Manual of Policies and Procedures

D/2.7 Procedures for dealing with allegations of research misconduct

Contact Officer

Director, Office of Research Ethics and Integrity

Approval Date

13/11/2015

Approval Authority

University Academic Board

Date of Next Review

01/12/2017

2.7.1 Principles
2.7.2 Application
2.7.3 Definitions
2.7.4 Procedures for managing allegations of research misconduct or unresolved breaches of the QUT Code of Conduct for Research
2.7.5 Other matters
Related Documents
Modification History

2.7.1 Principles

The University is committed to:

  • values of honesty, integrity and ethical behaviour and practices
  • promoting a strong culture of research integrity and ethical research practice via training for researchers; and
  • emphasising supervision excellence and a high standard of pastoral support for researchers. 

The University requires all QUT researchers to maintain the highest standards of research practice in accordance with the QUT Code of Conduct for Research (D/2.6) (QUT Research Code), which is consistent with the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research, legislation, policies, the accepted practices within a discipline and the codes of relevant external funding bodies.

The University encourages self-reporting of breaches of the QUT Research Code as a means of ensuring research integrity and improvement in research practice. 

The University supports staff to raise concerns about a possible breach of the QUT Research Code and this should be handled in a manner that provides the maximum opportunity for researchers to improve their practices.

The University expects allegations of research misconduct to be assessed and investigated in a timely manner, consistent with the requirements of natural justice, and with confidentiality maintained as far as possible.

The University is committed to cooperating, to the extent possible, with relevant third parties in relation to allegations arising from multi-institutional research collaborations across institutions and research organisations with which QUT is involved.

The University is committed to addressing conflicts of interest. If a conflict of interest exists (real or perceived) for any person involved in managing allegations, they must declare, document and manage the conflict according to Conflict of interest policy (B/8.7).

The University is committed to the proper management of disclosures made under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010 (Qld), and to ensuring that people making such disclosures are protected from reprisal. The Registrar is the responsible officer for receiving and acting on Public Interest Disclosures at QUT.

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2.7.2 Application

This policy applies to all QUT staff and persons associated with the conduct of research under the auspices of QUT.

Any person concerned that QUT research has not been conducted in a responsible manner may raise concerns and have allegations managed according to this policy and procedures.

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2.7.3 Definitions

Breach means a deviation from the QUT Code of Conduct for Research (QUT Research Code) where the extent, seriousness, wilfulness and/or consequences of the deviation are not significant and the deviation does not amount to research misconduct. The repetition or continuation of a breach may, however, lead to more serious consequences and may constitute research misconduct, particularly if the QUT researcher has been counselled about the standards of research conduct required by QUT.  A failure by a QUT researcher to take responsibility for achieving the standards required in the QUT Research Code may amount to a breach.

Complainant means the person/s making an allegation against a QUT researcher under this policy and procedures.

Conflict of interest is defined in the Conflict of interest policy (B/8.7).

Designated person means the person nominated by the University to be responsible for monitoring compliance with the QUT Research Code. The designated person has authority to secure documents and other evidence that may be related to the investigation of allegations. Where necessary, the designated person should endeavour to make arrangements in the local workplace so there is fairness for all parties until allegations are resolved.  At QUT, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Commercialisation) is the designated person.  Under this policy and procedures, the Vice-Chancellor may appoint an alternative designated person.

Interested party refers to people and/or bodies with a material interest or involvement in allegations of breaches of the QUT Research Code or research misconduct and may include:

  • a complainant
  • a respondent
  • a QUT researcher
  • staff, students, supervisors and trainees working with a complainant or respondent
  • research collaborators including those at other institutions
  • collaborating institutions and industry collaborators
  • journals and other media through which the research in question was or may be reported
  • professional registration bodies
  • funding bodies providing financial support for the research in question
  • the public.

QUT researcher (which includes research trainee for the purposes of this policy and procedures) means all persons who are associated with the conduct of research under the auspices of QUT and may include current or former members of the University community who undertake, provide assistance to, or support QUT research activities. This includes Higher Degree Research candidates, postdoctoral research fellows, academic, professional, casual, and sessional staff, occupational trainees, clinical, adjunct, honorary, conjoint, visiting appointees, and other persons covered by the QUT Staff Code of Conduct (B/8.1) and Management of student misconduct policy (E/8.1).

