties of AWERB have also been made available. Specific departmental policies and guidance are available on the relevant departmental webpages and DUO sites. (Not linked as not all are universally available).
2.4 Making sure that all researchers are aware of and understand policies and processes relating to ethical approval
Specific training is provided to researchers on the ethical approval processes. This is delivered at both department level and by the Professional Support Services, particularly Research & Innovation Services (RIS) and the Durham Centre for Academic Development (DCAD). See 2.5 for further information on training.
The Ethics and Governance Toolkit includes and aligns with the new policy (which was disseminated via the Faculty ethics committees), and includes specific pages on the relevant processes (AWERB, departmental processes, NHS and acceptance of external approvals.)
The new online ethics system being piloted this year helps to guide researchers through the review process and contains links out to relevant guidance in the toolkit. As this system automates some of the administrative tasks associated with the approval process, it has also enabled pilot departments to introduce a requirement for all students to complete the initial ethics checklist for final year projects.
All staff are reminded of their obligations to ensure research receives appropriate review at their Board of Studies meeting. The ethical review process is well integrated with the processes for project approval and set-up for any externally funded work. The Work with Outside Bodies policy formalises the requirement that ethics is considered and makes it an explicit part of both the PI and Head of Department sign-off processes.
Ethical approval for student projects is a condition of (variously) ability to progress, credit bearing and a requirement before a project will be considered for marking.
2.5 Supporting researchers to reflect best practice in relation to ethical, legal and professional requirements
The Ethics and Governance Toolkit directs researchers to best practice guidance and resources. Discipline-specific training is available to all staff and students via an online platform. Most PG programmes now have ‘Independent Researcher Development Modules’ of which ethics is a part, integrated into their programme. Bespoke sessions for staff e.g. on research involving sensitive data are organised via RIS. Staff are also reminded of their responsibilities as supervisor for student level research and for the development of their students’ ethical awareness.
Staff are encouraged and supported to join appropriate professional associations and to adhere to their professional standards and disciplinary norms.
2.6 Having appropriate arrangements in place through which researchers can access advice and guidance on ethical, legal and professional obligations and standards
The responsibilities of PIs, researchers and the University for supporting good practice are detailed in section 5 of the Research Integrity Policy & Code of Good Practice (Culture Leadership and Mentoring).
Ethics support is embedded within each department through their ethics committee chair and members. Additional support and guidance is available via the Research Policy team in RIS.
Support for students is available via their supervisors. In the Research Integrity Policy & Code of Good Practice section 2, it is explicit that “In the case of student research, the principal investigator is always the supervisor.”
Funders of research will expect researchers and employers of researchers:
2.7 To conform to the ethical, legal and professional standards relevant to their research; this includes any specific codes of practice, legal requirements and other policies that the funder identifies as part of their conditions of grant.
For funded research the Research Operations team (in concert with the Legal team) will advise the PI of any policies or funder terms etc. within their conditions of grant which require additional action on their part.
The creation of a policy hub has made it significantly easier for staff to access all relevant policies and processes.
Researchers’ conditions of employment (section 23) / learner contract require that they comply with University policy. The Research Integrity Policy & Code of Good Practice, requires compliance with funder conditions in the following sections; 6.1 Design (Role & Responsibilities of researchers), 5.3(d) Culture Leadership & Mentoring (Role and Responsibilities of Heads of Departments), 7.1.1(g). Ethics, Governance & Safety (Role & Responsibilities of Researchers)
Funders of research will:
2.8 Clearly identify any specific codes of practice, legal requirements and other policies that researchers and employers of researchers are expected to comply with
2.9 Explore ways of streamlining requirements to reduce any duplication and inconsistency
Commitment #3: We are committed to supporting a research environment that is underpinned by a culture of integrity and based on good governance, best practice and support for the development of researchers.
Employers of researchers should have:
3.1 Clear policies, practices and procedures to support researchers
The policy framework governing research activities and other work with outside bodies was significantly updated for 2017/18. The framework sets out clearly the behaviours expected, procedures to use and support available to researchers. This year, in addition to the development of the Ethics Policy, work has continued on embedding the existing policies and further developing and updating supporting guidance.
