Making integrity integral to research

The multi-sited, collaborative nature of contemporary academic research, combined with the expanded compliance requirements of funding agencies and research sponsors, has resulted in heightened concerns about research integrity for individual researchers and the university. Recognising these trends, UCT has adopted a comprehensive approach to research integrity as integral to scholarly success.

The Office of Research Integrity (ORI) was established in 2013 to provide integrated management of UCT’s research ethics programmes and related matters of research administration, promoting best practices and the responsible conduct of research. Among its duties, the office is responsible for providing support, practical resources, education and training to various stakeholders – student and faculty researchers, ethics committee members and chairs, and administrative colleagues whose work presents an interface with research. The faculty-level committees and their chairpersons provide a front-line service that evaluates faculty-specific protocols and that can be sensitive to the conventions of specific academic disciplines for matters such as authorship disputes.

An important project for the ORI has been contributing to the enhancement of policies for the responsible conduct of research. The revised, university-wide conflicts of interest policy was adopted in late 2013. It relates to both financial and other conflicts that have a potential impact on research and teaching responsibilities. The ORI has also contributed to the drafting and review of a revised policy on academic misconduct and a standard operating procedure for research access to students, staff and individually identifiable data about students and staff.

The ORI’s remit extends beyond the internal concerns of the university. In late 2013, it led a comment on behalf of UCT regarding the draft National Institutes of Health (NIH) policy on the sharing of genomic data in the USA.  With the generous contributions of colleagues in the faculties, this was the first time, to the knowledge of the group of authors, that UCT had commented on a pending matter of US federal policy with implications for UCT research. UCT emphasised, among other points and with an African perspective, that global resources are made “global” not solely by the points of origin that their contents represent, but also by broad and equitable access and dissemination policies supporting researchers in sites all around the world.

The ORI’s other activities have included the preparation of template guidance for the ethics portions of NRF research proposals, participation in the evaluation and resolution of various authorship disagreements, and consultation on matters that were pending with faculty-specific research ethics committees. UCT has identified training topics for 2014 and has already led an initial seminar about the responsible conduct of research at the university – many more are to follow.

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