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Academic misconduct - CS022306

A PhD student carried out a research study with patients in a healthcare setting outside the UK. The student obtained relevant ethical approval from the provider. But when their work was submitted for examination, a concern was raised about whether appropriate local approval had been obtained. The provider began a research misconduct investigation. It concluded that relevant ethical approval procedures had not been carried out, and accordingly made a finding of research misconduct.

The provider’s regulations placed final responsibility for ensuring all relevant ethical approvals are in place upon the student as the author of their work. However, it recognised that the omission had been unintentional, and that the student had not been advised that there was, or might be, any additional ethical requirements to complete.

The student’s work was examined and the student was awarded the PhD. The provider did not apply a penalty for the research misconduct. But because the thesis lacked the appropriate ethical approvals, the provider decided that it could never be published.

The student complained to us.

We partly upheld the student’s complaint (we found it “Partly Justified”).

The provider had acknowledged that it was partly responsible for the situation and had tried to remedy the situation by seeking retrospective ethical approval. Unfortunately this was unsuccessful. The process took nine months to complete, and at times it was not clear whether the student was attending meetings to receive advice, or as part of an investigatory process. The student was not directed to other sources of support. The student suffered a significant amount of distress during the process.

We recommended that the provider should pay the student £5,750 in compensation for the distress and inconvenience they had suffered, and should offer to facilitate a further period of research, to allow the student to build upon their research in a new project, with ethical approval in place.  We also recommended that the provider review its guidance to staff on issues relevant to ethical approval.