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Research Misconduct Policy

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1. Policy Statement


1.1. Durham University is committed to maintaining the highest standards of research excellence and subscribes to the principles of the UUK Concordat to Support Research Integrity


1.2. This policy applies to anyone undertaking research under the auspices of Durham University. 


1.3. This policy supports the Research Integrity Policy and Code of Good Practice which sets out clear guidance for all staff and students on the University’s policy and procedures for the maintenance of good practice in research. 


1.4. This policy details examples of unacceptable conduct and explains the action which will be taken should an allegation of research misconduct be raised. 


1.5. This policy also references the UK Research Integrity Office Procedure for the Investigation of Misconduct in Research


2. Research Misconduct


2.1. Expected standards of research conduct are set out in the Research Integrity Policy and Code of Good Practice. Examples of unacceptable conduct are set out in an Appendix to this policy, and include but are not limited to: 

  • Fabrication 
  • Falsification 
  • Plagiarism 
  • Misrepresentation 
  • Failure to meet legal, ethical and professional obligations 
  • Improper dealing with allegations of misconduct 


2.2. Any allegations of research misconduct made against the University’s students will normally be treated under the procedures detailed in the General Regulations of the University, Section IV. For more complex cases, initial screening and investigation may follow the preliminary investigation outlined in this policy. 


2.3. Any allegations of research misconduct made against the University’s staff will normally be treated under the research misconduct procedure detailed below. 


2.4. If there is a concern of malpractice related to research but which may not constitute research misconduct under this Policy, for example regarding financial, procedural or governance issues, the concerns may be raised under the University's Statement on Whistle-blowing. 


3. Research misconduct procedure in brief


3.1. The University’s procedures are intended to assure both those who make allegations of research misconduct, and those against whom allegations are made, that any allegations will be taken seriously and investigated. The procedures for investigating allegations are briefly summarised as follows: 

A) An allegation of research misconduct is made to the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research) in writing.   

B) The PVC Research asks the relevant Faculty Executive Dean to arrange a preliminary investigation; the respondent is informed and given an opportunity to comment. 

C) Where the preliminary investigation finds a prima facie case which warrants a formal investigation, the PVC Research is notified and an investigation is referred to an independent panel, who will conduct interviews with the support and guidance of HR and RIS.  This investigation will follow the principles of the investigation stage of the University Disciplinary Regulations. 

D) If the investigation recommends that further action is warranted, the PVC Research will decide on the action to be taken in line with University policies and procedures, including the University Disciplinary Regulations. 


3.2. Notes:  


3.2.1. For the purposes of the procedures any reference to the PVC Research includes a senior member of their staff delegated to act on their behalf to ensure the proper conduct of these proceedings.  In the case of a complaint against the Vice-Provost (Research) or where the Vice-Provost (Research) has a conflict of interest, the complaint should be made to the Provost in writing and the Provost shall determine who shall be involved in subsequent stages.  


3.2.2. If there is no disagreement concerning the facts of the allegation because the member of staff has admitted to the research misconduct or there is clear evidence to support research misconduct took place, a preliminary investigation may not be necessary.  


3.2.3. HR are responsible for providing relevant advice and guidance on the process and conduct of the investigation, with particular reference to ensuring that all parties involved in the investigation are appropriately kept informed, are reminded to maintain confidentiality and that a record of the investigation is maintained. 


3.2.4. RIS are responsible for providing advice and guidance in relation to the research-related aspects of the investigation, and for ensuring that the requirements of funders or other external stakeholders in the research are met. 


3.2.5. Members of staff who are respondents or complainants may wish to seek advice from their Trade Union representative or support from a current Durham University colleague and access other forms of support such as the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), Occupational Health, and Health and Wellbeing Hub


4. Procedure for the Investigation of Allegations of Misconduct in Research against staff of University of Durham


4.1. Responsibilities of the University 

4.1.1. All allegations of research misconduct made against the University's staff will be taken seriously and investigated.  Those who raise concerns in good faith will not be penalised in any way for doing so. Findings of research misconduct are normally  considered under the University's Disciplinary Regulations.* 


4.1.2. Where an allegation of research misconduct results at any stage in the emergence of evidence of potential fraud or irregularity, the Head of University Assurance shall be informed immediately, as detailed under the University’s Fraud Response Plan*. The University reserves the right to contact the appropriate authorities as deemed necessary. 