Research Integrity Advisors (RIAs) are staff members appointed by the University who can be approached in confidence to discuss matters relating to the QUT Research Code, including what may constitute a breach of this Code and/or research misconduct, the rights and responsibilities of individuals in relation to allegations, and University procedures for managing allegations. A research integrity advisor should not be involved in a case if they have a perceived or actual conflict of interest. A research integrity advisor’s role should not involve assessment or investigation of allegations. A list of research integrity advisors is available from the Office of Research Ethics and Integrity.

A research integrity advisor can explain options for taking action. These options may include:

  • not proceeding or withdrawing the allegation if discussion resolves the concerns
  • referring the allegation to the relevant head for resolution at the school, faculty, department or institute level) or
  • where a (perceived or actual) conflict of interest exists with the relevant head, a referral to the executive dean of the relevant faculty, head of division or institute executive director or
  • where a (perceived or actual) conflict of interest exists for the executive dean of the relevant faculty, institute executive director, or head of division, the matter is to be referred to the designated person.

Research misconduct means deviations from the QUT Research Code which:

  • are intentional and deliberate, reckless, or amount to gross and persistent negligence; and
  • result in serious consequences, such as false information on the public record, or adverse effects on research participants, animals or the environment.

Examples of research misconduct include:

For the purpose of this policy and procedures, research misconduct does not include honest differences in judgement about the management of a research project, and may not include honest errors that are minor or unintentional (which may, however, constitute a breach of the QUT Research Code requiring specific action by the relevant supervisor or the University).

Respondent means the QUT researcher/s subject to an allegation brought under this policy and procedures.

Supervisor means a person whose position requires them to be responsible for the supervision of a QUT researcher.

Vice-Chancellor means QUT’s Chief Executive Officer. The Vice-Chancellor decides whether a Research Misconduct Inquiry is necessary, following consideration of preliminary inquiry findings made by the Designated Person.  Under this policy and procedures, the Vice-Chancellor may delegate their responsibilities to another person.

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2.7.4 Procedures for managing allegations of research misconduct or unresolved breaches of the QUT Code of Conduct for Research

Level 1: Submission and initial assessment of allegations by the relevant head

(a) Submission of allegations to the relevant head

Allegations (including self-reporting or supervisor notifications) should be made in writing, in a timely manner, and contain as much relevant information as possible.

Allegations should be submitted to the relevant head as follows:

  • where the respondent is associated with a faculty/division/institute, allegations should be made to respondent's head of school. Where allegations involve a faculty-based respondent who is also an institute member, the head of school will notify the relevant institute executive director 
  • where the respondent is the head of school, assistant dean, head of department or equivalent, allegations should be referred to the executive dean (or equivalent) of the relevant faculty
  • where the respondent is an executive dean, head of division or institute executive director, allegations must be referred directly to the designated person
  • where the respondent is a current or graduated HDR candidate, the allegations should be submitted to the principal supervisor’s head of school. If the principal supervisor is not formally aligned to a school then it should be submitted to the relevant executive dean.  

(b) Initial assessment by the relevant head in consultation with the executive dean of the relevant faculty and/or institute executive director, or head of division or designated person (as applicable)

The relevant head, in consultation with the executive dean of the relevant faculty and/or institute executive director or head of division or designated person and or the Office of Research Ethics and Integrity, will make an initial assessment of the allegations to establish whether the matter may be resolved at the local level (provision of information, dispute resolution, rectification of breaches or other action in response) or whether the allegations may involve research misconduct. The initial assessment will take into account the allegations, supporting information or evidence, the definitions of breach and research misconduct in this policy, and any contextual information. Full records of the processes used and findings must be maintained in the corporate record.

If in the initial assessment there is a conflict of interest for the executive dean, institute executive director, or head of division, the matter is to be referred to the designated person.

Steps should be taken to ensure that this initial assessment does not compromise the integrity of any future investigation. It may be necessary to ensure that relevant documents and evidence are secure in a manner that restricts access.

After consideration of allegations, and any recommendations made by the relevant head, the executive dean of the relevant faculty and/or institute executive director or head of division or designated person (as applicable):

  • may request further information before making a decision about whether the allegations indicate potential research misconduct
  • may seek advice from the Office of Research Ethics and Integrity
  • may seek advice from the Director of Human Resources
  • may discuss with the respondent/s whilst maintaining the confidentiality of the complainant
  • will determine that allegations do not constitute potential research misconduct and appropriately address the concerns; or
  • will determine that allegations constitute potential research misconduct and escalate to the designated person.

