Conduct & capability
Conflict of interest policy and procedure
This policy applies to all members of the University, including staff, external committee members, consultants, honorary appointments and volunteers. A reference in this policy to staff includes any person within the scope of the policy.
The University's conflict of interest policy accords with the Seven Principles of Public Life established by the Nolan Committee. The fact that the University has adopted such a policy does not in any way cast doubt on the integrity or professionalism of the University's employees. Rather it recognises that the University wishes to give a great deal of freedom to employees to engage in external activities, giving many advantages to the University and the individuals concerned, and so conflicts are common and to be expected.
The most important message in the University's conflict of interest policy and procedure is that all staff should discuss or disclose an activity if they are in doubt about whether it represents a conflict of interest. However, it is expected that the majority of potential, perceived or actual conflicts of interest will be able to be self-managed. If an individual’s ability to judge whether a conflict of interest exists and how it should be managed or escalated is compromised due to health conditions or disabilities (declared or otherwise), this will be taken into account.
This document outlines the principles upon which conflicts can be assessed by individuals in practice, with some examples provided in Appendix A to aid with these assessments. A ‘How To’ guide is also available (LINK) providing details on how to record and manage Major conflicts.
A conflict of interest is a set of circumstances that creates a risk that an individual’s ability to apply judgment or act in one role is, or could be, impaired or influenced by a secondary interest (UKRI). The University’s conflict of interest policy operates on a number of basic principles;
- Conflicts of interest whether perceived, potential or actual, are common and a reality of the working environment.
- Individuals recognising conflicts of interest is key as the vast majority can be managed or avoided.
- It is the individual’s responsibility to recognise conflict or those situations that might reasonably be seen by others to have a conflict, and thus identify, declare where appropriate, and manage such conflicts.
- Conflicts can be categorised into two groups; ‘minor’ (able to be easily avoided by self- management, possibility of indirect influence or benefit only, low risk of either likelihood of conflict or conferring an impact) and ‘major’ (unlikely to be avoidable easily through self-management, possibility of direct influence or benefit, high risk of likelihood or conferring an impact).
- Most conflicts will be minor and can be personally managed by an individual
- Major conflicts will require declarations to be made, treatment plans to be developed with line managers, and records to be documented on iTRENT
- A failure to declare major conflicts in good time will be viewed as intentional rather inadvertent.
There can be situations in which the appearance of conflict of interest is present even when no conflict actually exists. Thus, it is important for all staff when evaluating a potential conflict of interest to consider how it might be perceived by others. To aid this reflection, all staff will be asked on an annual basis whether they have any major conflicts to declare although these evaluations should be undertaken as part of common practice on a continuous basis.
A financial conflict of interest, for the purposes of this policy, is one where there is or appears to be opportunity for personal financial gain, financial gain to close relatives or close friends, or where it might be reasonable for another party to take the view that financial benefits might affect that person's actions.
Financial interest means anything of monetary value, for example:
- payments for goods or services;
- awards of contracts;
- equity interests (e.g. stocks, stock options or other ownership interests);
- resources and assets, including equipment, technical staff and facilities;
- intellectual property rights (e.g. patents, copyrights and royalties from such rights).
The level of financial interest is not the determining factor as to whether a conflict should be disclosed. What might be 'not material' or 'not significant' for one person might be very significant for another. Good practice in many situations will mean the disclosure of 'any' financial interest, however small. A conflict will arise if the interest might provide, or be reasonably seen by others, to provide an incentive to the individual which affects their actions and where he or she has the opportunity to affect a University decision or other activity (because for example he or she is the decision-maker or the principal investigator on a research project).
Non-financial interests can also come into conflict, or be perceived to come into conflict, with a person's obligations or commitments to the University or to other bodies, for example the individual's college or other body of which he or she is a trustee. Such non-financial interest may include any benefit or advantage, including, but not limited to, direct or indirect enhancement of an individual's career, education or gain to immediate family (or a person with whom the person has a close personal relationship).
Most conflicts as stated should be self-managed by individuals, whilst cognisant of individual factors such as the impact of health conditions or differing cultural contexts that may impact on a person’s ability to judge such instances. Managers of individuals where conflicts can’t be self-managed or where major conflicts arise should operate using the principles below.
It is important to note that “seriousness” is a question of degree. It involves a spectrum of directness and significance. Several factors may need to be considered when assessing the seriousness of the conflict of interest and potential for bias.
These include but are not limited to:
- The seriousness of the actual, potential or perceived conflict which might include any potential breaches in legislation or statutory duties or the impact of the conflict on the university’s reputation
- how closely the two interests concern each other;
- the magnitude of the actual, potential or perceived effect of one on the other;
- the nature or significance of the particular decision or activity being carried out;
- the extent to which the individual’s other interest could actually affect or be perceived to affect the School’s decision or activity;
- the nature or extent of the individual’s current or intended involvement in the School’s decision or activity.
