Conflict of Interest Policy FAQ
Why is the University bringing out this policy now?
In February 2018, the Higher Education Authority (HEA) and Knowledge Transfer Ireland (KTI) published the “Review of Intellectual Property Management and Conflicts of Interest” which was written by IP Pragmatics. The review covered 22 higher education institutes in Ireland and made ten recommendations.
Following the publication of the review, UCC developed new Conflict of Interest and new IP Policy to enable the University and its staff to understand and comply with the requirements.
What does this policy cover?
All staff must declare any potential conflict of interest they have. These potential conflicts are recorded on a register in their school/department and a summary report is sent to Governing Body annually. This conflict of interest policy was developed to help staff satisfy this requirement.
This policy explains to staff:
- what a conflict of interest is;
- what a conflict of commitment is;
- what to do if you think you have or could be seen to have a potential conflict of interest;
- how conflicts of interest are to be managed in UCC.
Who does this policy apply to?
The conflict of interest policy applies to all staff. It applies to anyone who:
- works in the University in any role;
- gets paid by the University e.g. contract workers;
- conducts research e.g. students involved in research;
- is a member of Governing Body or a University committee.
See here for a more detailed definition.
What is a conflict of interest?
The policy defines a conflict of interest as “A situation in which someone’s personal interests, obligations or loyalties could influence, or be seen to influence, the objective performance of their official University duties and responsibilities. This personal interest can be direct or indirect, and it can include the interests of parties connected to them (see definition of connected person below). For the purpose of this Policy every reference to Conflict of Interest shall include actual, potential or perceived conflicts of interest.”
In other words, a conflict of interest can arise when someone has personal interests or loyalties which could be, or could be seen to be, at odds with the interests of the University. It also applies to the interests and loyalties of people or organisations which you have a close relationship with, for example, if you or a family member has interests in a company that provides services to the University.
What is a conflict of commitment?
A conflict of commitment can arise when someone engages in an outside activity that involves a commitment of time which can interfere, or appear to interfere, with their University duties. For example, having outside commitments which involve frequent absence from the University on non-University business.
What is a connected person?
A connected person is a person or organisation with which you have a close relationship.
A connected person includes:
- someone’s child, step-child, parent, grandchild, grandparent, brother or sister
- someone’s spouse/civil partner or the spouse/civil partner of any person listed above
- a person carrying on business in partnership with them or with any person listed above
- an institution which is controlled by them or by any person listed above
- a body corporate in which they or any person, listed in any of the first 3 points above, has a substantial interest
How do I know if I have a potential conflict of interest?
Think about whether someone would consider your interests, or the interests of someone connected to you, could conflict or appear to conflict with your University duties. Ask yourself:
- Would I be happy if a colleague became aware of my involvement?
- Would I be happy if my involvement appeared in the media?
- If I saw someone else in a similar position, would I suspect that they might have a conflict of interest?
Why do I need to declare a potential conflict of interest?
Conflicts of Interest can and will arise. As a public servant, you are obliged to declare any conflicts of interest you may have. Declaring a possible conflict of interest means that the University can help establish whether a conflict exists and how best to manage it. Most times simple disclosure and logging that no action is required is enough.
Who do I declare a potential conflict of interest to?
Generally, you should declare potential conflicts of interest to your Head of School/ Function / Research Centre. If this isn’t appropriate or you are the Head of School/ Function / Research Centre, then see Disclosure Channels for further information.
I know there is no conflict but some people might think there is. Do I still have to declare it?
Yes. If others might see it as a potential conflict of interest, you should declare it to your Head of School/Function/Research Centre using this Conflict of Interest Form. If you are in any doubt, the best option is to declare.
What do I do if I think I might have a conflict of interest?
As soon as you think there might be or seem to be a potential conflict of interest, fill out this Conflict of Interest Form. Give the form to your Head of School/ Function/ Research Centre who will consider the matter and seek advice if needed. They will advise you of the next steps to be taken.
What will happen after I declare a potential conflict of interest?
