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Managing and Investigating Potential Breaches of the Research Code Policy

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Section 1 - Purpose

(1) This Policy outlines the principles for handling any concerns, complaints or allegations about the conduct or practice of research at the University of Wollongong (‘the University’).

(2) The Policy facilitates compliance of the University research activities with The Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research (2018) (“the Code”) and the supporting Guides, including the Guide to Managing and Investigating Potential Breaches of the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research (“the Guide”).

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Section 2 - Application & Scope

(3) This Policy applies to departures from the principles and responsibilities of the Code by researchers which are referred to as “breaches”.

(4) This Policy should be read in conjunction with other University Policies and Procedures including the Code of Practice – Responsible Conduct of Research, the Managing and Investigating Potential Breaches of the Research Code Procedure; relevant legislation and external documents including the Code and the the Guide.

(5) If a person has more than one role at the University (e.g., a student is also a Staff Member or vice versa) this Policy will apply to the role most relevant to the concern or complaint.

(6) All staff and students must report suspected breaches of the Code, and a failure to report suspected breaches of the Code may be considered a breach of the Code.

(7) The following concerns or complaints may be addressed in accordance with other relevant University policy documents:

  1. concerns or complaints that do not meet the application and scope of this Policy;
  2. concerns or complaints that may constitute fraud or corruption;
  3. concerns or complaints that may constitute a breach of The University Code of Conduct and related policies;
  4. concerns or complaints that may constitute a breach of Student Conduct Rules; or
  5. concerns or complaints that may involve a Public Interest Disclosure, as that term is defined in the Serious Wrongdoing Reporting Policy.
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Section 3 - Policy Principles

(8) This Policy is aligned to the Code and the Guide.

(9) The Code indicates that potential breaches occur on a spectrum from minor (less serious) to major (more serious). The level of investigation and any consequential corrective or disciplinary actions will reflect the seriousness of the potential breach. For example, the more serious the potential conduct the more serious the potential consequences for the respondent.

(10) The principles of procedural fairness apply to all stages of managing and investigating potential breaches of the Code. The principles encapsulate the following:

  1. the hearing rule: an opportunity to be heard;
  2. the rule against bias: decision-makers will bring an impartial mind to their task and be perceived as such (free from actual bias and apprehended bias); and
  3. the evidence rule: decisions are based on evidence.

(11) The University will ensure that initial assessments and investigations are:

  1. proportional:
    1. assessments and investigations and subsequent actions need to be proportional to the extent of the potential breach of the Code;
  2. fair:
    1. assessments and investigations need to afford procedural fairness to respondents; and
    2. where appropriate, complainants and others who may be adversely affected by any investigation;
  3. impartial: 
    1. assessment officers, investigators and decision-makers are to be impartial and declare any interests that do, may, or may be perceived to jeopardise their impartiality;
    2. These interests are to be appropriately managed;
  4. timely:
    1. assessments and investigations into potential breaches should be conducted in a timely manner to avoid undue delays and to mitigate the impact on those involved;
  5. transparent:
    1. information about institutional processes should be readily available and/or provided to respondents, complainants, all employees and students engaged in research;
    2. institutions need to ensure accurate records are maintained for all parts of the process, with records held centrally and in accordance with relevant legislation; and
  6. confidential: 
    1. information will be treated as confidential and not disclosed unless required.

(12) Findings of a breach of the Code must be made by applying the civil standard of proof. That is, on the balance of probabilities, based on available evidence, it must be more probable that a breach has occurred than it has not.

(13) The safety and wellbeing of advice seekers, complainants, respondents, witnesses, the panel and staff is a key concern for The University and support will be offered where available and as appropriate.

(14) The University will endeavour to manage and investigate potential breaches of the Code by providing, for example: 

  1. procedural fairness;  
  2. cultural safety;  
  3. physical and/or digital settings that are safe;  
  4. interpersonal interactions that promote a sense of safety;  
  5. information about support and support persons for students and HDR candidates;  
  6. information about support and support persons for staff; and 
  7. transparent processes.

(15) Managing potential breaches of the Code should be guided by the University Risk Management Framework and Guidelines.

(16) University staff involved in managing and investigating potential breaches of the Code should be identified to complainants and respondents.

(17) Victimisation of, or detrimental action against a person for reporting or otherwise being involved in the investigation of a potential breach of the Code will not be tolerated, per the University Code of Conduct.

(18) Actual, potential, or perceived conflicts of interest will be disclosed and managed, per the Conflict of Interest Policy.

(19) The University accepts anonymous complaints and aims to investigate where possible. However, if there is insufficient or unclear detail provided, the University may decide not to pursue the complaint.

(20) Complainants may request that their identity be withheld at any, and all, steps in the procedure. Whenever possible, this request will be agreed to however the need to provide procedural fairness must also be considered. There may be some instances where the matter of a complaint is so personalised, it is not possible to progress a complaint without the complainant being easily identifiable.

(21) Honest differences in judgement and unintentional errors do not usually constitute research misconduct unless they result from behaviour that is found to be reckless or negligent.

(22) Repeated or persistent breaches that, in isolation, may be regarded as “minor”, can collectively constitute a serious breach in some circumstances.

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Section 4 - Confidentiality, Privacy and Record Keeping

(23) The University will take all reasonable steps to ensure that information relating to reports of suspected breaches of the Code is handled in a confidential manner and in accordance with its privacy obligations, unless an exception applies under law.

(24) The collection and use of an individual’s personal information will be limited, to the extent that is reasonably necessary, in order to deal with reports of suspected breaches of the Code in line with the University’s relevant policies and processes.

