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Aarhus University expands existing guidelines for freedom of research

Since the New Year, Aarhus University has been working on new initiatives that will make advice and guidance more widely and easily available to the university’s researchers. These initiatives are part of the follow-up on the research freedom survey carried out for the university in 2018.

Over the first six months of 2019, the academic councils at AU were the driving force behind a internal process intended to follow up on the research freedom survey of December 2018. The result of the process is an updated, expanded policy for the responsible conduct of research which now includes pressure on freedom of research.

In addition, the organisation of the roles and processes related to research integrity and the responsible conduct of research has been tightened up. The roles of the Research Practice Committee and the adviser group have been adjusted and expanded to allow them to assist in cases in which researchers experience pressure on their freedom of research.

Now all researchers have the option of getting confidential, anonymous guidance on freedom of research from advisers who are independent of management. In addition, all employees now have the option of submitting cases regarding such pressure for consideration by the Research Practice Committee.

“I’m pleased that we are now implementing initiatives that will strengthen our defence of the freedom of research at the university, after a comprehensive process,” Rector Brian Bech Nielsen states.

Confidential, anonymous guidance on freedom of research

The 2018 research freedom survey at Aarhus University was performed on the rector’s initiative, and it revealed that some researchers at the university were being pressured to change, withhold or refrain from publishing their research findings. Although these researchers were a minority, this was still too many, which Rector Bech Nielsen when the results of the survey was published.

The Policy for research integrity, freedom of research and responsible conduct of research at Aarhus University and the rules for the Research Practice Committee and advisers are based on the Danish Code of Conduct for Research Integrity which was endorsed by Aarhus University in 2014 at the same time as the other Danish universities.

“We have chosen to supplement the existing national guidelines with an expanded access to confidential, objective advice and guidance on freedom of research at Aarhus University. In addition, employees can submit a request to the Research Practice Committee to consider a case concerning pressure on freedom of research,” the rector explains, and adds:

“I can’t emphasise strongly enough that research integrity is absolutely crucial to our credibility and our activities as a university.”

Local follow-up

At local level, deans, department/school heads and centre directors will launch initiatives to ensure that all employees are familiar with the university guidelines, rules and policies in this field, and that they are aware of their own responsibilities in this connection.