Statement of policy and procedure on conflict of interest
This document sets out the following:
A. Policy Statement
C. Recognising Conflict of Interest
E. The role and remit of the Conflict of Interest Committee
Illustrative examples and further procedural guidance are set out in the Appendices.
1. Oxford University is a major research university with global reach and influence. It encourages members of its staff to engage in a wide variety of external activities, such as serving on government, business and community boards, providing expert advice, media commentary, professional practice, schools outreach, international projects and collaborations with the commercial world, including via consultancy, research and development, intellectual property (IP) licensing and involvement in 'spinout' companies.
2. The University considers that such activities are in the public interest and are also of benefit to the University and the individuals concerned.
3. On occasion, however, they may give rise to conflicts of interest, whether potential or actual, perceived or alleged.
4. All University staff and students are required to recognise and disclose activities that might give rise to conflicts of interest or the perception of conflicts and to ensure that such conflicts are seen to be properly managed or avoided.
5. If properly managed, activities can usually proceed as normal whilst at the same time upholding the person's obligations to the University, meeting regulatory and other external requirements and protecting the integrity and reputation of the University and its members. By contrast, conflicts which are not managed effectively may jeopardise the University's public standing and may cause serious damage to the reputation of the University and of the individuals concerned.
6. It is therefore the University's policy to encourage and foster external activities whilst ensuring that when conflicts or perceived conflicts of interest arise they are acknowledged and disclosed, and in relevant cases, properly managed.
7. This Policy applies to all staff and students of the University, to all external members of Council and its committees and all others working in the University, such as faculty members who hold grants but are not current members of staff of the University, for example retired members who are still conducting research. It also applies to the staff and directors of subsidiary companies of the University. A reference in this Policy to staff or students includes any person within the scope of the Policy.
8. It is the responsibility of each individual to recognise situations in which he or she has a conflict of interest, or might reasonably be seen by others to have a conflict, to disclose that conflict to the appropriate person and to take such further steps as may be appropriate as set out in more detail under the procedure below (see further in Section D below).
9. If an individual is uncertain about how this Policy might affect his or her activities or has any questions about its application, he or she should contact the appropriate person (as set out in paragraph 19) or the Secretary of the Committee on Conflict of Interest.
10. A conflict of interest arises where the commitments and obligations owed by an individual member of staff or student to the University or to other bodies, for example a funding body, are likely to be compromised, or may appear to be compromised, by:
10.1 that person's personal gain, or gain to immediate family (or a person with whom the person has a close personal relationship)*, whether financial or otherwise; or
10.2 the commitments and obligations that person owes to another person or body.
11. There can be situations in which the appearance of conflict of interest is present even when no conflict actually exists. Thus it is important for all staff and students when evaluating a potential conflict of interest to consider how it might be perceived by others.
12. The duty to declare a possible conflict applies to the perception of the situation rather than the actual existence of a conflict. However, the duty is not infringed if the situation cannot reasonably be regarded as likely to give rise to a conflict of interest.
13. Conflicts of interest may be financial or non-financial or both. Further information about both types is set out below.
Financial conflicts of interest
14. A financial conflict of interest, for the purposes of this Policy, is one where there is or appears to be opportunity for personal financial gain, financial gain to close relatives or close friends, or where it might be reasonable for another party to take the view that financial benefits might affect that person's actions.
15. Financial interest means anything of monetary value, for example:
15.1 payments for services;
15.2 equity interests (e.g. stocks, stock options or other ownership interests); and/or
15.3 intellectual property rights (e.g. patents, copyrights and royalties from such rights).
16. The level of financial interest is not the determining factor as to whether a conflict should be disclosed. What might be 'not material' or 'not significant' for one person might be very significant for another. Good practice in many situations will mean the disclosure of 'any' financial interest, however small. A conflict will arise if the interest might provide, or be reasonably seen by others, to provide an incentive to the individual which affects their actions and where he or she has the opportunity to affect a University decision or other activity (because for example he or she is the decision-maker or the principal investigator on a research project). For examples of conflicts involving financial interest see Appendix A.
Non-financial conflicts of interest
17. Non-financial interests can also come into conflict, or be perceived to come into conflict, with a person's obligations or commitments to the University or to other bodies, for example the individual's college or other body of which he or she is a trustee. Such non-financial interest may include any benefit or advantage, including, but not limited to, direct or indirect enhancement of an individual's career, education or gain to immediate family (or a person with whom the person has a close personal relationship)*. For examples of non-financial conflicts of interest see Appendix A.
18. It is the duty of every member of staff or student to disclose any conflict of interest or any circumstances that might reasonably give rise to the perception of conflict of interest. Apparent or perceived conflicts of interest can be as damaging as actual conflicts of interest.
19. The general rule, with the exception of committee business (see paragraph 28), is that disclosure should be made at the time the conflict first arises, or it is recognised that a conflict might be perceived, in writing to the Head of Department (or equivalent). If the Head of Department (or equivalent) has an interest in the matter to be discussed, the disclosure shall be made to the person at the next higher level of authority. In most cases this will be to the Head of Division. For University Senior Officers, the line of approval is noted in Council's Standing Orders. Exceptions to this rule are outlined in Appendix B.
