Procedure for the investigation of an allegation of research misconduct
The purpose of this procedure is to:
- Enable individuals to raise legitimate concerns relating to research misconduct
- Detail the procedure for concerns to be raised, investigated and, where appropriate, acted upon in a fair and transparent manner and in confidence if possible
- Demonstrate that where staff or research students believe it is necessary to make an allegation of research misconduct, this will be taken seriously by the University and in accordance with the Policy and Procedures on Public Interest Disclosure
- Ensure the confidence of all parties (including Research Councils and other funding bodies, individuals making an allegation, students, staff etc.) that the University maintains the highest standards of research integrity
The gathering and assessment of information in cases of alleged research misconduct can be extremely difficult. It is essential to protect the professional reputations of those involved, as well as the interests of the public and of any who might be harmed by the alleged research misconduct. In the course of conducting enquiries or investigations, the following provisions are applicable:
- Individuals against whom allegations of research misconduct have been made will be provided with full details of the allegations(s) in writing and provided with the opportunity to respond to them including provision for asking questions, presenting evidence, calling relevant witnesses and providing responses to information presented
- Expert assistance should be sought as necessary to conduct a thorough and authoritative evaluation of all evidence
- Precautions should be taken to avoid real or apparent conflicts of interest on the part of those involved in the Preliminary Enquiry or Formal Investigation
- The confidentiality of individuals against whom allegations of research misconduct have been made and, if they wish it, that of those who in good faith report the alleged misconduct, should be protected as far as possible, and care should be taken to protect their positions and reputations
- Except as required in the reporting provision above, only those directly involved in an enquiry or investigation should be aware that the process is being conducted or have any access to information obtained during its course
- Where appropriate, efforts should be made to restore the reputations of those against whom allegations of research misconduct have been made when they are not considered to be founded
- Allegations of research misconduct may be brought to the attention of the University internally or externally by an individual or by an organisation. This policy and procedure applies to all those undertaking research under the University's auspices. This includes both research undertaken on the University's premises using its facilities, and research undertaken on its behalf, by staff, research students, visiting or emeritus staff, associates, honorary or clinical contract holders, contractors and consultants. It applies across all subject disciplines and fields of study. Allegations of misconduct by research students in part of their formal assessments (including but not limited to Annual Reviews of Progress, Thesis and Oral Examination) will be dealt with under the Assessment Misconduct Policy for PGRs in the University's Policy on Research Degrees. Allegations of research misconduct involving research students, outwith the assessment process fall under this procedure for investigation. Where there is doubt, this policy takes precedence.
- Where a member of staff is also a research student and their employment is research related, the staffing elements of the policy will take precedence.
- The University is only empowered to investigate activities that have occurred within its precincts or that have been undertaken on its behalf but if necessary, it may request that the employing organisation either cooperates in the investigation or undertakes its own investigation. This will also apply in the case of researchers who are employed by other HEIs but who are undertaking research on University premises.
- It applies across all subject disciplines and fields of study. All members of staff and students authorised to work in University premises, have a responsibility to report to the University any concerns about Research Misconduct, whether this has been witnessed or for which there are reasonable grounds for suspicion.
- To make a complaint of Research Misconduct, the individual (referred to as the complainant) should write to their Head of Department (HoD) stating that they wish to make a complaint of research misconduct. The complainant should provide as full details as possible in writing regarding the allegation, including confirmation of the individual against whom the allegation is being made (referred to as the respondent) and the exact nature of the complaint with any and all evidence available to them.
- The individual against whom allegations of research misconduct have been made will be informed.
- If the complaint is against the individual's HoD (or within the HoD's research group) it should be made directly to the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research (PVCR) and this should be reported in the notification to the PVCR; if it is against the PVCR it should be made directly to the Vice-Chancellor (VC) who will appoint another senior manager to act in the case. The HoD will identify any outside funding source(s) for the research
- If the complaint is from a member of staff in another department within the University, s/he should raise this with the HoD of the individual against whom the complaint is being made
- If an individual is considering raising a complaint about research misconduct but is not sure whether it falls within this definition, they should discuss this with their Principal Investigator (PI) or HoD in the first instance. The PVC for Research is the named contact point for confidential liaison for whistleblowers or any other person wishing to raise concerns.