The COI reviewer will, if necessary, consult with the appropriate people and decide on what is the best way to manage this. This can include:
- taking no further action;
- continuing with the activity but with modifications;
- desisting from the activity.
What types of modifications could there be?
Examples of some modifications are:
- letting relevant people know about the matter;
- abstaining from any related decision-making, for example, if you have an interest in a company supplying goods to the University then you may be asked to abstain from any University decision making regarding the supply of those goods;
- removal from any related approval processes;
- another person reviewing/overseeing any decision-making, for example, if one of your students is your child then another person may be assigned to assess their work;
- reducing or stopping involvement in the activity, for example, if you are involved in a programme with another higher education institute that is in competition with one of the University’s programmes, you may be asked to stop being involved in the competitive programme;
- monitoring of the activity and any relationships, for example, if your research is being sponsored by a company who might benefit from a particular result being achieved;
- withdrawing from discussing or voting on a particular item of business at a meeting, for example, you may be asked to withdraw from a meeting item which is discussing whether to invest in property that is owned by your sibling;
- placing restrictions on access to information, for example, where information available in the University might give you an unfair advantage in personal business dealings;
- temporary transfer of specific responsibilities for the duration of the Conflict of Interest.
I am a Head of School and someone has declared a potential conflict of interest to me. How do I determine if the potential conflict of interest is manageable?
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the activity in the best interest of the University?
- how potentially material is the conflict?
- Is there any gain, financial or otherwise, to the individual or someone they are connected to?
- Is the activity compatible with the individual’s University responsibilities?
- Can the activity be kept separate from the individual’s University responsibilities?
- Is the potential conflict straightforward to manage?
- Could there be any reputational risk to the University?
What happens with the information when I declare a conflict of interest?
The information regarding the conflict of interest will be held on a central conflict of interest register within your school/department. Only authorised people will have access to the data.
Will the information be made public?
A summary report will be provided annually to Governing Body on the conflicts of interest declared during the year. Conflicts of interest will not be disclosed publically except where there is a standing statutory obligation on the University to publish - such as Declaration of Interests for Senior Managers and Governing Body Members in line with the Ethics in Public Office Act of 1995 and 2001 or the Standards in Public Office Act of 2001. While the University could be subject to a Freedom of Information enquiry, the University would in all likelihood seek to use an existing exemption to refuse access as it would involve the disclosure of private information.
How long will you hold the information for?
The information will only be held for as long as is necessary. The management plan will determine how long the item is to remain active on the register. Examples of events signalling the end of a potential conflict of interest include:
- the end of your business relationship with a third party;
- the end of any Research Contract(s) or other matters in respect of which conflicts of interest were being managed;
- the end of you having a role in the University from which you could influence relevant decisions;
- the connected person is no longer in the situation which created the potential conflict.
Can you give me some examples of a conflict of interest?
The following are a few examples of some possible conflicts of interest:
- having the ability to influence decisions relating to the University in ways that could lead to personal gain;
- working for another organisation which impacts on the time you have to perform your job at the University;
- being involved in a company which is in competition with the University;
- accepting an inappropriate gift from a company bidding for a contract with the University;
- having a commitment outside the University that involves frequent or prolonged absences from the University;
- using University assets for personal gain;
- having the ability to make decisions in favour of connected parties;
- accepting payment for private tutorials to University students.
For further examples see Conflict of Interest Examples.
Who should I report to?
See our Disclosure Channels page for info.
Who does this policy apply to?
This Policy applies to all University Staff, Members and committees and all others who work in the University (for example: retired staff who are still conducting research, teaching and working in the University).
For the purpose of this policy, staff shall include all full-time, part-time, fixed term employees of the University, agency workers, any person to whom the definition of researcher (as defined in the Code of Research Conduct) applies, students involved in research and any other person in receipt of payment from the University including those persons who may also be students of the University. For the avoidance of doubt payment includes but is not limited to: external research grants; scholarships or any other form of third party funding. Staff shall also encompass solely for the purposes of this Policy those persons as provided for in Section 1 of this Policy.