1.UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) welcomes the Science and Technology Committee’s report. Creating a strong and responsible culture is crucial to enable the best research and innovation and to gain and maintain public trust. We are committed to using our position as the largest public-sector funder of research and innovation in the UK to lead positive behavioural change both nationally and internationally.
2.Between the Committee’s last formal evidence session and the publication of the its report, we launched our Strategic Prospectus. In this document we committed to working with stakeholders in the UK and internationally to review the operating environment for research in the UK and around the world. We will act on the results to ensure that our funding and operations encourage the best practices and behaviours.
3.In formulating our response, we have been working closely with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Universities UK (UUK), UK Research Integrity Office (UKRIO) and the signatories to the Concordat to Support Research Integrity (“the concordat”).
We recommend that the signatories update and strengthen the Concordat by making the requirements and expectations clearer, and produce a route map and timetable for reaching 100% compliance with the strengthened version within the next year. (Paragraph 43)
4.The concordat signatories agree with the recommendation to update and strengthen the concordat. As a signatory, we will work to make the concordat’s requirements and expectations clearer. Over the next twelve months, the signatories will agree the revised version of the concordat and provide the committee with a route map and timetable for reaching 100% compliance.
We see a gap in the UK system for a body that can provide a means of independently verifying whether a research institution has followed appropriate processes to investigate misconduct, as in Australia and Canada. We recommend that the government ask UKRI to establish a new national committee which could undertake this role. (Paragraph 122)
5.As the government stated in its response to the committee today, it has asked us to consider the establishment of a new independent research integrity committee, and we are pleased to do so.
6.We agree that employers should still have the first responsibility for investigating and taking action in response to allegations. Recognising the committee’s findings, as part of our advice to government, we will consider the potential role that an independent committee could play in examining whether the research institutions that have accepted compliance with the concordat as a condition of funding have followed appropriate processes in investigating misconduct.
7.We will look carefully at how a national committee as proposed could best be implemented, and we will engage closely with stakeholders on this. In particular, we will draw on the advice of UKRIO, notably around training and the new body’s membership, as well as engaging with the wider sector and with the devolved administrations. We will report our findings to the Science and Technology Committee (via our sponsor department) in early 2019.
UKRI should collect and publish details of universities that are not [yet] compliant [with the concordat]. (Paragraph 43)
8.The research councils and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) have historically collected information on compliance separately. For 2018–19 the Office for Students (OfS) will continue to collect the compliance information previously collected under HEFCE and will notify us of any breaches or failures to meet compliance.
9.As the concordat is strengthened this will make the expectations for compliance clearer and will provide a better benchmark against which compliance can be accurately assessed. We are considering the potential impact of publishing data on non-compliance to ensure that universities and other research organisations are not discouraged from reporting fully. The strengthened concordat will make research organisations aware that publication is a consequence of non-compliance, or failure to report compliance status.
10.While the committee’s recommendation is that we collect and publish information on compliance with the concordat, and whilst we agree that transparency is a key feature of a healthy research integrity system, UKRI can only require information from the organisations that we fund. We note the Committee’s recommendation that this might be a role for a new national research integrity body.
The Government should ask UKRI to consider how [hiding misconduct though non-disclosure agreements] can be effectively banned by institutions receiving public funds, and statements to this effect should be included in a strengthened concordat. (Paragraph 101)
11.On the basis of legal advice we do not believe we could impose a ban on non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) allegedly hiding research misconduct. We agree in principle that NDAs should not be used to hide misconduct, but we recognise there are many circumstances in which a NDA has a legitimate use, for instance in protecting intellectual property. With fellow signatories to the concordat we will explore a statement that would strongly discourage the inappropriate use of NDAs within the sector.
We recommend that employers, funders and publishers of research work together to agree a protocol for information sharing on researchers involved in research integrity problems in a way that meets employment protection legislation. Commitments in this vein could form part of a tightened Concordat. (Paragraph 106)
12.We appreciate that this is a legally complex area. On the basis of legal advice, we would highlight that the creation, use and supply of similar standing lists which include personal data for the purpose of vetting individuals according to past actual or alleged behaviours could amount to unlawful ‘blacklisting’ under current legislation. These sorts of lists are also very likely to breach data protection legislation unless the processing of the relevant personal data is clearly lawful, fair and transparent within the meaning of the General Data Protection Regulation and the Data Protection Act 2018. In principle, compiling and sharing a list of researchers implicated in misconduct cases where the clear purpose is to use the personal data to vet individuals and potentially exclude them from future employment or funding opportunities would appear unlikely to be lawful. However, we believe all employers should be rigorous in taking up references as part of the recruitment process and that current employers should disclose such information in a way that complies with privacy and data protection regulations.
UKRI [should] commission research to understand the effects of incentives in the research system on researcher behaviour and assess where adjustments or counterbalances may be needed to support research integrity. (Paragraph 58)
13.We agree with this recommendation and will commission research to evaluate the effects of incentives in the research system on researcher behaviour and to identify options and approaches for adjustments or counterbalances needed to support research integrity. The outcomes of this work will inform our policies and approaches to research integrity.
We recommend that UKRI assess whether suitable training is being provided in line with current requirements and report back to us on its findings. UKRI should also consider further the case for centralised provision of training on research integrity, or standards that could be set. (Paragraph 67)
14.We are strongly committed to ensuring that the postgraduate investments we fund include high quality training in research integrity. Therefore, we will undertake a further assessment of the training provided through our doctoral training investments, and consider the case for further training or standards as part of our work on a UKRI Research and Innovation Talent Strategy.
15.As indicated in the committee’s report the current Research Councils UK Statement of Expectations for Postgraduate Training includes the following:
16.Working with UKRIO, UUK and other key organisations we will assess how we can ensure that training in research integrity is world leading by exploring the development and provision of best practice training programmes in research integrity for researchers at every stage of their career, as appropriate for different disciplines. However, given the breadth of our investments in doctoral training (including disciplinary breadth), we believe that greater impact can be achieved by promoting the use of high quality training within each of our current investments rather than by centralising or standardising the provision of this training itself.
We recommend that UKRI consider how best to encourage research teams to engage with statisticians as part of their research, and how best to improve the statistical competencies of researchers in general. (Paragraph 68)
17.We recognise that statistical expertise is vital to research and that there is an ongoing need to develop the statistical competencies of researchers. Our peer review system is central to ensuring that the teams that are the recipients of funding have the right skills, including statistical skills. The creation of UKRI provides key opportunities to share best practice and to build upon existing provision by working with our partners, including the Royal Statistical Society.
18.We support a wide range of statistical and related training through our doctoral programmes and through the continuous professional development of researchers. At doctoral level we expect a suitable level of statistical and related training relevant to the discipline and project. Statistical and quantitative skills are a priority area, with additional training investment at doctoral level and at other career stages as relevant. Some examples are below:
1 A full list of UKRI’s councils is available at:
Published: 13 September 2018