Research misconduct process

Objectives

To assist and protect all parties involved in making and responding to allegations of research misconduct.

To manage allegations of breach or failure to meet the requirements of the Code and/or of RMIT University research governance policies, as well as to investigate allegations of research misconduct.

Exclusions

Research activities that are not RMIT University remit of responsibility.

Definitions and acronyms

Breach of the Code: A less serious deviation from the Code and/or RMIT research policy that is appropriately remedied at the local level, through steps such as counselling, advice, supervisory action, warning, education and appraisal processes.

Code: The Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research was jointly developed by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), the Australian Research Council (ARC) and Universities Australia. Compliance with the Code serves as a pre-requisite for NHMRC and ARC funding eligibility.

Complainant: The person considering making or making an allegation of a breach or research misconduct.

Delegated Officer: The person performing the role of the Delegated Officer as defined in the Code; the Delegated Officer for RMIT staff is the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) and the Delegated Officer for RMIT Higher Degree by Research students is the Associate Deputy Vice Chancellor, Research Training and Development as nominated by the Vice-Chancellor.

Designated Person: The person performing the role of the Designated Person as defined in the Code; the Executive Director, Research Office is the Designated Person for RMIT as nominated by the Vice-Chancellor.

Plagiarism – Academic: Plagiarism that occurs as part of the coursework component of a degree.

Plagiarism – Research: Plagiarism that occurs through the course of research work, most commonly but not limited to the publication of information, ideas, processes or text belonging to a person other than the author with the purpose of presenting as the authors’ original work.

Protected Disclosures Act 2012 (VIC): Enables people to make disclosures about improper conduct within the public sector without fear of reprisal. The Act aims to ensure openness and accountability by encouraging people to make disclosures and protecting them when they do. This Act replaces the former Whistleblowers Protection Act.

Research Integrity Advisor: The person(s) appointed by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) as an independent advisor to provide guidance and support to staff and students considering making an allegation or who have had an allegation made against them. A list of advisors is available on the Research and Innovation website.

Research Misconduct: Deliberate, reckless or persistent negligence in proposing, carrying out or reporting the results of research, including fabrication, falsification, plagiarism or deception, failure to declare or manage a serious conflict of interest, the avoidable failure to follow research proposals as approved by a research ethics committee, and wilful concealment or facilitation of research misconduct by others. It does not include honest differences in judgment in management of the research project or honest errors that are minor or unintentional, which may be classified as breaches. Repeated breaches of good research practice or RMIT research policy may also constitute research misconduct.

Respondent: The person against whom the allegation of breach or research misconduct is being made.

Senior Officer: For students - a HDR coordinator or course co-ordinator. For academic staff members - a line manager, the Dean/Head of School, Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation), the Pro Vice-Chancellor/Vice-President of the relevant College, or the President or their nominee of the relevant RMIT offshore campus, the most senior RMIT academic staff member of an international research node, or the designated local member of staff at any international RMIT industry or higher education partner.

Student Conduct Regulations: Means the Student Conduct Regulations as created under RMIT Statute No. 1.

Process steps

1. Seek advice if you suspect breach or research misconduct

1.1. If you reasonably suspect that a breach or research misconduct (see Definitions Section) has occurred, read this process and seek advice from a Research Integrity Advisor (RIA). They will discuss your options with you and explain what happens if you make an allegation. A list of advisors is available on the Research and Innovation website.

1.2. In cases where the potential allegation involves research on humans, animals or genetically modified organisms, you may also seek advice from a Chairperson or Secretary of an Ethics or Institutional Biosafety Committee.

2. Making a decision

2.1. Breach: If the conduct concerned is likely to constitute a breach of RMIT University research policy or the Code:

2.1.1. If appropriate, try to resolve directly, for example, if the breach is a mistake; or,

2.1.2. Refer the matter to an RMIT human research ethics committee, animal ethics committee or institutional biosafety committee; or,

2.1.3. Refer the matter to a Senior Officer (see Definitions Section) for resolution at the local level.

2.2. Research Misconduct: If the conduct concerned is likely to constitute research misconduct:

2.2.1. Make a formal allegation of research misconduct to the Designated Person as in Section 4; or,

2.2.2. Make a formal allegation under the Protected Disclosure Act 2012 (Vic) (be aware that this Act does not cover all instances of research misconduct or all geographic areas).