Where a decision is made that the matter does not constitute potential research misconduct and can be dealt with at the local level, the executive dean and/or institute executive director or head of division, must notify the complainant(s) in writing. If the complainant(s) does not support this approach, they may refer the matter directly to the designated person.

Where a decision is made that allegations constitute potential research misconduct, the executive dean and/or institute executive director or head of division must refer the matter to the designated person and notify the complainant and respondent in writing that the matter has been so referred.

Where a decision is made that allegations concern a potential breach of the QUT Staff Code of Conduct (B/8.1), or QUT Student Code of Conduct (E/2.1) the executive dean and/or institute executive director or head of division must follow relevant policy and procedures.

The Registrar should be advised as early as possible where action may be required under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010 (Qld) and/orthe Crime and Corruption Act 2001 (Qld)
.
Level 2: Referral to the designated person

(a) Referral of allegations of Research Misconduct to the designated person

If the executive dean and/or institute executive director or head of division, considers that allegations constitute potential research misconduct, they must write to the designated person and:

  • identify the person/s against whom the allegation is being made
  • identify the type of misconduct or activity that is alleged to have occurred
  • identify relevant details as accurately as possible, including the date(s) and place(s) when and where the alleged misconduct occurred; and
  • provide as much supporting evidence as possible.

If a conflict of interest exists for the designated person, the matter will be referred to an alternate senior member of the University nominated by the Vice-Chancellor.

(b) Preliminary inquiry

Upon receipt of a formal written allegation, the designated person will authorise the Director, Office of Research Ethics and Integrity to undertake a preliminary inquiry into the matter, to determine if a prima facie case of research misconduct exists. The Director, Office of Research Ethics and Integrity will:

  • keep a formal record of the allegation/s
  • coordinate a written response to the complainant(s) to acknowledge receipt of the allegation(s), normally within 10 working days
  • inform the respondent/s in writing  that a formal allegation has been received and normally (unless otherwise agreed between parties) allowing 10 working days for the respondent/s to provide a response to the allegation and, if possible, conduct an interview with the respondent
  • request additional information or clarification of the information provided by the complainant(s) and, if possible, conduct an interview with the complainant(s)
  • track the process and maintain full records of all matters that relate to the research misconduct allegation
  • where necessary, coordinate technical advice to assist the designated person to determine whether the allegation is reasonably the responsibility of the University, and whether it falls within the jurisdiction of these procedures or within another mandated reporting framework. Technical advice may include, at a minimum, advice from:
    • the Director, Human Resources or nominee
    • the University Registrar or nominee
    • the Director, Governance and Legal Services
    • the Chair, Human/Animal Research Ethics Committee
    • the Chair, University Biosafety Committee
    • advice from an independent reviewer
  • gather information and documents; and  
  • ensure all measures are taken to ensure that a potential allegation/s of research misconduct is handled within a reasonable time, allowing for all responses and technical advice to be considered and included in the preliminary assessment.

On concluding the preliminary inquiry the Director, Office of Research Ethics and Integrity will report the outcomes of the assessment to the designated person and/or their delegate.

It may be necessary at this time or at the finalisation of the investigation for the designated person to arrange for appropriate notifications such as to regulatory and professional bodies (e.g. Australian Health Practitioners Regulatory Agency (AHPRA) Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC); funding bodies National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Australian Research Council, (ARC) or the employer organisation if the respondent/s is not a QUT staff member. 

The designated person will consider the content of the preliminary inquiry report and may:

 Level 3: Referral to the Vice-Chancellor

(a) Advice to the Vice-Chancellor

Upon completion of a preliminary inquiry, the designated person must write within 10 working days to the Vice-Chancellor and provide:

  • a preliminary inquiry report, which contains findings about whether a prima facie case of research misconduct exists
  • a copy of the allegations, advice and recommendations of the executive dean and/or institute executive director or head of division, and all other relevant information; and
  • advice on how the matter should proceed.

After providing advice to the Vice-Chancellor, the designated person should not participate any further in the matter, except that they may be called to give evidence or expert opinion.

(b) Decision by the Vice-Chancellor about how the matter will proceed

The Vice-Chancellor will consider the designated person's advice. The Vice-Chancellor may decide:

(i) that no prima facie case of research misconduct exists and the matter should be referred back to be dealt with at the local level or by the Director, Human Resources as appropriate
(ii) that, based on admissions made, or other information received during the preliminary inquiry, the matter should proceed to disciplinary investigation in accordance with relevant industrial instruments processes such as misconduct or serious misconduct procedures (B/8.5 Disciplinary action for misconduct and serious misconduct – senior staff; Enterprise Agreement (Academic Staff) clause 45; Enterprise Agreement (Professional Staff) clause 54); or unsatisfactory performance procedures (B/9.5 Managing unsatisfactory performance – senior staff; Enterprise Agreement (Academic Staff) clause 44; Enterprise Agreement (Professional Staff) clause 53)
(iii) that further information is required before it can be determined whether a prima facie case of research misconduct exists; or
(iv) to convene an internal or external research misconduct inquiry.

