Research Integrity in Australia - roles and responsibilities
Management of research integrity in Australia is a shared responsibility that involves the Australian Research Council (ARC), the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and a range of other institutions and entities.
There is no single Commonwealth agency with regulatory powers for the management or oversight of research integrity in Australia. Responsibility for the various aspects of research integrity is shared among institutions that conduct research, funding agencies, agencies such as Ombudsman Offices in the jurisdictions, Crime and Corruption Commissions in jurisdictions and the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA).
Role of Institutions
Institutions that conduct research and employ researchers – universities, medical research institutes and other institutions – have a central role in the promotion of research integrity. Institutions are also responsible under the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct Research (the Code), and as specified in the ARC and NHMRC funding/grant agreements, for investigating any concerns and complaints related to research for which they are responsible and for taking any disciplinary and corrective actions. This reflects the fact that researchers are employed by these institutions, and it is through the employment relationship that researchers' practices and behaviour can be directly managed. For example, institutions enforce employment codes of conduct and under these have a range of measures available to them, such as counselling, fines, demotion and termination of employment.
Institutions also have a critical role in determining the research culture of their institution, modelling good practice and putting in place essential integrity infrastructure, such as research integrity advisors. Many of the larger institutions have well established and dedicated research integrity offices with staff equipped to manage allegations of breaches of the Code and/or research misconduct.
Role of funding agencies
NHMRC and the ARC expect the highest standards of research conduct and integrity in the research that they fund. The funding agencies, along with Universities Australia, publish three national standards for research ethics and integrity. CSIRO also endorses the Australian code for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes. These standards are the:
- Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research, 2018 (the Code)
- National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research, 2007 updated 2018
- Australian code for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes, 2013.
Institutions that administer ARC or NHMRC funding must agree to the terms of each agency's funding/ grant agreement, which includes the requirement to comply with the above three standards as well as with additional policies such as the ARC Research Integrity Policy or the NHMRC Research Integrity and Misconduct Policy (the Integrity Policy).
These policies outline the requirements for institutions to report research integrity matters and the actions the ARC and/or NHMRC may take in response to reported breaches of the Code.
Funding agencies are supported by the Australian Research Integrity Committee (ARIC), an internal advisory committee to the Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of the ARC and the NHMRC. ARIC is jointly established by both agencies to review upon application the process used by institutions funded by ARC and NHMRC to investigate allegations of research misconduct.
ARIC does not conduct a 'merits review' it makes recommendations to the ARC and NHMRC CEOs about any procedural matters identified in the conduct of an investigation. The CEO may request the institution to take remedial action to address any issues identified by ARIC.
Various other Commonwealth and State bodies have specific investigatory powers and/or other regulatory responsibilities that can cover research integrity issues. These include Commonwealth and State Ombudsmen, state-based crime and corruption commissions and TEQSA.
- Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission
- Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency – Higher Education Integrity Unit
- ACT Ombudsman
- New South Wales Ombudsman
- Northern Territory Ombudsman
- Queensland Ombudsman
- South Australian Ombudsman
- Tasmanian Ombudsman
- Victorian Ombudsman
- Western Australian Ombudsman
Other parties involved in research integrity
In addition, other parties have a role in the promotion of research integrity. Journal editors, human research ethics committees, animal ethics committees and peer-review processes all play a role in ensuring integrity in research. Increasingly, websites such as Retraction Watch and PubPeer are also becoming involved in the promotion of research quality and integrity.