A single policy hub for researchers and research support staff to refer to, and supporting guidance are available on the RIS website.
3.2 Suitable learning, training and mentoring opportunities to support the development of researcher
Opportunities are provided across the whole of the career lifecycle. Research training and supervision for students is integrated into their programmes. All UG students are engaged in central training around plagiarism and copyright, with many also engaging in integrity and ethics training as part of their undergraduate modules.
New staff are allocated a mentor prior to their appointment. This is supported by training resources, virtual community on DUO and a mentoring network (with facilitation by an external coach). Mentoring can also be accessed by existing staff seeking support for development. Details on the HR webpages.
DCAD provide training programmes to the various staff groups based on the Vitae Researcher Development Framework and on the principles of the 2008 Research Concordat to support the career development of Research Staff, for which Durham holds a HR Excellence in Research award. Materials and delivery methods are tailored to the needs of the various learner groups.
Research Integrity training for staff and PGR students is delivered as a flipped classroom, with initial content delivered via a range of online courses:
These are adapted from those developed by the provider Epigeum to include Durham specific content. Students and staff utilise these courses, either in isolation or as pre-study prior to additional face to face training in Research Integrity. In face to face workshops, case study examples from relevant disciplines which have a conflict involving ethics and integrity are discussed. These are sourced from the online repository http://www.onlineethics.org,, with participants exploring the ethical issues around key Research Integrity topics such as:
Workshops for researcher development run throughout the academic year and are well publicised on the University webpages. In addition to these one off sessions, there are longer programmes such as ‘Leading Research’. RIS also provides training sessions on ‘Finding New Grants’, ‘Grant Management’, ‘Ethics and Governance’, ‘Impact and Engagement’ and ‘Research Data Management’.
3.3 Robust management systems to ensure that policies relating to research, research integrity and researcher behaviour are implemented.
Governance for research activities is provided by University Research Committee under the leadership of the PVC-Research. Its role includes:
Faculty Research Committees are sub-committees of Research Committee and include representation from all departmental directors of research. General conduct is covered as part of the Annual Development Review of staff. Poor conduct and misconduct are managed through the relevant staff misconduct and student misconduct processes (general regulation IV).
Under the Research Integrity Policy & Code of Good Practice and the Work With Outside Bodies Policy, all research projects need to identify any ethical considerations and where necessary complete review prior to start; all externally funded projects require peer review and formal review and sign-off from the PI, RIS and the Head of Department before any application can be submitted. Adherence to University policy is a contractual obligation.
3.4 Awareness among researchers of the standards and behaviours that are expected of them
Departments generate discipline-specific supplementary guidance and the expected behaviours and relevant policies are disseminated at departmental forums such as board of studies.
Standards are clearly stated in the Research Integrity Policy & Code of Good Practice, disaggregated into roles: Head of Department, PIs and Researchers. The policy has been disseminated via Faculty Research Committees, email and via Head of Department briefings. Where extra guidance has been specifically requested this has been developed.
3.5 Systems within the research environment that identify potential concerns at an early stage and mechanisms for providing support to researchers in need of assistance
There are various ways that concerns can be identified / raised. The primary informal means is via mentoring and interaction within the research team. The University is supportive of a transparent and questioning research environment as reflected in its adoption of the Nolan principles of public life.
Support staff also provide early warning of any issues which may be indicative of other problems. These are reported to departmental management or via the PSS services and escalated as required.
Issues (not resolvable or significant) can be raised with the departmental Director of Research or with the Head of Department in the ADR process. These two individuals are also responsible for ensuring that support and remedial measures for any issues are made available. The University also has formal routes for issues to be identified including (in order of escalation).
The University research systems provide an overview of research management and activities, this include inputs (GAM), outputs (DRO). These feed into reports and the planning processes and can be used to identify atypical behaviours and patterns.
3.6 A senior member of staff to oversee research integrity and to act as first point of contact for anyone wanting more information on matters of research integrity.