- Concerns relating to research misconduct raised by others external to the University should be referred to the PVCR in the first instance
- The HoD will advise the PVCR that allegations of research misconduct have been made and seek advice from the Research Strategy and Policy Office. RSP will inform the Research Grants and Contracts Office - when required - and the HR Partner or HR Advisor for staff matters. In the case of a Research Student, the HoD should also inform the Dean of the Graduate Research School. The HoD will request the Chair of the Departmental Research Committee (CDRC) - or an alternative senior member of academic staff - to carry out a preliminary enquiry. The HR Partner or HR Advisor will provide advice and support to the CDRC when carrying out a Preliminary Enquiry and Formal Investigation. In the case of a Research Student, the Research Student Administration will provide advice and support.
- The Head of Department will conduct a formal investigation. For ease of reference, the HoD is referred to as the Investigating Officer (IO) for the formal investigation.
- If after commencing this procedure, the HoD/IO in conjunction with the HR Partner considers that the case in question should be dealt with under an alternative procedure - for example the Capability Procedure - this may be discussed with the PVCR and the Director of HR and the case may be transferred to a different procedure. In the case of a Research Student, this will be discussed by Research Student Administration with the PVCR and the Dean of the Graduate Research School
- The respondent may also make representations regarding the procedure to be followed
- In cases of disagreement the PVCR and Director of HR will determine the appropriate procedure to be followed and there shall be no appeal against that decision. In the case of a Research Student, the PVCR and the Dean of the Graduate Research School will determine the appropriate procedure and there shall be no appeal against that decision
- Those involved will be informed of the reasons for the movement between procedures
- There may be occasions when as a consequence of information obtained under one procedure it is appropriate to initiate action under an alternative procedure
- Investigations that have been undertaken in one procedure may be used as and where appropriate to inform another procedure
E. Involvement of HR, Research Strategy and Policy Office (RSPO) and Research Grants and Contracts Office (RGCO)
- As a general principle, on receipt of an allegation of Research Misconduct the HoD should inform the PVC for Research and seek advice from the Research Strategy and Policy Office who will inform the Research Grants and Contracts Office - when required - and the HR Partner or HR Advisor. In the case of a Research Student, the HoD should also inform the Dean of the Graduate Research School. The HoD will request the Chair of the Departmental Research Committee (CDRC) or an alternative senior member of academic staff to carry out a preliminary enquiry. The HR Partner or HR Advisor will provide advice and support to the Chair of the Departmental Research Committee (CDRC) when carrying out a preliminary enquiry In the case of a Research Student, the Research Student Administration will provide advice and support.
- In any event, RGCO will be advised when allegations of research misconduct are deemed to warrant formal investigation
- The University will work with partner institutions to ensure the agreement of, and compliance with, agreed standards and procedures for the conduct of collaborative research, including the resolution of any issues or problems that may arise and the investigation of any allegations of research misconduct.
- There are 2 stages to the procedure detailed below with clarification of the principles and processes applying to each stage
Stage 1 - Preliminary enquiry by the Chair of the Departmental Research Committee - Principles
- The preliminary enquiry will be the responsibility of a senior member of the University - usually the Chair of the Departmental Research Committee (CDRC) - though this may be an alternative senior member of academic staff
- The CDRC may seek advice where necessary from an independent expert
- Normally it is in the best interests of all parties to discuss an allegation informally and the CDRC will enquire into the allegation and decide if there is a case that requires formal investigation, contacting the respondent and involving any other parties as appropriate. The CDRC should discuss any queries informally with the RSPO at as early a stage as possible
- The preliminary enquiry will determine whether the matter may be resolved or whether a formal investigation is necessary
- Requests to be accompanied by a work colleague or trade union representative or student representative in the case of Research Student during the informal stage of the procedure shall be considered, where this is likely to assist in the resolution of the case
- Where evidence from the preliminary enquiry indicates that unacceptable conduct may have occurred, the procedure provides for a more detailed, formal investigation
- The CDRC should seek advice from the Research Strategy and Policy Office who will inform the Research Grants and Contracts Office - when required - and the HR Partner or HR Advisor. The HR Partner or HR Advisor will provide advice and support to the CDRC when carrying out a preliminary enquiry. In the case of a Research Student, the Research Student Administration will provide advice and support.