2.3. If the matter is not likely to be a breach or research misconduct, it is no longer necessary to follow the Research misconduct process. If the matter relates to another type of conduct, report it through an alternative avenue. For more information on this, see the Research Integrity Assessment Tool (also in Supporting Documents Section)

3. Who can report suspected breach or research misconduct?

3.1. Anyone internal to RMIT who reasonably suspects research misconduct will to report it (Section 1.11 of the Code). This may include but is not limited to, a researcher (staff or student), research participant, a research administrator, technical or support staff.

3.2. People external to RMIT University may report a suspected breach or research misconduct. This may include but is not limited to, a research participant, a member of the public, an external researcher, an examiner or a journal editor.

3.3. Where someone external to RMIT University makes a complaint about research practice, this matter will be referred directly to the Designated Person. The Designated Person or nominee will assist them in determining whether the actions concerned are likely to constitute a breach of the Code or research misconduct, and provide guidance about the process and options for making an allegation.

4. Making an allegation of breach

4.1. People can make an allegation of breach by RMIT staff or students to a Senior Officers or an RMIT ethics or institutional biosafety committee Chairperson or Secretary. Upon receipt of the allegation the Senior Officer or relevant Chairperson will consider whether the complaint involves a potential breach or research misconduct.

4.2. If the allegation is likely to involve a breach it will be dealt with by:

4.2.1. The relevant committee in consultation with the relevant School or College, as outlined in the respective ethics processes; or,

4.2.2. The Senior Officer, who must handle allegations fairly, in line with the Staff complaints procedure or Students Complaints Policy, and keep full records.

4.3. The Committee or Senior Officer may seek advice from the Designated Person.

4.4. If the allegation is likely to involve research misconduct, it will be forwarded to the Designated Person. Senior Officers and ethics committees will support in collecting evidence and provide specialist expertise.

5. Making an allegation of research misconduct

5.1. If the complainant decides to make a formal allegation of research misconduct to the Designated Person, the complaint at a minimum will:

5.1.1. Be in writing;

5.1.2. As accurately as possible identify details, including the date(s) when and place(s) where the alleged research misconduct occurred;

5.1.3. Identify the type of misconduct or activity that is alleged to have occurred, for example inaccurate ascription of authorship or plagiarism;

5.1.4. Identify the person(s) against whom the allegation is being made;

5.1.5. Provide as much supporting evidence as possible; and,

5.1.6. Reference the policy, process or practice that has been contravened.

5.2. All parties to the complaint or allegation will act in good faith and sincerely without malice, and be truthful. All parties will maintain confidentiality. The allegation will not be discussed with any person not directly involved in the process, unless they are a support person or any professional person who is bound to maintain confidentiality.

6. Receipt of allegation

6.1. Upon receipt of a formal allegation of research misconduct consistent with the requirements outlined in Section 5.1, the Designated Person or nominee will review the allegation and determine one of the following:

6.1.1. The allegation is not reasonably the responsibility of RMIT University. If so, the Designated Person will advise the complainant to pursue the allegation through the responsible institution.

6.1.2. The allegation is not related to research conduct and so it should be subject to an alternative institutional process. If so, the Designated Person will advise the complainant to pursue the allegation through the appropriate process and/or to reconsider the allegation.

6.1.3. The allegation should be referred to one or more of the institutional ethics committees or that it should be referred to the local level. If so, the Designated Person will refer it on as appropriate.

6.1.4. A preliminary investigation is warranted. If so, the Designated Person or nominee will conduct a preliminary investigation to determine if the allegation constitutes research misconduct.

6.2. Where the respondent is no longer at RMIT University, the Designated Person or nominee may still pursue a preliminary investigation to determine whether a prima facie case exists.

