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UCPH censured for its contract with agriculture

Freedom of research — The University of Copenhagen needs to sharpen up its freedom of research wording on future contracts with external parties. This is according to the supervising authority the Danish Agency for Institutions and Educational Grants.

The University of Copenhagen (UCPH) is now being ticked off for a 2016 contract that scientists at the Department of Food and Resource Economics (IFRO) signed with SEGES, part of the farming group the Danish Agriculture and Food Council.

SEGES had commissioned a report to reveal the impact of environmental legislation on farmers at Norsminde Fjord, but the work that the UCPH scientists delivered was more like something from a consultancy than a product of a university, according to the criticism.

UCPH should clarify the relationship between research freedom and science ethics in similar contracts

Danish Agency for Institutions and Educational Grants

The university’s supervising authority, the Danish Agency for Institutions and Educational Grants, now insists that “UCPH should clarify the relationship between research freedom and science ethics in similar contracts”.

“The university should insert a wording into the contracts that assignments for private clients are carried out in accordance with good scientific practice or a corresponding wording that takes into account the freedom of research and scientific standards,” the agency writes in its statement to the parliamentary Education and Research Committee.

It is not the first time UCPH contracts are criticised. In 2016, the University Post reported how the Ministry of Environment and Food’s standard contract, according to experts, restricted scientists’ freedom of speech and research and was in violation of laws on  public administration. The ministry subsequently changed the contracts.

Formulations could be misunderstood

Bo Jellesmark Thorsen, Head of Department at IFRO, wrote in a statement on 6th October 2017 that “the agreement was not a hindrance to the authors’ copyright and their freedom of research.”

However, he acknowledged that the wording of the agreement could be in conflict with both the University Act and the Public Administration Act.

“We will therefore review and strengthen our procedures in relation to future contracts with companies and organizations in order to ensure that there is no doubt that these are consistent with the very foundation of our work,” wrote the head of department.

Message to everyone at UCPH

Kim Brinckmann, Deputy Director for Research and Innovation at UCPH, says to the Danish news site Information that it is positive that it has been laid out clearly that research freedom needs to be ensured, whether in contracts with business, government authorities or with others.

“So now we will take this up in our management circles and discuss how we can ensure that the message gets across to the entire UCPH, and how exactly it is that we can understand and formulate what it is that is meant by research freedom and ethics in this context,” says Kim Brinckmann to Information.

He says that, as he understands the agency requirements, it is only in the new contracts that the freedom of research needs to be clarified.

“If there are any problems in the current contracts, then we need to take care of this on a case by case basis, but it will be a lot of work to review all the current contracts,” says Kim Brinckmann.

Minister satisfied with the conclusion

Søren Pind, Minister for Higher Education and Research, was 23rd January in parliamentary consultation on the UCPH-SEGES contract.

The minister said he was pleased with the conclusion of the agency and is confident that the universities will take note of it.

Søren Pind will not, however, require other Danish universities to review their contracts with external clients.

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