As an additional source of help, please refer to the:
This list is not meant to be exhaustive. The primary obligation rests with the individual to recognise situations in which they potentially have a conflict of interest and to disclose and discuss that conflict with their line manager. It is important to understand that this includes scenarios that conflict with the Nolan Principles as well as those could be perceived as conflicting; it is therefore imperative that the context and detail of each potential example are fully understood by the line manager. Note that in the majority of cases permission can be given to proceed provided that arrangements are made to avoid the potential conflict.
- Staff of the University serving on other bodies or committees who have financial or other personal interests in companies or organisations on which the body is expected to pass judgement. Members of such bodies will typically be asked by those bodies to declare financial interests and to absent themselves from any decisions related to those interests.
- Authors submitting a paper must disclose any 'significant financial interest' or other relationship with the manufacturers of any commercial products or providers of commercial services discussed in the manuscript and any financial supporters of the research. The intent of such disclosures is not to prevent an author with a significant financial or other relationship from publishing a paper, but rather to provide readers with information upon which to make their own judgements.
- Staff holding directorships or shareholdings in a personal capacity with a named company that the University or one of its subsidiary companies might do business with.
- A staff member takes part in the negotiation of a contract between the University and a company, where the staff member or his or her family or a close personal friend has a financial or non-financial interest (e.g. a directorship) in that company.
- A researcher develops a research or commercial proposal, which at least in part, could be delivered by a company that they have an interest in (financial, managerial, shareholder, owner).
- The researcher has a financial interest in the company sponsoring the research, this being exacerbated if the value of the researcher's interest may be affected by the outcome of the research.
- A researcher holds a directorship or is a significant shareholder of a company (Company 1) and through their University research activities has access to privileged information relating to another company (Company 2) that may be operating in a related field. Company 1 should be informed of such a potential conflict before the researcher makes use of that information in connection with Company 1 or discloses anything to them. The researcher is also likely to have an obligation of confidentiality to Company 2 which they should not breach.
- The researcher holds a position in an enterprise (e.g. as director) that may wish to restrict (or otherwise manage) adverse research findings for commercial reasons or not wish to publish the results of the research. This is not only a potential conflict of interest but has a potential impact on academic freedom for other researchers.
- A researcher or a related body in which the researcher has an affiliation or a financial interest may benefit, directly or indirectly, from dissemination of research results in a particular way (including any unwarranted delay in or restriction upon publication of such results).
- Some research funding agencies set specific disclosure requirements related to financial interest. They may require, for example, direct notification to them or to University officials where a principal investigator's financial interests might reasonably appear to be affected by the outcomes of the research.
- Some types of research, e.g. clinical trials, also require additional declarations related to financial interest. Researchers need to be aware of and comply with those specific requirements. Further information can be found in the terms and conditions of the grant or contract. Researchers should contact the Research and Enterprise Office if they are in any doubt as to the requirements.
Student supervision and teaching:
- Staff with a close personal or familial relationship with a student or a student's family who may be involved in decisions about that student's admission, teaching, supervision or academic progress or the award of any scholarship, prizes or other grants to the student. If the staff member attends a meeting of the board of examiners where the student is being assessed, the interest should be declared.
- Doctoral Student supervisors with a personal or familial connection
- A member of staff who is in a position to judge or evaluate the quality of a student's work holds a financial stake or a formal position in any student-run, owned or controlled commercial venture whilst that student is enrolled at the University.
- Undertaking teaching, examination or assessment duties at other Universities (paid or unpaid)
- A postgraduate research student receiving support from a company in which his/her academic supervisor has a financial interest or position. This would require a change to the supervisory team (e,g. an additional supervisor to assure independency).
- A member of staff supervising a taught undergraduate or postgraduate student where the member of staff develops a research or commercial interest in the IP developed by the student and enters into negotiation with the student prior to the student graduating. Staff should note that University policy is that such students own their own IP and that they should not be pressured into giving up those rights.
- Staff carrying out work on a self-employment basis for another organisation that may be connected to the University or its subsidiaries
- Staff advising external partners (individuals, companies or organisations) either through LUEL or in a private capacity (subject to the University’s External Work Procedures) and in doing so, disclose IP or make arrangements regarding the generation of new IP for that external partner where the IP is owned by the University and not by themselves.
- Staff seeking to influence the pricing of work favourably for an external organisation in which they have a financial or non-financial interest, resulting in a discount below market rate, without other justification. This also may have State Aid implications.
- Staff involving taught students (undergraduate or postgraduate) in consultancy activities and assuming their IP can be utilised; however students (not being an employee of the University) own their own IP (Student ToolKit) and so this assumption should not be made nor should the students be pressured by staff into handing over rights to that IP to others.
- Staff acting in dual roles in terms of commissioning work and then supplying services.
- Undertaking external work that rightly should be delivered by / through the University as it uses, or could use, University IP / facilities / staff / resources / brand etc. i.e. acting in competition with the University.
