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Research integrity

The issue of research integrity has become increasingly topical in recent years. A number of high-profile cases of researchers who do not always respect the scientific and moral standards of research have surfaced in various countries.

Research integrity is closely linked but not quite identical to research ethics. Integrity specifically involves those aspects that are linked to the quality of research practice and its results. Ethics is primarily about standards and values to be taken into account by the researcher to protect the well-being of humans and animals involved in research and the results thereof. A researcher may falsify data without immediately putting humans or animals at risk.  Such a researcher does not act with integrity, for the results of his research are unreliable, but he does not engage in direct unethical conduct with respect to humans, animals and their environment. However, the fact that the use of such manipulated results may eventually cause harm to humans, animals and their environment, shows that integrity and ethics can never be completely separated. From a broad ethical point of view, falsification of research data or otherwise tampering with research data is, of course, unacceptable.  Therefore, it may be better to consider research integrity as a special dimension of research ethics.

As the organisation in charge of research funding in Flanders, the FWO has a great responsibility in preventing and, where necessary, combating infringements of research ethics. It intends to fully shoulder this responsibility by implementing actions both within and outside the walls of the FWO.

  • Research integrity contact point: Danny Huysmans,, 02/550.15.32
  • The FWO has no own Committee for Scientific Integrity. The committee of the institution where an FWO researcher works, investigates a possible complaint.

Research Integrity within the FWO

In 2013, a taskforce at FWO set out to propose measures to ensure research integrity. The taskforce was  made up of academics from the Flemish universities and from various research areas. It was chaired by Professor Jacob Fokkema, Honorary Rector of TU Delft and member of the Board of Trustees of the FWO. The conclusions of the taskforce have been the subject of intensive consultation between the FWO and the Flemish universities. The proposals were approved by the Board of Trustees in June 2015. 

Attention was directed to both prevention and awareness raising, detection and monitoring, corrective action and sanctioning.

The following measures were implemented:

  • incorporation of a clause in calls, application forms and agreements;
  • profiles for researchers, supervisors and institutions, with rights and duties;
  • amendments to the regulations;
  • further development of the procedures used by the FWO and the host institutions of the researchers to deal with infringements.

Research integrity clause

To prevent infringements and raise the awareness of researchers benefiting from FWO funding, all calls, application forms and agreements between the researchers and the FWO incorporate a research integrity clause.

The text of this clause informs researchers benefiting from FWO funding, their host institutions, (co-)supervisors and other staff involved in FWO research, of their obligation to comply at all times with research integrity standards.  The Ethische Code voor wetenschappelijk onderzoek in BelgiĆ« and the European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity are included as attachments to calls, application forms and agreements. They contain the fundamental ethical rules of conduct. The FWO assumes that every researcher submitting an application has taken cognisance of these codes and undertakes to comply with their provisions in all stages of the proposed research.  This also applies for their host institutions, (co-)supervisors and staff involved in FWO research for which they assume co-responsibility. 

In case of doubt regarding the applicability or the method of application of a provision, the host institution and/or the researcher responsible for the project or fellowship is expected to contact the FWO administration in order to provide clarification and agree on specific arrangements in this respect.


Prevention and awareness raising inherently imply a clear description of the role of the supervisor on the one hand, and of the role of the PhD student and other junior researchers on the other hand.[1] Every researcher, both supervisory and executive level, should be properly informed of what is expected of them, of what is and what is not acceptable. This also applies to the host institution where they are active.

In this context, a 'junior researcher' denotes not only the PhD student, but also other researchers working under the supervision of a supervisor. Their responsibilities in conducting the research are in fact similar to those of the PhD students and the supervisor is also responsible for their guidance. Since the FWO has a direct relationship only with supervisors and fellows, researchers assigned to research projects are mentioned only in the profile description of supervisors.  However, such researchers can also prepare a PhD and can also identify with the content of the profile description of PhD students.  Where the supervisor profile speaks of 'PhD student', the latter may therefore be either a fellow or a project assistant. The description 'other researchers associated with his FWO research project' in the supervisor profile refers only to assistants that are not PhD students.  Moreover, postdoctoral researchers may also be addressed, because they can be active as fellows of the FWO or as assistant or co-supervisor of an FWO project.  


The general regulations and the regulations for pre- and postdoctoral researchers have been modified to allow the FWO to adequately respond to any research integrity issues experienced with beneficiaries of FWO funding. These modifications already cover the area of correction and sanctioning. They also provide for proper alignment with the host institutions where the researchers are active.

Research Integrity outside the FWO

In Flanders

Because vigilance is also required in Flanders, the FWO took the initiative to establish a Vlaamse Commissie voor Wetenschappelijke Integriteit (Flemish Committee for Scientific Integrity, VCWI) in 2011.  It was established on 9 October 2013 and is located in the Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Science and the Arts (KVAB), which provides the secretariat there. The organisations that together decided to establish the VCWI are:

  • Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Science and the Arts (KVAB)
  • Royal Academy for Medicine of Belgium (KAGB)
  • Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO)
  • Agency for Innovation by Science and Technology (IWT)
  • KU Leuven
  • Universiteit Antwerpen
  • Universiteit Gent
  • Universiteit Hasselt
  • Vrije Universiteit Brussel

These institutions have approved the regulations of the VCWI and stated they will incorporate the recommendations of the VCWI in their decision-making process.

The VCWI has two tasks:

1. give advice on concrete case files that have already been dealt with in one or more of the committees for scientific integrity of the Flemish universities at the institutions concerned;
2. give advice on more general questions concerning this subject matter.

This committee thus contributes to the uniform treatment of questions in connection with research ethics and awareness-raising surrounding this issue.

More information can be found on the VCWI website The site also describes who can consult the VCWI and how this should be done.


FWO is a member of Science Europe, which has included research integrity in its Strategy Plan 2021-2026.

In the European Network of Research Integrity Offices (ENRIO) Flanders is represented by the VCWI. This network is a platform for the discussion between different European organisations about the policy on this subject.