7. Principles of preliminary investigation

7.1. Principles: All investigations of research misconduct will be carried out in line with the principles of procedural fairness and guided by the following:

7.1.1. Allegations are clearly stated in writing;

7.1.2. The person(s) facing the allegations is treated fairly, and has the opportunity to be heard and to respond to allegations in writing;

7.1.3. The person(s) making a complaint or allegation is treated fairly;

7.1.4. All persons involved in the investigation process are free from any conflict of interest, bias and preconception;

7.1.5. All processes undertaken in pursuance of this process are conducted in a timely manner that is consistent with the principles of procedural fairness;

7.1.6. Allegations are handled consistently in line with this process; and,

7.1.7. False complaints are not tolerated. RMIT University may take action against the complainant(s) who made the false allegations, including disciplinary processes.

7.2. For more information see the supporting document, Information for Parties Involved in a Preliminary Investigation into Research Misconduct (PDF).

8. Conduct of preliminary investigation

8.1. In conducting a preliminary investigation the Designated Person or nominee will:

8.1.1. Seek advice from one or more people who have significant knowledge and background in a relevant field/discipline;

8.1.2. Seek advice from the supervisor of the respondent;

8.1.3. Interview or seek information from the respondent consistent with the principles of procedural fairness;

8.1.4. Secure relevant documents and evidence and maintain complete records; and,

8.1.5. Consider whether immediate action is required, including referral to other institutional bodies or processes such as ethics committees or staff or student-specific processes not within the scope of research misconduct.

9. Finding of preliminary investigation

9.1. At the conclusion of the preliminary investigation the Designated Person will provide the Delegated Officer with their finding (in writing) and recommend whether:

9.1.1. The allegation should be dismissed because it is:

     9.1.1.1. Trivial;

     9.1.1.2. Frivolous, vexatious or not made in good faith; or,

     9.1.1.3. Unsubstantiated.

9.1.2. The allegation is not related to research practice and should be dealt with under other institutional provisions;

9.1.3. The alleged actions constitute a breach of the Code and should be referred back to the relevant School or College with instructions on the appropriate course of action to resolve the matter;

9.1.4. The alleged action constitutes research misconduct and:

     9.1.4.1. The matter should be resolved under the appropriate University disciplinary procedures; or,

     9.1.4.2. A misconduct inquiry panel shall be established consistent with the relevant University disciplinary processes (see Section 9.2) and the Code to further investigate the allegation.

9.2. The appropriate University disciplinary processes are determined as follows:

9.2.1. For a student refer to the RMIT Student Conduct Regulations;

9.2.2. For a staff member refer to the RMIT Staff Enterprise Agreement; and,

9.2.3. For an honorary or adjunct member refer to contractual arrangements.

10. Acting on the outcome of the preliminary investigation

10.1. After consideration of the preliminary investigation findings and recommendation by the Designated Person, the Delegated Officer will:

10.1.1. Accept the Designated Person’s recommendation; or,

10.1.2. Decide on one of the other options in Section 9.1; or,

10.1.3. Otherwise dismiss the allegation with reasoning and take no further action.

10.2. The Delegated Officer will ensure that the Designated Person, the complainant, the respondent and any other relevant parties are informed of their decision in writing and any required actions.

11. The research misconduct inquiry

11.1. Any allegation of research misconduct investigated in accordance with the staff or student conduct or disciplinary instrument will be considered to meet the inquiry requirements of the Code.

11.2. At any time during the inquiry it may be determined that the alleged research misconduct is likely to have serious consequences. If so, RMIT University and the relevant union representative will work together to form an external investigation inquiry panel that meets the requirements of the Code.

12. Acting on the outcome of the research misconduct inquiry

12.1. The Delegated Officer will ensure that all relevant parties are informed of the Research Misconduct inquiry findings in writing.

12.2. In finalising the inquiry, the Delegated Officer will ensure that all necessary steps as required by the Code and any institutional imposed requirements are met. This may include notifying external persons (i.e., journal editors, funding bodies) to ensure the public record is amended if necessary. Where the researcher is no longer at RMIT, it remains the responsibility of the University to correct the public record in cases where the affiliation identifies RMIT as the nominated institution at the time of publication.

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