Durham University is a world-leading research-intensive University. We recognise the essential role that research integrity has in facilitating high quality research and ensuring the trust and engagement of our staff, partners, stakeholders and the public. We see research integrity as a core element of both personal action and University culture, which supports us to excel in delivering world leading research, impact and teaching. We also recognise that research integrity is an ongoing process and that we need to continue to review, evolve and improve our behaviours and the policies, practices and processes that underpin them. These is especially true as our research and partnerships become more complex, collaborative and international. The statement below outlines Durham University’s approach to research integrity, the actions taken in the last twelve months and activities we’ve identified on which to improve. The statement maps to the commitments in the concordat to support research integrity. You can find a detailed assessment of the University progress here.
The University continues to be committed to upholding high standards of integrity and rigour across its full research portfolio. This includes for student, staff and subcontractors across the full disciplinary spread.
We have reviewed our institutional standards and policies against the best practice identified in the concordat. We have identified that, although broadly in line with best practice, there are several areas where an update and review would be useful and the Research Integrity and Misconduct policies are scheduled for update in 2020/21.
Durham University has adopted the approach that as well as being an employer of researchers we also fund research in its own right. We have therefore embraced the responsibilities of funders identified in the concordat. We are reviewing our funding agreements to ensure that research integrity is explicitly mentioned and reviewed in all our internal funding schemes.
The Vice Provost (Research) has formal responsibility for research integrity, supported by Senior Committees, including Research Committees (central, faculty and departmental), Provost Board and Ethics Advisory Committee which review and agreed the concordat return and action plan. It is further supported at local level by key staff such as supervisors and Heads of Departments. This year we have taken additional steps to ensure the concordat is more comprehensively supported by bringing its development and support under the auspices of a Concordat implementation group (involving academic, research support, HR and other support services) which will have responsibility for drafting and actioning the annual action plan and statement.
The Research Integrity Toolkit continues to act as a general source of help and guidance. However, we have recognised, with the new concordat, the need for more role specific guidance and elements - this will be actioned in the forthcoming year.
Durham University’s expectations regarding ethical review and approval are established in our Ethics Policy. The Research Integrity Policy also sets out the responsibilities of researchers to adhere to 2 relevant ethical, legal and professional standards. A single online ethics form is now in use in all departments, ensuring that all factors identified as requiring ethical review are consistently addressed.
The Ethics Toolkit covers all areas of the Ethics Policy. This year, new guidance was developed on the review of projects involving overseas travel, and projects involving areas such as arms manufacture, fossil fuel extraction, tobacco, alcohol, gambling or pornography. Guidance was also developed for researchers on animal work outside the UK and working with animals in the wild, taking into account the University’s expectation that the UK’s standards of animal ethics and welfare should provide a baseline for all animal work undertaken in its name.
New training has been offered to all ethics reviewers to ensure awareness of the University’s policies and processes, as well as the key areas of ethical risk and the responsibilities of ethics committees. Training has also been delivered to supervisors on ethics process and key ethics and governance areas to consider for student projects.
An incident during the year indicated that not all researchers were fully aware of their responsibilities under the Human Tissue Act (HTA). In response to this, briefings have been given to ethics committees on the HTA, so that they are better placed to identify projects that come under the Act and ensure that Human Tissue Board approval is also sought where required.
All Research-related policies are reviewed on a two-year cycle as a minimum and substantive changes made in light of emerging practice or external developments.
Significant effort has been expended in recent years on ensuring that support for more complex research is in place. We work closely with collaborators and subcontractors to ensure that the highest standards are maintained in each project irrespective of who is undertaking work.
A key area on which we have focussed this year has been ensuring continued compliance with changing funder terms and conditions, and specifically ensuring that the work the institution supports as a funder is subject to appropriate standards.
Review of the concordat has highlighted that, as for ethics, having research integrity as a standing item on agendas will ensure that it is explicitly addressed and this is a core recommendation. A programme of briefings to committees including Faculty Boards and Faculty ethics Committees will be rolled out in 2020/21 with the new concordat and associated action plan as core content.
Creating a diverse and inclusive research environment is central to Durham University’s core values, and we are committed to developing a working culture which provides equality of opportunity for all researchers to reach their full potential regardless of their identity. All research staff (permanent and fixed term academic and research staff) are all required to submit their CVs for review for progression and promotion in an annual round. There was a 240% increase in research staff seeking promotion under the new process from 2018 (22 staff) to 2019 (75 staff) and 9 were promoted.
The University provides mentoring for both new and existing staff, and holds an HR Excellence in Research Award as part of the Concordat to support the Development of Researchers. Durham University will undergo its eight year review in September 2020.
Research integrity training remains a key area for development. Although this year has seen an expansion in training, particularly on ethics (as described above), we have identified that there is a need to develop resources for staff appropriate to different career stages and disciplines. The 3 University is working through forums such as UKRIO, the Russell Group integrity forum and the North East ethics and integrity group to pool resources in this area.
The full implementation of the online ethics form has also provided an opportunity to fully integrate governance processes and ensure greater levels of adherence and support. The implementation of new systems has further supported governance integration for funded projects.
The redevelopment of both the research integrity and misconduct policies, and the relaunch of the concordat will further raise awareness of research integrity matters.
We have set up representative task and finish groups in emergent areas such as metrics, open access and data to review, develop and evolve policies and practices to support research integrity. These include programs of work around best practice and support.
The Research Misconduct policy clearly outlines the processes, roles and expected behaviours of all those involved in an allegation of research misconduct and subsequent investigation. The policy was drawn up with reference to UKRIO guidance and provided a proportionate and appropriate way for the University to deal with such allegations. The policy will be reviewed in line with the Concordat in 2020/21.
Researchers are encouraged to seek advice where they become aware that behaviour, including their own, may have fallen short of the expected standards. Minor infractions and errors committed in good faith are addressed through support and training as appropriate. Care is taken to ensure that, when allegations are made, there are appropriate levels of confidentiality and safeguards to protect those making allegations in good faith, as well as protecting the reputation of individuals who are exonerated.
A further area of development is the need to bring together the University’s disparate Conflicts of Interest policies and registers into a unified process and register. This will ensure that there is a single point of reference and also enable more effective searching when required. The option for an annual update process will also be explored in 2020/21
No cases of academic misconduct by staff were raised in 2019/20. Three cases of academic misconduct by students were considered involving collusion, plagiarism, and examination cheating. In all cases penalties were applied. While there are no specific learning points arising directly from these cases, it is planned to review the student misconduct process in 2020/21.
We review our progress against the Concordat annually to compile the annual statement and evolve the more comprehensive mapping document. The annual review and submission is compiled at the Concordat Implementation Group (CIG), reviewed by Research Committee and agreed at Provost Board. Work streams from the action plan, progress and gaps are developed at CIG meetings.
RI briefings are provided to faculty ethics committees and departmental ethics chairs (as well as senior committees). In 2020/21 emphasis will be put on drawing out RI issues and identifying areas 4 where additional guidance will be beneficial, early areas identified include collaborative, international and defence.
Senior leadership, departmental management and support staff act as advocates for Research Integrity throughout the organisation. We have established a network of Senior Research Administrators to share best practice and strengthen research integrity across departments and the whole institution.
We are committed to working with other institutions to share expertise, resources and best practice through forums including the Russell Group Integrity Forum and UKRIO.
We have identified the need to ensure that matters of research integrity are more fully considered in student research, cross disciplinary research and areas of physical science where the principles are embedded but the language and terminology are less established.