UKRI will launch a new committee on research integrity in early 2022 “to address long-standing systemic pressures that can undermine” fair and open procedures, its chief executive has confirmed.
In a letter addressed to Greg Clark, the chair of the House of Commons science and technology select committee (STC), Prof Dame Ottoline Leyser said preparations for the committee, called for in a 2018 parliamentary report on the issue, were “affected by the impact of the global pandemic on the research sector”.
Three years ago, the STC recommended UKRI establish a national committee to promote research integrity that would produce an annual report, engage with industry and independently verify if institutions were investigating alleged misconduct appropriately. Dame Ottoline confirmed that a body along the lines outlined by the 2018 STC report would be up and running by early 2022, and a recruitment process for the committee would begin shortly.
In its report, the STC, then chaired by Norman Lamb, warned: “The current lack of consistent transparency means that it is impossible to assess the scale of the research integrity issue, leading to accusations that parts of the sector are policing themselves in a secretive way in order to maintain its reputation or, worse, a perception that investigations are not conducted properly in order to avoid embarrassment.”
The report said the concordat, while positive, had not achieved universal compliance – and struggled to drive improvements because its high-level recommendations meant acquiescence was hard to assess. The committee also accused sector bodies of failing to deliver “coordinated leadership” to drive the implementation of the concordat in universities, “such as transparency in declaring the number of misconduct investigations carried out each year”.
We are confident that the approved proposal will lead to a committee that has the greatest positive effect on the integrity of UK research
– Prof Dame Ottoline Leyser, UKRI
A project led by interim chair Dr Helen Munn engaged with HE and research organisations and bodies, national academies, the government Office for Science, early career researchers and the UK Research Integrity Office on solutions to the STC concerns.
Dame Ottoline said the new committee would promote the issue “across the UK and internationally” and build an evidence base and “consensus” within the sector that can “identify how systemic pressures affect research integrity, and harness opportunities for change”. The committee would also work to progress the 2012 Concordat to Support Research Integrity and “advise how oversight of UK research integrity should operate over the long term”.
The committee differs slightly from the one called for in the STC report because “appropriate legal powers and governance arrangements” would be needed to verify if institutions followed appropriate processes – but these powers could be sought later when the committee becomes independent of UKRI in three years. UKRI sought to reassure the committee that it would improve its own assurance procedures “to ensure that those expectations are appropriate and clearly expressed”.
The body will recruit a chair and up to 10 board members for the fledging committee this autumn, with interview panels comprising UKRI and independently selected sector appointees.
“We are confident that the approved proposal will lead to a committee that has the greatest positive effect on the integrity of UK research,” Dame Ottoline wrote to Clark.