4.1.3. Where an allegation of research misconduct results at any stage in the emergence of evidence of any other potential criminal activity, the PVC Research shall be informed immediately and the relevant authorities may also be informed. 


4.1.4. Some funding bodies have terms which require they are informed of investigations against a member of staff funded or engaged by them. RIS is responsible for ensuring that funding bodies are updated when an investigation reaches a stage at which notification is required by the funder (or when otherwise appropriate). 


4.1.5. In cases of serious allegations, consideration may be given to the suspension of the respondent in line with the requirements set out in the University’s Disciplinary Regulations, noting that a suspension is not a disciplinary measure or sanction.  The University may consider alternatives to suspension, for example temporary re-deployment, additional supervision or the restriction of duties and IT access, as is deemed appropriate in the circumstances. 


4.1.6. If required as part of any funding arrangements, any appropriate funding bodies may be advised.   


4.1.7. If, at any stage, the respondent leaves the University prior to the procedure under this Policy being concluded, the University reserves the right to continue with the relevant stage(s) of this Policy or any subsequent disciplinary action. If the respondent fails to engage in the process, they will be advised that the details of the outstanding case may be disclosed to any future employer, ‘bona fide’ enquirer, and may also be passed to any appropriate regulatory or professional supervisory body. 


4.1.8. If an allegation involves work which was carried out whilst employed by another institution, RIS may make contact with that institution so that the other institution can carry out an investigation. If the individual is linked to the University in another way, for example an honorary contract, the University will determine the most appropriate way to progress on a case by case basis.  Where an investigation may cross institutional boundaries, for example in allegations relating a collaborative project, the University will follow the principles set out in the Russell Group Statement of Cooperation in respect of cross-institutional research misconduct allegations


4.2. Confidentiality 


4.2.1. Where possible, allegations will be investigated in confidence. All those who are involved in the procedures for investigating an allegation, including witnesses, representatives, and persons providing information, evidence and/or advice, have a duty to maintain confidentiality. 


4.2.2. Where a complaint is made under this process which may more properly be investigated under an alternative process, information will be shared with relevant University officers to determine the appropriate process to take it forward. 


4.3. Initial Complaint 


4.3.1. If a member of the University or the public believes in good faith that potential research misconduct has occurred or is occurring, they should make a complaint against the member of staff concerning the alleged research misconduct. The complaint should normally be made in writing to the PVC Research.  Where the complaint is about the PVC Research or the PVC Research has a conflict of interest, the complaint should be made in writing to the Provost. If the complainant is unsure of the action to take, they may wish to seek advice from Research and Innovation Services. 


4.3.2. Individuals making a complaint are expected to identify themselves, as allegations raised anonymously can be significantly more difficult to address effectively. The University will not normally consider anonymous complaints. However, the University may investigate anonymous complaints taking into account the seriousness of the issue, and the likelihood of being able to carry out a meaningful investigation. 


4.3.3. If requested, in exceptional circumstances, the identity of the individual making the allegation will be kept confidential for as long as practically possible, and will only be disclosed in so far as is necessary for a meaningful investigation to take place. The individual making the allegation may be asked to make a statement or attend an investigatory meeting as part of the process.  


4.3.4. The University does not tolerate any retribution towards anyone raising a genuine concern. If at any stage the individual who made the allegation (the complainant) experiences any retribution for raising a genuine concern, this should be reported to the PVC Research (or to the Provost if the concern of retribution relates to the PVC Research). Anyone found to have deterred an individual from raising a serious concern will be treated as having committed a potential serious disciplinary offence. 


4.3.5. Failure by members of the University to fully engage with the requirements of this Policy and/or any subsequent misconduct process, may be considered a disciplinary issue. 


4.3.6. If the allegation is deemed to be malicious, unsupported and/or not made in good faith, the PVC Research may determine whether any subsequent action against the Complainant is necessary. 


