Determining if a conflict exists

In assessing a potential conflict of interest situation, consider:

“Would a reasonable, disinterested observer think that an individual’s competing personal interests’ conflict appear to conflict, or could conflict in the future, with the individual’s duty to act in the University’s best interests?”

In determining whether the above test is met, consider the following questions:

  • Could the individual or anyone associated with the individual benefit from or be detrimentally affected by the proposed decision or action, now or in the future?
  • Does the individual have a current or previous personal, professional or financial relationship of any significance with an interested party?
  • Does the individual or someone with whom they have a close personal relationship stand to gain or lose financially in some way?
  • Has the individual contributed in a private capacity in any way to the matter that the University is dealing with?
  • Has the individual received a gift, benefit or hospitality from someone who stands to gain or lose from the individual’s proposed decision or action?
  • Is the individual a member of an association, club or professional organisation, or does the individual have particular ties and affiliations with organisations or individuals who stand to gain or lose by the individual’s proposed decision or action?
  • Could the situation have an influence on any future employment opportunities outside the individual’s current duties?
  • Would there be any concerns if the competing private interest and the action taken (or not taken) by the University was disclosed on the front page of a newspaper or via electronic media?

Examples of activities in a University setting that could present potential conflicts of interest or commitment include:

  • Where a staff member has a financial/personal interest in an enterprise, with which the University does business and could be perceived to be in a position to influence relevant business decisions.
  • Situations where the time or creative energy that a staff member devotes to activities additional to their University commitment appears substantial enough to compromise the amount or quality of their University activities.
  • Activities for which employees are personally remunerated from an external source/party (E.g. research projects, conferences, teaching programs, remunerative consulting agreements, etc.) that involve, or might reasonably be perceived to involve, the University's name, facilities, equipment and staff.
  • Activities that breach, or might reasonably be perceived to breach, any of the principles governing research supported by funds administered through the University insofar as these principles are relevant to individual behaviour.
  • A staff member having a commitment, paid or unpaid, outside the University that involves frequent or prolonged absence from the University on non-University business.
  • Holding positions in companies sponsoring and conducting research at the University while simultaneously being a University staff member.
  • Chairing a committee responsible for allocating internal funding for research at a Unit or University level where funding is granted to the chair's Unit, Institute or Centre.
  • Providing lecturing and tutoring services for another Higher Education Provider.
  • A staff member asking a designated selection officer for information relating to the admission of someone with whom the staff member has a close personal relationship.

Some examples of activities that are incompatible with University policies include:

  • where a member of staff carries out duties for an outside organisation, paid or unpaid, that diverts their attention from their University responsibilities, or creates other conflicts that cannot be appropriately managed.
  • Consulting under arrangements that impose obligations that conflict with the University's intellectual property requirements or to those of its research sponsors.
  • Where research that might normally be conducted within the University is progressed elsewhere to the disadvantage of the University and to the benefit of an individual.
  • Conducting negotiations on the terms under which intellectual property, or other University property, is sold, licensed or transferred to an external body where the staff member has a financial interest.
  • Holding shares in a company controlled by one of the students or staff for whom a staff member has supervisory responsibility.
  • Directing University resources that can influence an external body's development where the staff member or their family members are directors or shareholders of that body.
  • Accepting gifts of value, grant funding and/or favour from associates who would be seen to benefit from making these gifts.
  • Being involved in the admissions process pressuring a selection officer (directly or indirectly) to review, or reassess, an application for admission for someone with whom the staff member has a close personal relationship.
  • Co-supervising a research student with another staff member or adjunct with whom they have had a close personal relationship.
  • Using University assets or confidential University information for personal gain, or for the benefit of family or friends.
  • Being responsible for the supervision of a student or another member of staff with whom they have, or have had, a sexual relationship.
  • Undertaking research or clinical trials sponsored by a company in which the researcher has a financial interest, or holds an executive position.
  • Holding an equity interest or executive position in a startup company that has contracted with the University to conduct research.

Conflicts have the potential to arise in various contexts including a research setting. Such conflicts may affect your professional judgment in conducting, evaluating, or reporting on research. It may affect, or be seen to affect, not only the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data, but also the hiring of staff, procurement of materials, sharing of results, choice of protocol, involvement of human subjects, and the use of statistical methods. In short, a conflict of interest can affect almost anything you do as a researcher, and it is important to be creative when considering how your research might be improperly influenced by your situation. As a general guide, use the ‘trust test’ – “Would others (e.g. employer, clients, colleagues, or the general public) trust my judgment if they knew I was in this situation?“

Further information and guidance for researchers is available on the University’s Managing conflicts of interest webpage.