Responsibility for research integrity lies with the PVC Research, who is supported in their role by Research Committee and leadership within the departments (as outlined in the Research Integrity policy & Code of Good Practice. The Research Policy team in RIS provide advice and guidance on research integrity matters.
3.7 Embed these features in their own systems, processes and practices
The University updated its policies and processes for 2017/18. It continues to ensure that these are appropriately integrated into processes and practices (See 3.1). New starter / induction materials have been updated to reflect the new policies.
3.8 Work towards reflecting recognised best practice in their own systems, processes and practice
The University recognises that best practice is a fast developing area and that therefore its systems, processes and practices must evolve too. Formal review periods are built into all policies and support materials. Development of the online ethics system and ethics toolkit has drawn on best practice existing within departments as well as external sources. Additional system development work for grant management will provide the University with further opportunities to review processes and practice.
3.9 Implement the concordat within their research environment
The concordat has been fully implemented by the University and adopted into all relevant policies and guidance. Progress against the concordat is reviewed annually. The more systematic approach, together with the ‘Areas of Development’, adopted from 2016/17, enable clearer demonstration of progress.
Funders of research are responsible for:
3.10 Promoting adoption of the concordat within the research community
3.11 Supporting the implementation of the concordat through shared guidance, policies and plans
Commitment #4: We are committed to using transparent, robust and fair processes to deal with allegations of research misconduct should they arise.
4.1 Act in good faith with regard to allegations of research misconduct, whether in making allegations or in being required to participate in an investigation
The University’s Research Misconduct policy clearly outlines the processes, roles and expected behaviours of all those involved in an allegation of misconduct and subsequent investigation. The refreshed policy was developed with reference to the UKRIO Procedure for the Investigation of Misconduct in Research and reflects good practice across the sector.
4.2 Handle potential instances of research misconduct in an appropriate manner; this includes reporting misconduct to employers, funders and professional, statutory and regulatory bodies as circumstances require
As indicated above, the Misconduct Policy sets out the processes and requirements for handling. It also explicitly supports the notification of professional and regulatory bodies (see points 6 and 35), and funders (see points 4 and 34).
Employers of researchers should:
4.3 Have the primary responsibility for investigating allegations of research misconduct
4.4 Ensure that any person involved in investigating such allegations has the appropriate knowledge, skills, experience and authority to do so.
As per the Research Misconduct policy. The Faculty PVCs are responsible for informal investigations (see point 11b) and the PVC_R appoints competent investigators for formal investigations (see points 20-22).
As noted in the policy, those involved in misconduct investigations are appointed on the proviso that they have the necessary skills and are competence to investigate. Additional support is provided from both RIS and HR.
4.5 Have clear, well-articulated and confidential mechanisms for reporting allegations of research misconduct
Under the Research Misconduct policy complaints are made in writing and in confidence to the PVC Research. The complainant may seek advice from RIS if they are unsure of the action to take (see point 9).
4.6 Have robust, transparent and fair processes for dealing with allegations of misconduct that reflect best practice (see Annexe II of the Concordat)
See 4.1 The policy also outlines the process where another employer is involved (point 7). This year the University has implemented a reference system to facilitate more systematic recording of research misconduct allegations.
The University has also been involved in and agreed to adopt the Russell Group statement on joint investigations and integrate this into relevant collaboration agreements.
4.7 Ensure that all researchers are made aware of the relevant contacts and procedures for making allegation
This is covered within induction materials. There is also supporting information within the Research integrity Toolkit: Reporting Issues Section.
4.8 Act with no detriment to whistleblowers making allegations of misconduct in good faith
Anyone making allegations in good faith under the Research Misconduct Policy, Public Interest Disclosure Policy ‘Whistle Blowing’ or complaints procedure will explicitly not be penalised.
4.9 Provide information on investigations of research misconduct to funders of research and professional and/or statutory bodies as required by their conditions of grant and other legal, professional and statutory obligations.
4.10 Support their researchers
As noted in 3.1 Researchers are supported by robust processes, policies and practices. Researchers can access support from Heads of Departments, Directors of Research, Mentors, and research colleagues as well as by PSS staff in RIS and HR.