(25) Information will not be released outside the University unless the individual to whom the information relates provides consent, or the release is otherwise permitted or authorised under law, such as where:

  1. it is necessary to prevent a serious and imminent threat to the life, health or safety of any individual;
  2. the University has a legal obligation to release the information, such as under subpoena; or
  3. there is a legal requirement to report to relevant agencies, such as NSW Police or funding agencies.

(26) Records relating to reports of suspected breaches of the Code to the University will be retained in accordance with the Records Management Policy.

(27) Non-identifying information will be used by the University to monitor trends on campus, inform our support strategies and design educational and preventative campaigns.

(28) All parties must be informed of their responsibility to maintain confidentiality. In some circumstances, information relating to a complaint may be discussed with a third party, for example:

  1. with a Research Integrity Advisor;
  2. a support person; or
  3. medical practitioners or counsellors who are bound by confidentiality codes when seeking confidential expert advice in relation to the matter.
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Section 5 - Roles and Responsibilities

(29) The University has a responsibility to:

  1. abide by the Code, and the Code of Practice - Responsible Conduct of Research, which articulate the responsibilities that institutions and researchers are expected to follow;
  2. demonstrate processes that enable a complainant to lodge concerns formally with the knowledge these will be addressed confidentially and sensitively and with care to avoid any adverse consequences for the individual;
  3. have robust, equitable and fair processes in place for investigating concerns, complaints or allegations of breaches of the Code and this Policy;
  4. where available, and as appropriate, provide reasonable support to complainants and respondents;
  5. appoint Research Integrity Officers (RIOs) and Research Integrity Advisors (RIAs);
  6. ensure those involved in the management and investigation of potential breaches of the Code have the necessary skills and are appropriately resourced;
  7. determine the appropriate composition of any investigation panel;
  8. address any systemic issues relating to matters of research integrity and implement corrective actions as necessary;
  9. consider advising other institutions of the outcome of a preliminary assessment or investigation where appropriate, having regard to privacy considerations; and
  10. ensure that a report on formal complaints and allegations regarding potential breaches of the Code is made to the Risk, Audit and Compliance Committee (RACC).

(30) University staff and students, including researchers, have a responsibility to:

  1. abide by the Code, and the Code of Practice - Responsible Conduct of Research, which articulate the responsibilities that institutions and researchers are expected to follow;
  2. comply with this Policy and the University Code of Conduct;
  3. ensure that research conduct and practices reflect the principles and responsibilities as set out in the Code and this Policy; and
  4. report any concerns or suspected breaches of the Code to appropriate channels.

(31) Faculty, Institutes and Divisions (and their component units) have a responsibility to:

  1. comply with this Policy;
  2. ensure that research conduct and practices reflect the principles and responsibilities as set out in the Code and this Policy;
  3. report any concerns or suspected breaches of the Code; and
  4. nominate a least one (1) person for each major unit (e.g. School/Institute) to the role of Research Integrity Advisor.

(32) Research Integrity Advisors roles are described in the Research Integrity Advisors Guide, and the University Research Integrity Advisors Handbook.

(33) Specific roles and responsibilities of those involved in managing, assessing, investigating concerns and complaints, and facilitating the implementation of any corrective actions identified in relation to research activities at the University, are detailed in the University Managing and Investigating Potential Breaches of the Research Code Procedure.

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Section 6 - Definitions

Word/Term
Definition (with examples if required)
ARC
Australian Research Council
Breach
Behaviour that fails to meet the principles or responsibilities of the Code, or fails to comply with relevant policies or legislation. May be used to refer to a single breach or multiple breaches.*
NHMRC
National Health and Medical Research Council
Processes
Includes reference to policies, procedures, guidelines and standards.*
Research
The creation of new knowledge and/or the use of existing knowledge in a new and creative way so as to generate new concepts, methodologies, inventions and understandings. This could include synthesis and analysis of previous research to the extent that it is new and creative.
 
Researcher
Staff member, occupational trainees, visiting student, visiting fellow, volunteer, industry fellow, honorary and adjunct title holders, Emeritus Professors, professional staff, visiting students and all students registered for any course at the University who conduct research at or on behalf of the University.
Research Integrity Advisor (RIA)
Person appointed to promote the responsible conduct of research and provide advice to those with concerns or complaints about potential breaches of the Code. This person will have research experience, knowledge of University policies and procedures, external legislation, obligations and familiarity with acceptable research practices. This role does not extend to the investigation or assessment of a complaint or concern.
Research Misconduct
A serious breach of the Code which is also intentional or reckless or negligent.
Staff Member
All persons appointed as an academic or professional staff member of the University, whether they hold full-time, part-time, casual, contract or conjoint appointments.
The Code
The Australian Research Council / National Health and Medical Research Council’s Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research and the ARC / NHRMC Code or The Code for short.
The University
University of Wollongong
Visiting Fellow
Honorary and visiting fellows appointed by UOW to non-salaried, full-time or fractional positions titled “Associate Fellow”, “Fellow”, “Senior Fellow”, “Principal Fellow”, “Professorial Fellow”, “Visiting Fellow”, or “Research Fellow” who are not Visiting Students or Volunteers.
Visiting Student
A student who undertakes part of their research or training at UOW but who is not registered at UOW.
Volunteer
A person who is not a Fellow, Visiting Student, Staff Member or Student of UOW but is working on a UOW project in a voluntary capacity. An example of a volunteer is someone who is undertaking unpaid work experience at UOW or is doing an internship at UOW. A collaborating colleague from another University or research institution is not a Volunteer.