20. In the case of undergraduate students, the student should discuss the relevant issues with his or her Tutor or Senior Tutor, who, where appropriate, will consult with the Head of Department following which an approach for dealing with the conflict might be agreed. In the case of postgraduate students, this discussion should be had with the student's supervisor. Where the conflict of interest arises between the interests of the supervisor and the student, the student should discuss the matter with the Senior Tutor or Tutor for Graduates, or the person responsible for postgraduate students in the department, for example the Director of Graduate Studies.
21. Many situations will require nothing more than a declaration and a brief written record of that declaration, which must be held in the department's or college's records.
22. Some instances will however need to be dealt with by agreeing how the conflict can be actively managed. The approach adopted should be documented and copies provided to the relevant parties. A copy of the final plan must be held in the department's records. One or more of the following strategies may be appropriate to manage the conflict of interest:
22.1 not taking part in discussions of certain matters;
22.2 not taking part in decisions in relation to certain matters;
22.3 referring to others certain matters for decision;
22.4 resolving not to act as a particular person's supervisor;
22.5 divesting or placing in trust certain financial interests;
22.6 publishing a notice of interest;
22.7 standing aside from any involvement in a particular project; and/or
22.8 declaring an interest to a particular sponsor or third party.
23. It is the responsibility of those affected to comply with the approach that has been agreed.
24. Any unresolved matter shall be referred to the Conflict of Interest Committee for advice. In cases of particular difficulty, the Conflict of Interest Committee may refer its recommendations to the General Purposes Committee of Council (GPC) for advice or resolution.
25. Guidance on situations that are frequently encountered and which may give rise to particular kinds of conflicts requiring special action is set out at Appendix A.
26. There are however some particular instances where the general procedure is varied and further specific steps are required such that approval is obtained not only from the Head of Department (or equivalent) but from a designated University official, as set out in the table at Appendix B.
27. Each Head of Division will be asked to inform the Conflict of Interest Committee of the actions taken to inform staff of the policy requirements and promote compliance.
28.1 at their first meeting of the academic year, each committee within the University should have a standing item on their agenda about conflict of interest. This item should cover what a conflict of interest is and how the members of the committee should declare such an interest if and when such a circumstance arises;
28.2 it is also recommended that committees adopt the practice of including a similar statement to the following in each agenda:
'Members of [Name] Committee will be asked to declare any interest that could give rise to conflict in relation to any item on the agenda at the beginning of the item in question. All interests so disclosed will be recorded in the minutes of the Committee. If the chairman of the meeting deems it appropriate, the member shall absent himself or herself from all or part of the Committee's discussion of the matter.'
29. Annual declaration of external interests: in addition to declaring any conflict or potential conflict in accordance with the procedure above, the following postholders shall be required to submit an annual declaration of external interests to the Conflict of Interest Committee:
29.1 the Vice-Chancellor;
29.2 the the Pro-Vice-Chancellors (Planning and Resources), (Personnel and Equality), (Research, Academic Services and University Collections), (Education), and (Development and External Affairs);
29.3 the Registrar;
29.4 all members of Council;
29.5 all members of the Audit and Scrutiny Committee;
29.6 the Proctors and Assessor;
29.7 the Heads of Divisions;
29.8 Chairs of such other bodies which govern the University's affairs, and such senior officers as shall be specified by Council in consultation with the Committee on Conflict of Interest from time to time;
29.9 directors of subsidiary companies of the University; and
29.10 members of the Conflict of Interest Committee.
30. Persons with grounds to inspect declarations of conflict of interest shall be allowed access at the discretion of the Chairman of the Conflict of Interest Committee.
31. The University has established a Conflict of Interest Committee to advise University bodies, Oxford University Innovation Ltd, appointing authorities, and individual staff members or students (in appropriate circumstances).
32. The Committee shall be responsible for:
32.1 advising University bodies, Oxford University Innovation Ltd, appointing authorities, and individual staff members or students (in appropriate circumstances);
32.2 monitoring the University's Policy on Conflict of Interest and making recommendations in the light of experience, and of good practice guidelines established by outside bodies;
32.3 ensuring that there are appropriate systems in place to promote and monitor compliance with the Policy on Conflict of Interest;
32.4 reviewing Annual Declarations of External Interest and alerting the appropriate University body where further clarification or action is required;
32.5 advising GPC, or any relevant committees, as appropriate, on cases of difficulties referred to it;
32.6 giving advice in the case of individual questions referred to it;
32.7 performing any such other action on behalf of Council in relation to the University's Policy on Conflict of Interest as may be required from time to time; and
32.8 reporting to GPC, on an annual basis, on the operation of the Committee and the Policy over the prior year.
Review of the Conflict of Interest Policy
33. This Policy shall be the subject of regular review by the Conflict of Interest Committee, GPC and, as necessary, other relevant bodies, such review to take place in the light of guidance on best practice issued by outside bodies and, in any event, not less than once every three years.
* For the purpose of this policy, ‘immediate family’ is defined as follows: spouse or civil partner, son, daughter. However, the ‘close personal relationship’ giving rise to an interest could extend to the following (this is not intended to be an exhaustive list): unmarried partner, parent, brother, sister, grandparent, grandchild, mother-in-law, father-in-law, sister-in-law, brother-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, the (unrelated) child of an unmarried partner, as well as half and step members of family.
Approved by Council on 13 July 2009. Revisions approved 14 March 2011, 25 June 2012 and 9 February 2015.