You don’t have to look for long to discover that UK research enjoys a world-class reputation. We punch well above our weight. The UK has less than 1% of the world’s population, but we undertake 5% of global research and produce about 14% of the most highly-cited papers. As we have previously reported in this blog, we’re also one of the most effective sectors compared to our competitors. In a global economy that relies heavily on innovation and a knowledge economy, it stands to reason that all those involved with research do everything possible to maintain the quality that makes us a major player.
Ensuring that the integrity of research is beyond reproach is central to maintaining this quality. There have been claims that research misconduct in the sector is rife, and while there is no room for complacency, we must be careful not to talk the sector down. Quality and standards in research are given top priority in our institutions and since much of the UK’s research takes place in universities, they have a key role to play.
Where problems occur and allegations of misconduct are made, then we need to be sure that we have robust systems in place to deal with these. However, a focus on misconduct alone obscures all of the positive work that must be done to ensure that these high standards are maintained. Researchers should work in an environment that supports and rewards good practice; funders, employers and researchers need to work together to safeguard against behaviours that can cause damage before they occur. As Liz Wager argues in a thoughtful piece, we need a culture and research environment that nurtures rigour and integrity, as well as having effective systems to investigate allegations of misconduct.
We believe that many of these things already exist. But as a sector, we must commit to continuously strengthen approaches that ensure rigour and integrity in our research, as well as accounting for our efforts. At Universities UK, we have been working alongside major funders and users of research to develop an approach that reflects these points. Together with Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), Research Councils UK (RCUK), the Wellcome Trust and government we have produced a concordat that:
- identifies five key commitments that all those engaged in research should agree to
- provides a framework to underpin research integrity in all disciplines
- makes a clear statement about the responsibilities of researchers, employers and funders of research
- commits to implementation and the monitoring of efforts to strengthen the integrity of research
The concordat aims to cover all areas of research, not just those that always make the headlines. We hope that by getting an agreement in place, we will all be in a stronger position to raise research integrity’s profile further.
The concordat will provide a broad set of principles that promotes transparency and better ways of working, but, at the same time, does not preclude other ways of promoting research integrity or, indeed, measures dealing with research misconduct that may be developed in the future.
We’d like everybody who has an interest in top-quality research to take a look at the concordat and let us know what you think. Comments are open until 11 May 2012. Feel free to leave us your thoughts, either below the line or send them to: firstname.lastname@example.org