4.4. Receipt of Allegations 


4.4.1. If the PVC Research receives a complaint of research misconduct against a member of staff, they will: 

a) Undertake an initial check to determine that the complaint is not trivial or malicious, and that the Research Misconduct process is the most appropriate route for further investigation.    


b) Immediately acknowledge the complaint and where appropriate request a detailed statement in writing from the complainant. The principles of confidentiality should be observed as outlined in point 9. The detailed statement should normally include sufficient information to allow the Respondent to comment and for a prima facie investigation to commence.  This may include relevant evidence to support the allegation, such as research data and proposals, publications, correspondence, emails and memoranda of telephone calls. It is important not to dissuade complainants from reporting concerns if such information is not freely available. If required, this information can be obtained from another source, such as the Head of Department.  It should be made clear that any relevant information and evidence provided would normally be shared with the respondent, and may be used if any further formal procedures are to be taken following the preliminary investigation. 


c) Except in cases where there is clear evidence to proceed immediately to formal investigation, for example where the individual has admitted to the research misconduct or there is other clear evidence associating the respondent to the misconduct, notify the relevant Executive Dean of the respondent and ask the Executive Dean, with the support and guidance of HR and RIS to arrange a preliminary investigation into the complaint. This preliminary investigation will normally be led by the Deputy Executive Dean (Research), with support from at least one other senior academic.  If the allegation is against an Executive Dean, the PVC Research will consult the Deputy Provost to agree an appropriate lead investigator.  Should any investigator have a conflict of interest then an alternative investigator shall be appointed. 


d) Notify HR and RIS of the allegation.  HR and RIS will advise the investigators as required and RIS may engage with funders and/or stakeholders if considered appropriate at this stage.  


4.5 Preliminary Investigation 


4.5.1. The purpose of the preliminary investigation is to establish the facts of the complaint, and decide whether there is a prima facie case to answer that warrants a full formal investigation, in accordance with the University Disciplinary Regulations. Normally the preliminary investigation will take no more than 14 days from receipt of the detailed statement.  The preliminary investigation should be undertaken discreetly and be mindful of the reputation of those involved. 


4.5.2. The respondent should be made aware of the allegation and the process being followed at the earliest opportunity.  They should be informed of next steps and be able to raise any points which they wish to be clarified. The respondent may wish to seek advice from their Trade Union representative and access other forms of support such as the Employee Assistance Programme* (EAP), Occupational Health, and Health and Wellbeing Hub at any point through the process. As part of the preliminary investigation the member of staff should be provided with the evidence (relevant parts redacted where anonymity has been requested) and allowed the opportunity to respond to the allegations. It should be made clear to the respondent that the preliminary investigation is to determine whether any further formal investigation may be required.   


4.5.3. Both respondent and complainant should normally be informed of who is undertaking the investigation. 


4.5.4. Those conducting the preliminary investigation shall consider all reasonable evidence available to decide if there is a prima facie case to answer. This may include but is not limited to relevant research data and proposals, publications, correspondence, e- mails and memoranda of telephone calls. If necessary to decide how to proceed, the investigator may seek further evidence and confidential advice from experts in the relevant subject. It may be deemed that if there is a prima facie case to answer, the above evidence, if vast and / or complex would be best considered as part of the formal investigation. 


4.5.5. Following this process, those who conducted the preliminary investigation may: 

a) Recommend that the allegation is unfounded or that there is insufficient grounds for further investigation. The PVC Research may, in consequence, dismiss the complaint and inform the respondent and the complainant accordingly.  

b) Recommend that the allegation is proven, but is too minor in nature to warrant a formal investigation.  The investigation may be concluded by recommending what action, if any, is required.   

c) Recommend that the allegation is proven but should be investigated through a relevant alternative formal process.  

d) Recommend that there is sufficient substance in the allegation to warrant a formal investigation of the complaint.   

i) Where there is sufficient evidence to warrant investigation relating to student conduct, the allegation will be treated as detailed under the General Regulations of the University, Section IV. 

ii) Where there is sufficient evidence to warrant investigation relating to staff conduct, the allegation will be treated under the formal investigation procedure in 4.6 below.   

iii) Where the person is a member of staff who is registered as a student (e.g. a Research Assistant), the panel may recommend action under i. or ii. as appropriate to the nature of the specific allegation. 

iv) Where the allegation substantively involves both staff and students, both i. and ii. may apply.  Such separate procedures will proceed in sequence, and investigation under 4.6 will normally proceed disciplinary procedures. 