Stage 1 - Preliminary enquiry - Process to be followed
- On receipt of a complaint of research misconduct, the HoD will inform the PVCR of the allegations and - where practicable - request the CDRC to attempt to informally enquire into and resolve the matter
- The respondent will be informed of the allegations unless the CDRC is able to determine very easily and evidently that there is no substance to the allegation that has been made
- The CDRC will meet separately with the complainant and any other relevant individuals to establish full details of the complaint
- The CDRC will meet with the respondent and any other relevant individuals who will be invited to respond to the allegations
- The CDRC will produce a draft report of the preliminary enquiry which should include sufficient detail to enable an assessment of the determination of whether or not a full, formal investigation is necessary
- The respondent will be provided with a copy of the draft report and be given an opportunity to comment on the findings
- The complainant will also receive the portions of the draft report which concern his/her role and/or views and will be given an opportunity to comment on the findings
- Comments on the draft report from the respondent or the complainant should be appended to the final report
- The CDRC will produce a final report which will include any comments made by the respondent in response to the draft report and made by the complainant in response to the relevant sections of the draft report
- The final report should be submitted to the HoD and PVCR within 60 days of receipt of the complaint. A discussion about timescales will take place between the HoD, CDRC and the HR Partner or HR Advisor, or in the case of a Research Students with Research Student Administration, at the beginning of a Preliminary Enquiry so that where possible and appropriate this timescale will be reduced. If this timescale is not possible in a particular case, the reasons should be documented and the PVCR informed
- The report should include the following:
- a) details of the allegation(s)
- b) a brief description of the process followed
- c) details of how, from whom and what information was obtained
- d) whether the CDRC considers a formal investigation is necessary and the basis for this
- e) appendices of relevant documents
- The CDRC will recommend to the HoD and PVCR whether a formal investigation is warranted. The PVCR will consider the CDRC's recommendation and decide on next steps.
- At any time during Stage 1, the CDRC may discuss with the HoD and PVCR if s/he thinks the Investigation Stage (Stage 2) of the procedure should be invoked
The documentation should include sufficient detail to permit an assessment of whether or not a formal investigation is necessary
Stage 2 - Formal Investigation by the Head of Department - Principles
Where evidence from the preliminary enquiry indicates that unacceptable conduct may have occurred, this will proceed to a formal investigation. The formal investigation will usually be undertaken by the Head of Department (HOD) unless there are particular reasons against this. The individual undertaking a formal investigation is referred to as the Investigating Officer. The PVCR will decide who should undertake a formal investigation.
- An investigation is a formal examination and evaluation of relevant evidence to determine whether or not - on the balance of probability - research misconduct has taken place
- The formal investigation will begin within 30 days of the completion of the preliminary enquiry, if this is not possible, the PVCR should be notified
- The investigation should be completed and the final report sent to the PVCR within 90 days.
- A discussion about these timescales will take place between the PVCR, the HoD and the HR Partner or HR Advisor at the beginning of a Formal Investigation, or in the case of a Research Students with Research Student Administration, so that where possible and appropriate these timescales will be reduced. If an investigation cannot be completed within this timescale, the PVCR should be notified as soon as possible
- The investigative process must be thorough, fair and - as far as reasonably practicable - protective of the confidentiality and reputations of all participants
- The HR Partner for the department , or in the case of a Research Students, Research Student Administration, will support the Investigating Officer throughout the formal investigation process
- Professional advice - on a confidential basis - should be sought from the University's Research Strategy and Policy Office, the Research Grants and Contracts Office and/or other specialist advisors as required
Stage 2 - Formal Investigation - Process to be followed
- An investigation will normally include an examination of all documentation, including but not limited to relevant research data and proposals, publications, correspondence, file notes of telephone calls and email exchanges. It may be necessary for the IO to seek external advice in order to assess the data
- Those making allegations, those against whom allegations have been made, and those who may have information related to the matter should be interviewed. Notes of each interview should be provided to the individual being questioned and any comments should be appended to the summary, or reflected in a revised summary if the IO agrees
- All relevant issues should be pursued until the IO is reasonably certain that s/he has obtained all necessary and available information
- A draft written report of findings should be made available to the respondent
- The complainant should also receive the portions of the draft report which concern his/her role and/or views
- Comments on the draft from the respondent or the complainant should be appended to the final report.
NOTE: If there is more than one individual against whom complaints have been made, and their involvement is found not to be identical, separate draft reports should be prepared if practicable, in order to maintain confidentiality.
- In addition to the interview summaries and comments by the respondent and complainant on the draft report, the final report should include the following:
- a) background and context including details of the allegation(s)
- b) a description of the process followed
- c) how, from whom and what relevant information was obtained
- d) the findings and basis for them
- e) conclusions and recommendations - examples are detailed below
- f) appendices of relevant documents
Conclusions and recommendations
Conclusions and recommendations, which are not exhaustive, may include the following:
- The evidence has established that research misconduct has not taken place and the allegation is unfounded
- The evidence has established that research misconduct has not taken place but that there appears to be a capability or competency issue which may be resolved through stated recommended actions including referral for consideration under the University's Capability Procedure. In the case of a Research Student this will be addressed via a report to the Pro Vice Chancellor for Research and Dean of the Graduate Research School who will make recommendations to the Special Cases Committee.
