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UK research integrity – how to maintain the UK's reputation for high standards

13 July 2018
Samuel Roseveare

Samuel Roseveare

Policy Manager
Universities UK
Lab research

The publication of the Commons Science and Technology Committee's (STC) report into research integrity has confirmed what we already know: UK universities carry out high-quality research that benefits society immensely. 

While this is something to be celebrated, it is essential that these benefits are grounded in research that is carried out according to the highest ethical, legal, and professional standards. This mission – or 'research integrity' – is a central component of public and political trust in the UK higher education sector, so it cannot be taken lightly.

Thankfully, as the STC notes, the vast majority of research undertaken in the UK is of high quality and high integrity; but there is no room for complacency. Indeed, the report suggests a number of areas for improvement, highlighting in particular the inability of the higher education sector to demonstrate that institutions follow their own procedures and investigate misconduct properly. It proposes further steps – including a tightening of the Concordat to support research integrity to include a roadmap to full compliance, and the introduction of a committee to have oversight of all research integrity issues.

These recommendations have value – and will require careful consideration by UUK and the other organisations named in the report. UUK itself is committed to ensuring, by the time the signatories report on delivery of the recommendations in 12 months' time, that all of its members meet the commitments of the Concordat. UUK's view is that the research sector should aspire beyond mere compliance with the Concordat. Research integrity is more about culture than compliance, and we will explore ways in which new initiatives might be developed.

It is also clear that to advance and improve, the UK needs a wider group of organisations on board – beyond those who have already signed up to the Concordat. The UK Research Integrity Forum, chaired by Professor Paul Boyle and convened by UUK in March, is taking the lead in bringing together this wider group, as well as engaging with other organisations as the Royal Society and the UK Research Integrity Office's efforts to embed integrity in research culture.

UK universities have a proud record on research integrity, and the Concordat has played, and will continue to play, a key role in this. It is now up to the higher education sector to reflect and act on the advice the Committee has given to ensure continued public trust in the research they do. If done properly, the whole of society will benefit.  

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