4.5.6. Recommendations are considered by the PVC Research and they in turn make the final decision.  


4.5.7. Following the preliminary investigation, the investigator will make their preliminary findings available to the complainant and respondent.  


4.5.8. The PVC Research should notify HR, RIS, Executive Dean and Head of Department of the respondent of the outcome of the preliminary investigation. 


4.6. Formal Investigation 


4.6.1. If, after completing the preliminary investigation the PVC Research takes the decision that a formal investigation is necessary, the PVC Research will appoint an investigation panel to examine the allegations further. The panel should normally consist of a lead investigator, ideally internal to the University and with knowledge and experience of research, and at least two others, including a member external to the University.  At the discretion of the University, the external member may be appointed as chair.  The panel should include representation both from within and outside the relevant discipline and members must have appropriate qualifications and / or experience to be able to evaluate the issues under investigation.  


4.6.2. The members of the panel must not have a material conflict of interest in the case, and there will be a demonstrable separation from the normal management chain in which the alleged incident has arisen.  


4.6.3. The principles of the University Disciplinary Regulations* will be followed during the formal investigation and a HR representative will be allocated to support the investigators. If following this formal investigation it is decided that there is a disciplinary case to answer, this investigation will be deemed to be the relevant investigation under the University’s Disciplinary Regulations and no further investigation will be required. 


4.6.4. The purpose of the formal investigation is to gather relevant information to determine whether the allegations are substantiated, and recommend any further actions where necessary to: safeguard individuals; address any misconduct it may have found; correct the record of research, and/or safeguard the academic practices of the organisation. The panel will also determine if there is a potential disciplinary case to answer.  It is not the purpose of the investigation to decide whether a disciplinary offence has occurred or what sanction may be appropriate. 


4.6.5. It is important to carry out any such investigations of potential disciplinary matters without unnecessary delay to establish the facts of the case. An expected timeframe should be provided to the respondent at the beginning of the investigation and all parties should be kept updated if any significant fluctuations are experienced. The investigation panel will determine the relevant witnesses and relevant evidence required which could include documentary evidence such as laboratory notebooks, papers, witness statements, computer records, emails, and any other relevant materials. The complainant and respondent shall be advised of the right to be accompanied by a trade union representative or work colleague. For the avoidance of doubt, the work colleague must be an employee of Durham University. 


4.6.6. Upon the completion of the investigation, the lead investigator, with the support and agreement of other panel members, will submit a written report to the PVC Research which will contain recommendations, including whether or not a formal disciplinary hearing should be convened and whether the case is one for which dismissal should be considered as a potential sanction. The report will detail how the proceedings were conducted, the evidence which has been evaluated, accounts of interviews, the findings of the panel, conclusions and recommendations.  


4.6.7. During the investigation, the panel will keep all records and related evidence, securely and confidentially. Notes of interviews shall be shared with the interviewee(s) and where amendments/comments are made they will be held alongside the notes taken at the meeting. At the conclusion of the investigation, Human Resources will keep the records, securely and confidentially in accordance with legislation. 


4.6.8. The lead investigator will report their findings to the PVC Research and to the Faculty Executive Dean and Head of Department of the respondent. 


4.6.9. A copy (or relevant sections) of the report will be shared with the respondent and complainant in a timely manner. After this point the complainant will receive no further updates or communication on the case. 


4.7. Outcomes of the Formal Investigation 


4.7.1. If the investigator recommends that the allegations are substantiated, the PVC Research, in consultation with the Faculty Executive Dean, will decide what action needs to be taken; this may involve arranging a hearing under the University’s Disciplinary Regulation and / or other sanctions or outcomes. Outcomes may include: requesting a correction of the research record and reporting any action to regulatory and statutory bodies, research participants, funders or other professional bodies as circumstances, contractual obligations and statutory requirements dictate. 


