Annual statement on research integrity: 2019 - 2020

This statement forms part of the University’s commitment to outline the work undertaken to further strengthen the integrity of the University’s research.

University contacts for research integrity

The University’s Research Integrity and Governance Committee oversees the integrity of the University’s research on behalf of the University Council. The University’s ‘Named Person for Research Integrity' (Professor Elizabeth Perkins) oversees the University’s research misconduct process, and acts as a first point of contact for anyone wanting more information on matters of research integrity.

The University recognises that concerns relating to research integrity can be complex, challenging and highly sensitive; and can impact upon the emotional and mental wellbeing of those involved.

Any person wishing to confidentially raise concerns about the integrity of research being conducted under the auspices of the University can do so through the Named Person by emailing integrity@liverpool.ac.uk as part of the University’s Policy on Misconduct in Research. Concerns can also be raised initially at a local level via, or with the assistance of, an intermediary such as a Line Manager, Tutor or Supervisor, Head of School, Trade Union representative, Guild Advice Service representative, or colleague.


Policies and procedures

The University has policies and procedures in place to ensure that research is conducted to the highest levels of ethics and integrity, and these are available on the research integrity webpages. The University recognises the importance of clear policies and guidelines in embedding a culture of integrity and ethics within research practices. Such documents support researchers in understanding and acting according to expected standards, values and behaviours.

The University’s Policy on Misconduct in Research outlines the procedure to be followed when there is an allegation of misconduct in research. This procedure has appropriate principles and mechanisms to ensure that investigations are thorough and fair, carried out in a transparent and timely manner, and protected by appropriate confidentiality. Details of recent research misconduct investigations can be found later in this statement.

The University’s Policy on Research Integrity provides a framework to ensure that all research is conducted in accordance with good research practice; while the University's Policy on Research Ethics provides a framework to ensure that all research involving human participants, human tissue, or personal data is conducted in accordance with fundamental ethical principles.

These policies are reviewed on a regular basis to ensure they meet the requirements of an evolving global research portfolio, and can be found on the University’s Research Integrity webpages.  

Policies are made available to staff through the University webpages, and are referenced in staff and student handbooks. Further to this, communications on research ethics and research integrity processes are made through the University's announcements system. Research ethics and research integrity is also a standing item on the University's Faculty Research Committees and Faculty Regulatory Affairs Committees.

Information about University research-related policies and procedures is generally disseminated at induction via departmental and course programme handbooks. Induction for research students will normally include guidance about avoiding plagiarism and a requirement to undertake the University’s related online training in ethics and integrity.

 

Research integrity activities

The University seeks to ensure that all researchers are aware of, and understand, the policies and principles relating to research ethics and research integrity. It is recognised that multiple initiatives must be adopted to strengthen the understanding and engagement with ethical and integrity issues.

Appropriate training is essential to embedding research integrity and research ethics within the research environment. The University has purchased training packages on research integrity and research ethics, and these form a mandatory part of the University's induction training for all research and teaching related staff; and a mandatory part of submissions for applications for research ethics review. This training is supported by ad-hoc presentations, workshops, and occasional guest speakers.

The University is a member and regular attendee of the Russell Group Research Integrity Forum, which meets to discuss methods to embed a culture of integrity within Higher Education institutions. This forum provides important learning experiences and examples of activities which can support and strengthen the understanding of research integrity issues across institutions.

During the previous year, the University conducted a comprehensive, institution-wide research integrity review. A series of recommendations were produced and the University’s Research Integrity and Governance Committee are overseeing the implementation of the recommendations from the review.

 

Research Ethics

The University's research ethics process provides rigorous safeguards and reduces harm wherever possible for all those involved in the research process by ensuring that the research project is subject to active consideration of the ethical issues that may arise. The research ethics framework provides a mechanism for researchers to demonstrate engagement with ethical issues, and the process supports researchers in designing research to a high ethical standard.

The University’s Research Ethics Committees are constituted and operate in accordance with the Economic and Social Research Council Framework for Research Ethics and include lay representation, as well as a broad range of discipline expertise.

The University regularly reviews its research ethics framework against the standards set out in Economic and Social Research Council Framework for Research Ethics, the Association for Research Ethics Framework for Research Ethics Committees and the Department of Health Governance Arrangements for Research Ethics Committees.

