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.

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 België 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 profiles of the various actors are given below:

[1] Clearly, these and other terms refer to researchers of all genders and all gender profiles.

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.