Conflict of Interest Regulations

1. Introduction

The University is concerned about conflicts of interest for the following reasons:

  • Conflicts of interest which are not effectively managed may jeopardise the University’s mission
  • The University wishes to encourage commercial activity and take advantage of commercial research, consultancy, intellectual property and spin-out companies; this will require careful management of possible conflicts between the University’s interests and legitimate personal commercial interests
  • The University must make good use of public funds, for example by ensuring best value in any contracts into which it enters
  • As a public body, the University must comply with the guidelines set out by the Nolan Committee in relation to standards in public life

2. Scope

These Regulations apply to all members of the University, including staff, students, members of Council, members of Council committees and Trustees of the University of Bristol Pension and Assurance Scheme.

3. Register of Interests

All members of Council, Council committees and advisory groups, heads of academic departments, directors of research centres, professors, divisional heads in the Registrar’s Office and other members of the academic and related staff on Grade M should supply and keep updated the required information for the University’s Register of Interests. The Register is maintained by the University Secretary and may be consulted for good reason by senior members of staff.

4. Conduct of meetings

Any committee member who has a clear and substantial interest in a matter under consideration by the committee should declare that interest at any meeting where the matter is to be discussed, whether or not that interest is already recorded in the register. At the discretion of the chairman, the member concerned should withdraw from the meeting during the relevant discussion or decision. Members of Council and Council committees should consult the ordinance on the conduct of meetings of Council.

5. Gifts and hospitality

Please refer to the Anti-Corruption and Bribery Policy.

6. Conflicts arising from commitments outside the University

A conflict may arise when a member of staff undertakes external commitments which interfere with obligations arising under his or her contract of employment with the University. Where a staff member wishes to undertake substantial commitments outside the University, it may be possible to negotiate a part-time contract with the University. Academic staff should be aware of the provisions of the workload agreement agreed with the AUT. Other categories of staff should refer to their contracts of employment. Advice can be sought from Human Resources.

7. Use of confidential information

Individuals covered by these regulations should not use for personal gain any confidential information obtained through their involvement with the University.

8. Other conflicts of interest

Other conflicts of interest may arise in a variety of situations, for example in relation to students or student applicants, staff or applicants for staff posts, organisations or individuals giving funds to the University, suppliers of goods or services, collaborative partners, University-related companies or other outside organisations. The potential conflict may result from personal, social, financial or business interests or ethical considerations. The question as to whether or not particular circumstances will give rise to a potential conflict of interest may be difficult. The general principle to consider is whether the circumstances could reasonably be perceived to affect the judgment of the individual making a decision affecting the University.

The areas set out below are not an exhaustive list. If in doubt, the individual should consult his or her head of department or the University Secretary.

8.1 Students and personal relationships

Where there is a family or personal relationship between a member of the academic staff and a student, the staff member should inform his or her head of department, or in the case of the head of department, the dean, and the staff member should take no part in the academic assessment of the student nor in any other decision relating to the student, such as the award of a prize or scholarship. If the staff member attends a meeting of the board of examiners where the student is being assessed, the interest should be declared.

8.2 Student recruitment

Where there is a family or personal relationship between a member of staff and a student applicant, the member of staff should declare the interest to the head of department and the departmental admissions tutor. He or she should take no part in the decision whether or not to offer a place to the applicant or advise on the nature of the offer.

Where an applicant has a connection with a member of staff or a donor or potential donor to the University or there is a similar connection, extra care should be taken in deciding whether or not to offer a place to the applicant and the terms of the offer to ensure impartiality. The matter should be discussed with the head of department.

8.3 External examiners

Former members of staff and students should not act as external examiners within three years of leaving the University, or in the case of former members of staff, within sufficient time for students taught by that member to have ceased to be registered with the University, whichever is the longer.

8.4 Staff and personal relationships

Where there is a family or personal relationship between two members of staff, neither member of staff should be involved in any decision or process affecting the other, including promotion, remuneration, discipline or grievance.

8.5 Staff recruitment

All staff recruitment should be carried out in accordance with the University’s Recruitment Guidelines. Any member of staff or member of Council who has a family or social connection with any of the applicants should take no part in the selection process.

8.6 Part-time employees

A part-time employee with commitments outside the University should disclose such commitments to his or her head of department if there is an actual or perceived conflict of interest.

8.7 Suppliers of goods and services

All purchases for the supply of goods or services should comply with the University’s Procurement Policy, including the code of ethics. Where a conflict of interest could occur, those responsible for making the decision should take particular care in deciding which supplier or contractor to choose. So as to be able to show impartiality, individuals should take appropriate steps to ensure value for money. Advice may be sought from the Head of Procurement.

8.8 Commercial conflicts of interest

Particular difficulties may arise in the commercial exploitation of intellectual property, whether this takes the form of a spin-out company or commercial research or consultancy. The guiding principle is that individuals should declare their future intentions and association with a venture to their head of department and all other involved parties, so there is no doubt as to the responsibilities and interests of all involved. There is an ongoing duty to disclose any significant changes in the level of involvement. This initial disclosure and any ongoing disclosure must be sufficiently detailed to allow an accurate and objective evaluation to be made.

In cases where the University owns the intellectual property or other property involved in the commercial exploitation, the individual must seek advice from Research and Enterprise Development (RED), and agreement must be reached with the head of department. In all other cases of commercial involvement, the approval of the head of department should be obtained. Where agreement cannot be reached, the matter should be referred to the relevant dean. Where the matter involves a head of department or dean, approval should be obtained from the appropriate Pro Vice-Chancellor.

In any case individuals are encouraged to seek the advice of RED at the point of initial disclosure, so as to maximise the benefits for the individual and the University. The procedures followed within RED are designed to ensure that conflicts of interest, either within the University or with external authorities, do not occur or are appropriately managed for the duration of the commercial venture.

Appendix 1

Other relevant documents

  • The Anti-Corruption and Bribery Policy
  • Policy on Research Misconduct
  • Public Interest Disclosure Policy
  • Policy on Register of Interests
  • Code of Practice for the assurance of academic quality and standards in higher education
    Section 4: External examining
    Section 6: Assessment of students
  • Outside Work Policy

Appendix 2

Examples of perceived or actual conflicts of interest

Example 1

A part-time employee is responsible for recruitment of continuing education students in his department. He also works part-time with similar responsibilities for another university in the region.

Example 2

An academic member of staff wishes to undertake some outside consultancy work. The contract she will be required to sign precludes her from any work for rival pharmaceutical companies. Her department has just accepted a large research grant from a pharmaceutical company for a project she will be involved in.

Example 3

An academic member of staff sets up a spin-out company which is closely related to his area of research. He makes extensive use of his PhD students for company work which may conflict with their research progress.

Example 4

A member of the support services wishes to employ solicitors on a particular project. Her brother is a partner at a local firm of solicitors. She declares an interest and is not involved in the decision. Colleagues initiate a tendering exercise with other local firms to ensure the best value for money.

Example 5

An academic member of staff has obtained a lucrative consultancy contract in Hong Kong. She often has to rearrange seminars and her administrative duties are having to be picked up at short notice by colleagues.

Example 6

A member of staff, while serving as a consultant to an external organisation has access to privileged information from a colleague. The staff member wishes to supply that information to the external organisation in the belief that it has commercial value.