Statement on engineering thesis is not within TENK’s jurisdiction, objections to having a relative for an adviser

TENK received a request for a statement which expressed dissatisfaction with a preliminary inquiry conducted on an RCR allegation of misconduct at a university of applied sciences. The inquiry concerned engineering thesis reviewed at the institution in 2010. According to the report, there were several RCR violations concerning how the thesis and its instructions were carried out.

According to the requestor, the adviser for the thesis was the father of the engineering student and also served as the student’s superior during the time period when the thesis was being completed. According to the request for a statement, the father and the engineering student were working together, not in an advisory capacity. The requestor also made an accusation against the advising teacher on gross negligence of his/her duties in instructing the work and evaluating the thesis. According to the requestor, the father outsourced the work to a professional research company. Moreover, the preliminary inquiry was, according to the requestor, incorrectly conducted. Among others, the requestor noted that the institution’s legal protection board meetings on the inquiry were not adequately documented.

In its statement, TENK declined to investigate claims pertaining to the organisation of the institution’s educational administration as well claims on the incorrect application of legislation concerning administration. These claims are not within TENK’s jurisdiction. Furthermore, TENK’s statement noted that the RCR guidelines provide the investigating party with enough discretion in terms of procedures, so that the preliminary inquiry, which is an initial survey according to the guidelines, can be carried out in a manner as required by the nature of the case. TENK found that there was nothing to comment on in the process of the preliminary inquiry.

In the current RCR guidelines from 2012, Bachelor theses have been excluded from the sphere of RCR investigations. It is better to respond to research integrity problems involving these theses by turning to educational administration and the institution’s internal quality control rather than an RCR investigation. This is because RCR investigations are conducted on allegations concerning the violation of science or another researcher’s integrity. The previous RCR guidelines from 2002, which did apply to this case, did not have the same specified limitations. However, it also only involves the investigation of allegations of misconduct or disregard pertaining to academic activity. If an ethical problem does not, in the broadest sense, pertain to academic activity, it is not within TENK’s jurisdiction to issue a statement on it.

After considering the engineering thesis subject to the request for a statement, TENK noted that its objectives were professional and that its evaluation was not within the jurisdiction of TENK’s duties. As a result, TENK did not issue a statement on RCR violation claims made on the thesis. On a general level, however, TENK made a recommendation to the university of applied sciences to make its instructions more precise in engineering thesis advisement. Having a close relative for an adviser should be avoided, because this kind of advisory arrangement can cause problems in research integrity.