- The evidence has established that research misconduct has taken place and it is recommended that action is taken forward under the University's Disciplinary Procedure. In the case of a Research Student this matter will be referred to the Special Cases Committee via the Pro Vice Chancellor for Research and Dean of the Graduate Research School.
- There is insufficient evidence to reach a definitive conclusion, setting out the reasoning for this and recommending any possible methods for closure
Burden of proof
In accordance with standards expected in employment legislation and the University's employment procedures, the burden of proof to be established for investigations of research misconduct is the "balance of probability". The same burden of proof will apply to in relation to cases involving Research Students. In order to be in a position to recommend an individual has a disciplinary case to answer, the Investigating Officer needs to have arrived at a genuine belief based on reasonable grounds following a thorough investigation.
The final report will be provided by the IO to the PVCR. If the IO considers that there is a disciplinary case to answer, the PVCR will determine whether the matter should be referred for consideration under the University's Disciplinary Procedure. In the case of a Research Student the Final Report will be submitted to the Special Cases Committee
Outcome of formal investigation - referral for consideration under the University's Disciplinary Procedure
- If the PVCR accepts the recommendation that the staff respondent has a disciplinary case to answer, s/he will discuss this with the HR Partner and a senior member of the University who has not previously been involved will be appointed to consider the case under the University's Disciplinary Procedure.
- In accordance with the Disciplinary Procedure "Point 5. Investigation" the formal investigation report will be provided to the senior member of staff who will consider whether s/he has sufficient information and evidence to proceed straight to a disciplinary hearing or whether additional information is needed
- If more information is needed this will be sought prior to a hearing taking place. Once all the evidence is available, the senior member of staff will convene a Disciplinary Hearing in accordance with the Disciplinary Procedure "Point 6. Disciplinary Hearing"
- When the disciplinary procedure has been completed including - if appropriate - the issue of a formal sanction, the outcome will be notified to the PVCR who may consider if any further actions are necessary - such as those detailed under point 6 Other Outcomes of an Investigation
- In the case of Research Students, the PVCR and Dean for the Graduate Research School will discuss the case and make a recommendation to the Special Cases Committee to consider the case under Regulation 2.6(e)
- If termination of a preliminary enquiry or formal investigation before its completion is envisaged for any reason, this should be reported and discussed with the PVCR. The resignation or withdrawal from study of the respondent will not preclude conclusion of a formal investigation
- In addition, the PVCR should be advised as soon as possible if any of the following circumstances come to light:
- an immediate health hazard
- an immediate need to protect University or an external agencies funds or equipment
- an immediate need to protect those making the allegation, those complained against or any of their associates
- evidence of practice which breaches the University's ethical framework as outlined in the Code of practice and principles for good ethical governance. Incidents involving personal data should also be reported to the University's Data Protection Officer.
- a reasonable indication of a possible criminal act.
The PVCR should consider whether to suspend the research project for the duration of the investigation.
- If, during an investigation, information comes to light that could affect current or potential funding of the individuals under investigation, or that may, in the HoD's/IO's judgement, need to be disclosed in order to ensure appropriate use of research funds or protection of the public interest, this information should be reported to the PVCR as soon as possible.
- The University will comply with the requirements and regulations of its funding bodies in relation to notification of formal investigations into allegations of research misconduct. The PVCR will make the decision whether information about the allegations will be disclosed to specific parties, including the research funder.
- Other measures may be taken following the conclusion of an investigation into allegations of research misconduct, which may include the following; the need for confidentiality should be stressed as appropriate. These will involve relevant staff from the Research Strategy and Policy Office (in relation to processes) and Research Grants and Contracts Office (in relation to external funders and research outputs) Human Resources (in relation to information concerning a member of staff) and the Dean for the Graduate Research School (in relation to information concerning a Research Student) who will advise the PVCR as appropriate:
- Termination of the research project, including abrogation of the research findings
- Requirement for retraction/correction of articles in journals
- Withdrawal/repayment of funding
- Notifying misconduct to regulatory bodies
- Notifying other employing organisations
- Notifying other organisations involved in the research, such as - but not limited to - the following:
- professional bodies
- publishers and
- research partners
- Notifying the police of a possible criminal act
- Consideration of implications for other projects the researcher has been and is involved in
- Adding a note of the outcome of the investigation to a researcher's file for any future requests for references and/or
- Review internal governance and/or training and/or supervisory procedures for research
- Review of lessons learned from cases of allegations of research misconduct by the Department, RSPO, RGCO (if necessary), HR and other relevant parties