By Prof. Loice Maru, Moi University, Dr. Uzziah Maate Kiriaghe, Uganda Christian University, Silas Maiyo, The Co-operative University College of Kenya
Research ethics and quality assurance are issues of growing concern in our universities and institutions of research. Imagine our surprise when two research articles published in two different refereed journals by different groups of authors but with exactly the same content were brought to our attention at APHRC’s training workshop on research leadership in September 2015. The publications were one and the same!
Discussions following the realization revealed a number of ethical issues that reflect a common practice. Whether it’s plagiarism, fabrication, deception, falsification or conflict of interest, we are noticing with increased concern that malpractice is rife in academia. Unless we as institutions and individuals take a strong and united stand, we risk undermining the hard work made in African academia to bolster our standing globally as institutions worthy of study and investment.
Research ethics enshrine the moral codes or guiding principles of academia. In essence, they are the set processes that must be followed to arrive at the results and output of any research. They also align research output with the necessary rigor, credibility, applicability, consistency, neutrality of results to achieve global standards for research conduct.
Concerns about research quality have evolved in parallel with the improvements in the quality of research. Many of the concerns relate to the increasing use of technology in research. This calls for a greater and stronger focus on management of research ethics and quality in research institutions.
The consequences of unethical research practices are far-reaching, and can have an effect not only on research outcomes but also on individual researchers and their home institutions. The wider implications can also resonate at community and national levels. If we do not apply a robust standard of ethics and conduct to research, we risk developing a generation of unqualified unprofessional researchers, while also undermining their ability to think critically or innovate about the pressing challenges of our time. As we turn our attention to policy-informing research and efforts to drive improved research uptake by policy makers, we risk undermining that agenda with unethical, unqualified and unprofessional research.
When all is said and done, the responsibility of research ethics and quality lies with the individual. But equally, institutions and academia have a role to play. We who are veterans of this sector must also be role models and ensure that we do not abuse academic power. We must be beyond reproach; we must strive to achieve the highest possible standards of ethics and good practice.
We were encouraged by our recent attendance at the training program led by APHRC’s Research Capacity Strengthening program to develop this series of recommendations in order for universities and research institutions to enhance ethical practice. We consider that by developing clear policies and guidelines to protect the integrity of research, institutions can play a prominent role in inculcating strong, ethical practices in the next generation of research leaders.
These policies and guidelines should extend to the establishment, monitoring and oversight of systems that promote and protect research quality while at the same time ensuring transparency. Institutions should consider setting up institutional ethical boards that both reward quality research and discipline those who would engage in unethical research practices.
Finally, in keeping with the Socratic traditions of academia, we support the establishment of mentoring programs for post-graduate students and young scholars on research ethics by encouraging open presentations of research ideas and papers including internal peer-review processes.
Our research must help us to use the past for the benefit of the future. Research ethics and quality can be ensured by strong internal institutional systems that embolden responsible conduct by researchers at all phases of their careers.
APHRC’s Research Capacity Strengthening Program offers training courses in a diverse set of research leadership courses. For more information visit the www.aphrc.org/workshops