RCUK research integrity plans are watered down

May 7, 2009

The concept of a national body for research integrity with powers to investigate allegations of misconduct has been dealt a blow after universities showed little appetite for it.

The idea was mooted in a consultation document launched last July by Research Councils UK on how to improve the conduct of research. But in light of the sector's responses, RCUK has shied away from the idea. It said there were concerns that such a body would be "trespassing" upon employer responsibilities.

Plans for a single national body still stand, but only to offer advice and guidance. Primary responsibility for dealing with misconduct cases would "rightly" be left to institutions, RCUK said.

"We are having some discussions with Universities UK about what sort of body there should be, but we are not suggesting a ... regulatory or investigatory (one)," Glyn Davies, convenor of the RCUK's Good Research Conduct Group, told Times Higher Education.

He said the new body, which could come into effect as early as the end of this year, would combine the work of the UK Research Integrity Office and RCUK on the issue.

It may also collect data to determine the extent of systemic problems and - more controversially - keep a central record of proven cases of misconduct.

"This is something that should be reported (and) available to other employers. We need to work out a system for doing that," he said.

The near-final draft of a research misconduct policy has also been released by RCUK. It includes definitions of what is and is not acceptable and guidelines for how universities should investigate cases, recommending that they should not be terminated just because the individuals involved resign.

Aubrey Blumsohn, a campaigner for greater openness in research conduct, dismissed the plans.

"Experience from a multitude of cases has rudely shattered the idea that it will ever be possible for institutions to investigate themselves ... It is a bit like using a condom with hundreds of holes (in it) and calling it safe sex."

zoe.corbyn@tsleducation.com.

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