Staff should note that, based on their Conditions of Service, all IP generated by them in the course of their duties, or which is generated using any University resources, facilities or equipment is owned by the University. Staff may not make any arrangements (commercial or otherwise) regarding that IP with external partners, nor disclose that IP for commercial gain without permission.
If the consultancy is carried out through LUEL then LUEL sets out the legal terms (including IP terms and conditions) with the partner. A key provision of that agreement may mean that the partner owns any IP developed during the consultancy. If the work is based on valuable existing or potential new commercialisable ideas and/or the staff member has ambitions to commercialise these ideas through other routes, then staff should alert LUEL who will engage with the Commercialisation Team in the Research & Enterprise Office to ascertain whether the consultancy work will compromise the ability to commercialise that IP.
If the consultancy is carried out in a personal capacity, then LUEL’s protection regarding insurance and legal terms is not available and staff should be aware both of the potential for personal liability and the potential to disclose or deal with IP that is not owned by them (as above) and/or could be better commercialised through other routes. Such activities are in breach of their Conditions of Service.
Staff are reminded that as a founder in a SpinOut, their role should not result in influence being brought to bear or decisions being made which could result in a conflict of interest with their responsibilities and duties as employees of the University (as per the examples above). In terms of IP, this could mean;
- Staff having a financial interest or other personal interest in a spin-out or in an organisation to which the University has licensed or is seeking to license University IP.
- Staff involved in a SpinOut or Licensing collaboration using their relationship with colleagues at the University to secure preferential treatment in terms of IP and confidentiality in student projects (whether UG/PG/PGR).
Staff should note that where a SpinOut is formed based on IP that they have generated, or where a licence is agreed with an external company based on such IP, that they are entitled to a share of the income arising to the University from the licence (see IP Policy, Conditions of Service and SpinOut Policy for more details). Hence the above financial interest may apply even if staff have no other direct interest in a licensee.
In such cases:
They should normally play no executive role in any decisions made between the University or its subsidiaries and such spin-outs or IP licensees. If it is believed that there are exceptional circumstances to argue for such involvement, prior permission must be sought by the Dean and then from the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Enterprise). The proposed conflict of interest plan/approach to be put to the Dean and then the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Enterprise) must aim to protect the reputation of the academic(s), their research group(s) and the University and ensure compliance with company law.
The Financial (Procurement) Regulations apply where a SpinOut could deliver a contract for goods or services.
Individuals should be aware that conflicts will exist when procuring services or goods from an organisation that they or a close friend or family member have a role in.
- Staff must ensure the probity of all financial transactions. The sale or supply of goods by the University or the purchase of goods or services by the University must be carried out in accordance with the University’s Financial Regulations. Staff should not normally be involved in supply or purchase decisions in relation to any external organisation in which they or any members of their family or any person with whom they have a close personal relationship have a financial interest or in any way have the capacity for personal gain. If there are exceptional circumstances that prima facie require such involvement, the following process should be followed:
- the person should disclose, in writing to their line manager, the nature of the transaction, the potential conflict and the method proposed to manage the conflict;
- they and their line manager must formulate a proposed plan/approach that protects the University and ensures compliance with the law and the integrity of the transaction(s) and the individuals involved; and the line manager must then seek approval of that plan from the relevant Dean / Director.
- All purchases for the supply of goods or services should comply with the University’s Financial (Procurement) Regulations including the Ethical Procurement regulations. Where a conflict of interest could occur, those responsible for making the decision should take particular care in deciding which supplier or contractor to choose. So as to be able to show impartiality, individuals should take appropriate steps to ensure value for money. Advice may be sought from the Head of Procurement. The appropriate Procurement Category Manager generally manages all £50k+ procurement exercises, ensuring that all tender evaluation panelists complete the Declaration of Interests form. In any event, the appropriate Category Manager must be asked to advise where there are any potential conflicts of interest, including where potentially perceived, ahead of embarking on a procurement exercise.
In terms of procurement, a primary risk area for potential conflicts of interest, the University’s processes prompt declarations of interest. Tender evaluation panellists for £50k+ contracts are required to complete the Declaration of Interests form, and the New Supplier-Contract Award Approval Form requires confirmation that there are no unmitigated conflicts of interest for those who were involved in the procurement process.
Certain scenarios may lead to opportunities for conflict and so individuals need to remain cognisant of this.
- Participating in the appointment, hiring, promotion, supervision or evaluation of a person with whom the staff member has a close personal relationship. All staff recruitment should be carried out in accordance with the University’s Recruitment Guidelines.
- A spouse works at the University (note – the point here isn’t that this is inherently bad, simply that a conflict exists and needs to be managed)
- An academic chairs a University committee which is to consider the allocation of funds to be shared between a number of Schools, including their own.
- Being the editor of a journal (including membership on an editorial board)
- Where there is a family or personal relationship between two members of staff, Council or Committee members; neither member of staff should be involved in any decision or process affecting the other, including promotion, remuneration, discipline, governance or grievance.
- The holding of any other appointments such as membership of governing bodies of other education institutions, charity trusteeships and other public appointments.