If the Vice-Chancellor decides that further information is required in accordance with paragraph (iii) above, following receipt of this information the Vice-Chancellor may decide to take the steps set out at paragraphs (i), (ii), or (iv) above.

Where the Vice-Chancellor does not decide to proceed to a research misconduct inquiry, the Vice-Chancellor must inform the designated person who will in turn notify the complainant and respondent/s of the outcomes in writing.

Level 4: Research misconduct inquiry panel

(a) Commencement of a research misconduct inquiry

If the Vice-Chancellor decides to convene a research misconduct inquiry, the Vice-Chancellor will advise the following interested parties in writing:

  • the designated person
  • the complainant
  • the respondent
  • the Director, Human Resources
  • the Registrar, who will consider whether action is required (if not already taken) under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010 (Qld) or Crime and Corruption Act 2001 (Qld); and
  • any other relevant interested parties, including funding bodies or collaborating institutions.

In determining whether an internal or external research misconduct inquiry is required, the Vice-Chancellor will have regard to:

  • the potential consequences for the complainant(s), respondent(s) and other interested parties in the event of a finding of research misconduct as alleged
  • any (perceived or actual) conflicts of interest
  • the need to maintain public confidence in research and the University
  • the need, if relevant, to meet legislative requirements or the reasonable requirements of an external funding body.

The Vice-Chancellor may elect to convene either an internal or external research misconduct inquiry panel. It must be comprised of members who are free from bias or conflicts of interest. An internal research misconduct inquiry panel may also include external membership (in a lesser proportion than internal membership). The secretariat support for the panel will be provided by staff from the Office of Research Ethics and Integrity.

An internal research misconduct inquiry panel will be constituted with a minimum membership of three (3) people, comprised of at least:

  • one member with knowledge of and experience in the relevant field of research;
  • one member who is familiar with responsible conduct of research ; and
  • one member with experience on similar panels, or who has other relevant expertise; and or
  • an external member if required.

All members are to free of bias and conflicts of interests.

An interested party appearing before an internal research misconduct inquiry may be accompanied by a support person who is not their legal representative that is a person who is currently practicing as a solicitor or barrister.

An external research misconduct inquiry panel will be constituted with a minimum membership of three members’ external to the University, with at least:

  • one member who is legally qualified or has extensive experience as a member of a tribunal or similar body; and
  • one member who has knowledge and research experience in a relevant or related field of research.

The respondent/s should be entitled to legal representation.

The research misconduct inquiry will establish procedures in accordance with the rules of natural justice and the specific requirements set out in the QUT Research Code and the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research.

At the conclusion of the research misconduct inquiry, the inquiry panel will provide a written report to the Vice-Chancellor, which outlines its findings of fact, what (if any) research misconduct has occurred, and the reasons for those findings.

(b) Findings of the research misconduct inquiry panel

Upon receipt of the findings of a research misconduct inquiry panel, the Vice-Chancellor will consider the findings, decide whether to accept them, and determine what further action should be taken (if any).

The Vice-Chancellor should notify the complainant, the respondent, the designated person, the Director, Human Resources, the executive dean of the relevant faculty, institute executive director or head of division,  Director, Office of Research Ethics and Integrity, and any other interested parties (as appropriate) of the outcome of the inquiry and further action (if any) to be taken. 

If appropriate, the Vice-Chancellor may make the findings of an external research misconduct inquiry available to the public and/or the relevant funding agency.

Disciplinary actions

(a) Disciplinary action for staff members

Where a respondent is a staff member and the Vice-Chancellor considers at any stage that disciplinary action is warranted, the matter will be managed in  other University disciplinary processes such as misconduct or serious misconduct procedures (B/8.5 Disciplinary action for misconduct and serious misconduct – senior staff; Enterprise Agreement (Academic Staff) clause 45; Enterprise Agreement (Professional Staff) clause 54); or unsatisfactory performance procedures (B/9.5 Managing unsatisfactory performance – senior staff; Enterprise Agreement (Academic Staff) clause 44; Enterprise Agreement (Professional Staff) clause.