4.7.2. If formal disciplinary procedures are to be convened, the University’s Disciplinary Regulation* will be followed. A panel would be convened to hear the case and if dismissal is contemplated as a possible outcome of the disciplinary hearing the member of staff must be advised of this in writing when invited to attend the hearing.  Any subsequent appeal against any disciplinary sanction, including dismissal, would also be considered under the Disciplinary Regulations. 


4.7.3. If the allegations are dismissed the respondent will be informed. The PVC Research, in consultation with the Faculty Executive Dean will judge whether any further action is required.  Consideration will be given to any steps required to preserve the good reputation of the respondent. 


4.7.4. Once the investigation is complete, RIS is responsible for ensuring that any relevant Council / Funding Body is notified of the outcome. 


4.7.5. If, after following formal disciplinary procedures, and in the event of a finding of research misconduct, where the respondent is subject to the regulation of a professional body such as the General Medical Council, the PVC Research in consultation with the Faculty ED shall consider whether the University is obliged to, or whether it is appropriate to, inform the professional body of any finding. 


4.7.6. In the event of a finding of misconduct, where the respondent has published research to which the misconduct relates, the PVC Research in consultation with the Faculty ED shall consider whether it is appropriate to inform the journal editors or others of any finding. 


4.7.7. The PVC Research, in consultation with the Faculty ED will judge whether any relevant information is required by any third parties; it is likely that the Communications Office will need to be briefed in order to respond to any media enquiries. 



Appendix One: Process Flow Chart

Research Misconduct Process Flow

Appendix Two: Research Misconduct Definition

Unacceptable conduct includes each of the following:

1) Fabrication

This includes making up results, other outputs (for example, artefacts) or aspects of research, including documentation and participant consent, and presenting and/or recording them as if they were real

2) Falsification

This includes inappropriately manipulating and/or selecting research processes, materials, equipment, data, imagery and/or consents

3) Plagiarism

This includes the general misappropriation or use of others’ ideas, intellectual property or work (written or otherwise), without acknowledgement or permission.

4) Misrepresentation, including misrepresentation of:

a) data, including suppression of relevant findings and/or data, or knowingly, recklessly or by gross negligence, presenting a flawed interpretation of data. This could include failure to reveal data/alternate points of view which do not support the original hypothesis, including withholding negative or unexpected research findings*;

b) publication history, through undisclosed duplication of publication, including undisclosed duplicate submission of manuscripts for publication;

c) misrepresentation of interests, including failure to declare competing interests of researchers or funders of a study;

d) qualifications, experience and/or credentials,

e) involvement, including inappropriate claims to authorship and/or attribution of work, and denial of authorship/attribution to persons who have made an appropriate contribution.

(*Note that embargos, while not regarded as suppression of data, require consideration, assessment, and formal approval by the University.)

5) Failure to meet legal, ethical and professional obligations, for example:

a) not observing University ethical policy / processes and legal, ethical and other requirements for human research participants or others impacted by the research, animal subjects, or human organs or tissue used in research, or for the protection of the environment or a material culture;

b) breach of duty of care for humans involved in research whether deliberately, recklessly or by gross negligence, including failure to obtain appropriate informed consent or placing any of those involved in research in danger, whether as subjects; participants or associated individuals, without appropriate safeguards; this includes reputational danger where that can be anticipated;

c) misuse of personal data or other confidential information, including inappropriate disclosures of the identity of individuals or groups involved in research, or other breaches of confidentiality;

d) improper conduct in peer review of research proposals or results (including manuscripts submitted for publication); this includes failure to disclose conflicts of interest; inadequate disclosure of clearly limited competence; misappropriation of the content of material; and breach of confidentiality or abuse of material provided in confidence for peer review purposes;

e) failure to maintain appropriate records to enable the verification of research

f) deliberately withholding data in contravention of University or funder requirements

g) failure to manage data according to the research funder’s contractual terms and all relevant legislation.

6. Improper dealing with allegations of misconduct, including:

a) failing to address possible infringements, including attempts to cover up misconduct, and reprisals against whistle-blowers;

b) failing to adhere appropriately to agreed procedures in the investigation of alleged research misconduct;

c) inappropriate censoring of parties through the use of legal instruments, such as non-disclosure agreements.​​​​​​​

This list is not exhaustive.