The University’s Committee on Research Ethics continues to undertake a program of process improvement aimed at a further optimisation and strengthening of the research ethics process. During the previous year, this has included: the enhancement of the online system for the management of research ethics applications; the development of a research ethics teaching module; the creation of a research ethics decision tool; the creation of a research ethics handbook; and the implementation of initiatives aimed at embedding awareness and expertise in research ethics across the institution.

 

Conclusion

The University requires that all research projects undertaken under the auspices of the University observe a commitment to good research conduct as laid out in the Universities UK Concordat to Support Research Integrity and the UK Research and Innovation Policy and Guidelines on Governance of Good Research Conduct.

During the last year, the University has undertaken various activities to embed a culture of research integrity. A strengthened policy framework complements the enhancement of an online system to optimise the research ethics process, and is supported by training events. Further, an institution-wide research integrity review has led to a number of recommendations aimed at enhancing the University’s research integrity framework.

The University looks forward to building on these efforts through the continuation of training in research integrity, ongoing initiatives to raise aware of research integrity and through a review of current initiatives in light of the requirements of the Concordat to Support Research Integrity and good practice within the Higher Education sector. It is hoped that these steps provide an important contribution in promoting a positive culture of research integrity across the institution.

 

Research misconduct

Each year, the University receives details of a wide range of concerns relating to research integrity. The University considers such concerns under the framework of the Policy on misconduct in research.

A significant number of the concerns raised can be dealt with through competency, education, and training mechanisms following an Initial Assessment as part of the research misconduct process. In the 2018-2019 academic year, there were over 30 cases of potential misconduct in research which were managed through these mechanisms.

Occasionally, concerns are investigated by a Screening Panel as part of the research misconduct process. The Screening Panel may determine that there is insufficient evidence of misconduct in research; or that the concerns are mistaken, frivolous, vexatious and/or malicious.

Some research integrity concerns which are considered as part of the research misconduct process require Formal Investigation by a Formal Investigation panel as part of the later stages of the Policy on misconduct in research. Details of these investigations are provided below.

 Number of formal investigations completedNumber of allegations upheld (in whole or in part)
  Oct 2016 - Sept 2017 Oct 2017 - Sept 2018 Oct 2018 - Sept 2019 Oct 2016 - Sept 2017 Oct 2017 - Sept 2018 Oct 2018 - Sept 2019
Fabrication 0 1b 0 0 1b 0
Falsification 0 1b 1d 0 1b 1d
Plagiarism 0 0 0 0 0 0
Misrepresentation 0 1b 1d 0 1b 1d
Breach of duty of care 0 1a 2c & e 0 1a 1e
Improper dealing with allegations of misconduct 0 0 0 0 0 0
Other 0 0 0 0 0 0
  • a The University investigated concerns relating to the alleged lack of research ethics approval in place for a student module which involved the collection of data from human participants. The Investigation Panel concluded that there had been a deviation from accepted good practice in carrying out research due to the failure to follow the research ethics process and acquire the required favourable opinion from the appropriate Research Ethics Committee for research conducted as part of a student module.
  • b The University investigated an allegation of misconduct in research relating to the fabrication of data for published studies investigating prognostic disease biomarkers. The Investigation Panel unanimously agreed that the allegations of misconduct in research should be upheld.
  • c The University investigated concerns relating to the alleged lack of research ethics approval in place for a student module which involved the collection of data from human participants. The Investigation Panel concluded that, on the balance of probabilities, the allegations did not meet the threshold for research misconduct.
  • d The University investigated an allegation of misconduct in research relating to the falsification and misrepresentation of data for a PhD thesis. The Investigation Panel concluded that research misconduct had occurred, but that there was no intent, recklessness, negligence, or deliberate deviation from accepted good practice; and therefore, the charge of misconduct in research was not upheld.
  • e The University investigated an allegation of misconduct in research relating to a deviation from accepted good practice in carrying out research through the unauthorised access to personal data. The Investigation Panel concluded that a charge of misconduct should be upheld.

The University seeks to learn from all cases of potential misconduct in research which arise, with investigations that produce wider recommendations for preventing future issues; while a ‘lessons learned’ document is distributed to all University staff to minimise the potential for research integrity issues reoccurring in future.

The University is committed to maintaining the highest standards of ethics and integrity in its research, and places ethics and integrity at the heart of its decision making.

University Strategy 2020

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