(b) Research misconduct involving QUT students

Students working in a research team will not generally be covered by this policy and procedures. Where the respondent is a Higher Degree Research candidate and the Vice-Chancellor considers that disciplinary action is warranted the matter will be managed in accordance with student disciplinary procedures in the Management of student misconduct policy (E/8.1.7).

(c) Research misconduct concerning persons other than current staff and QUT Students

Where concerns relate to the conduct of a person who is no longer a QUT researcher, an investigation to establish the facts of the matter may still proceed, to ensure integrity of research and correction of any records where necessary.
Where a respondent is not a current staff member or QUT student and the Vice-Chancellor considers that action may be warranted in accordance with this policy and procedures or the findings of a research misconduct inquiry, this will be managed according to the circumstances of each case.

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2.7.5 Other matters

(a) Public Interest Disclosure

Nothing in this document prevents a person from making allegations under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2010 (Qld). The Registrar is the responsible officer for receiving and acting on public interest disclosures at the University (B/8.3 Public interest disclosure management).

(b) Participation in research misconduct processes

The University may issue reasonable and lawful directions to staff members in relation to their participation in any preliminary investigation, or research misconduct inquiry.

(c) Restoration of reputation

If allegations of research misconduct or breaches of the QUT Research Code (D/2.6) are shown to be unsubstantiated, the University will take reasonable steps to reinstate the reputation of the respondent where this may have been damaged. 

(d) Misconduct or unsatisfactory performance unrelated to research

If at any stage in the application of this policy and procedures it is considered that misconduct or unsatisfactory performance may have occurred which is not related to research activities, the relevant allegations may be referred to an appropriate officer for management in accordance with relevant policies and procedures.

(e) External obligations

When allegations are made, the University may have an obligation to make statutory reports to other external organisations about matters that arise.

(f) Frivolous and vexatious complaints

Individuals are expected to make complaints in good faith and complaints must not be vexatious, frivolous, misconceived or completely without substance. This procedure is not to be used as a forum for revenge, retribution or mischief.

Examples of frivolous, vexatious and bad faith complaints include (but are not limited to):

  • fabricating a complaint to get another person into trouble
  • making trivial or petty complaints
  • making repeated, unsubstantiated complaints; or
  • seeking to re-agitate issues that have already been addressed or determined.

At any stage where such behaviour is suspected, this matter maybe referred to the Director, Human Resources who may make an assessment that the complaint is vexatious, frivolous, misconceived without substance or that an alternative University policy is applicable to the subject matter of the complaint and, therefore, the matter will not be progressed through these procedures. The Director, Human Resources will advise the complainant in writing and invite them to respond within ten working days, before the Director, Human Resources makes a final determination in this matter.

Persons making frivolous or vexatious complaints may be subject to disciplinary action (B/8.1 QUT Staff Code of Conduct).

(g) Record keeping

Records of allegations and related documents must be retained and stored appropriately, including recommendations and actions taken. The Director, Office of Research Ethics and Integrity is responsible for ensuring that records are stored within the University’s corporate electronic records system (HP Records Manager).

(h) Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research

To the extent of any inconsistency between this policy and procedures and the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research, this policy and procedures will be interpreted to be consistent with the Australian Code.

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Related Documents

MOPP B/8.1 QUT Staff Code of Conduct

MOPP B/8/3 Public interest disclosure management

MOPP B/8.5 Disciplinary action for misconduct and serious misconduct – senior staff

MOPP B/8.7 Conflict of interest

MOPP B/9.5 Managing unsatisfactory performance – senior staff

MOPP D/2.3 Research governance framework

MOPP D/2.6 QUT Code of Conduct for Research

MOPP D/2.8 Management of research data

MOPP E/2.1 QUT Student Code of Conduct

MOPP E/8.1 Management of student misconduct

QUT Enterprise Agreement (Academic Staff)

QUT Enterprise Agreement (Professional Staff)

Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research

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Modification History

Date Sections Source Details
13.11.15 All University Academic Board Revised policy
31.08.10 All Governance Services Policy revised to reflect introduction of new student discipline framework from 01.09.10.
16.11.07 All University Academic Board Revised procedures for dealing with allegations of research misconduct (consistent with revisions to the QUT Code of Conduct for Research and to ensure compliance with the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research); renumbered to D/2.7 - formerly D/2.6.8 (endorsed by University Research and Innovation Committee 02.11.07)

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