Where researchers are required to attend a misconduct interview, the revised procedure explicitly states that they may be accompanied by a colleague or Trade Union representative of their choice (see point 27).
Employers of researchers are recommended to:
4.11 Provide a named point of contact or recognise an appropriate third party to act as confidential liaison for whistleblowers or any other person wishing to raise concerns about the integrity of research being conducted under their auspices
The named contact under the Research Misconduct policy is the PVC-R, Professor Claire Warwick.
The named contact under the Public interest Disclosure Policy is the University Secretary Jennifer Sewel
4.12 Have clear expectations of what constitutes research misconduct
4.13 Ensure that recipients of funding are aware of requirements regarding the investigation and reporting of research misconduct, and that these are openly stated
Commitment #5: We are committed to working together to strengthen the integrity of research and to reviewing progress regularly and openly.
Employers of researchers should provide a short annual statement to their governing body that includes:
5.1 A summary of actions and activities that have been undertaken to support and strengthen understanding and application of research integrity issues (for example postgraduate and researcher training, or process reviews)
This document performs the required function.
5.2 Assurance that the processes they have in place for dealing with allegations of misconduct are transparent, robust and fair, and that they continue to be appropriate to the needs of the organisation
See Section 4.
5.3 A high-level statement on any formal investigations of research misconduct that have been undertaken
Staff: One formal allegation, not upheld.
Collaborative project involving misconduct not by Durham staff: Durham requested investigation from international partner institution, local outcome: not upheld, however Durham decided data was compromised and therefore not to be used.
Students: Two discipline cases considered, both upheld. One resulted in expulsion another in a forced resubmission with capped mark.
5.4 Periodically review their processes to ensure that they remain ‘fit for purpose’
As noted in 3.8 policies and processes remain under review, and formal review periods are built into all policies and support materials.
Funders of research, employers of researchers and other organisations should:
5.5 Work together to produce an annual narrative statement on research integrity.
Areas for Development 2017/18 - Progress
The following were highlighted in the 2016/17 report.
Areas of development
Map and assess the University’s current research training provision
This has been carried out for central training provision. Further work to map departmental provision will be carried forward to 2018/19.
Pilot of online ethics form, with a view to rolling this out as a common form for all departments
Pilot successfully completed
Add a page to the Ethics & Governance toolkit on common funder and professional body standards
The draft Ethics policy, expected to go into approvals in November 2017, should be used as a universal policy. It will be directly supported by the toolkit. Both the visibility and the utility of the policy will be much improved.
Add AWERB terms of reference to the Ethics committee webpages
Review of ethics training provision and needs analysis
System developments, including a new Research Administration System to be implemented during 2017/18, will provide an opportunity for process review and improvement, promoting greater consistency in application of policy, and to improve management reporting and tracking of activities.
3.1, 3.3, 3.5, 3.8
The online ethics system will improve reporting and tracking of ethical approvals.
A number of factors have delayed implementation of the new Research Administration System, so this area will be carried forward to 2018/19.
Include research integrity in new starter / induction materials
Ensure online training modules fully reflect changes to policy
Awaiting completion of the review of ethics training provision – carried forward to 2018/19
Liaise with Academic Office to ensure that Student Handbook fully reflects changes to policy
More systematic recording of research misconduct allegations
Areas for Development 2018/19
The following areas have been highlighted as being areas in which University practice, or in some cases recording, could be improved. Progress against these will be reported in the 2019 Assurance report.
Areas of development
Map and assess research training provision within faculties and departments
Roll out of online ethics form – to be offered to all departments
Complete review of ethics training provision and needs analysis
System developments, including a new Research Administration System to be implemented during 2018/19, will provide an opportunity for process review and improvement, promoting greater consistency in application of policy, and to improve management reporting and tracking of activities.
Development of a Due Diligence policy and tool which will review integrity issues as well as other governance considerations
Review Misconduct policy in light of Parliamentary Office of Science & technology report into research integrity and misconduct.