Weak oversight of research degrees, risky procedures around research ethics, and poor guidance on plagiarism and academic referencing have been found at Institute of Technology Tralee.
The college says it has already implemented 13 of the 22 changes recommended in a review of its postgraduate research degrees, prompted by the case in which former chairman Flan Garvey was cleared of plagiarism in a master’s degree thesis last May.
A panel of external academics — chaired by Dublin City University biological sciences professor Richard O’Kennedy — was appointed by Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) after the investigation and appeal in his case highlighted deficiencies in research degree assessment.
The college has finalised anti-plagiarism policy and procedures and is to ensure new students are told of expectations early in their studies, with training given to academic staff and postgraduate students last month. It also covered a new academic referencing system, which the panel recommended after the self- evaluation it received from ITT had some bibliographical information from staff with missing page numbers or publication dates and other inadequacies.
While research students had supportive and productive relations with principal supervisors, more than one who the panel met had very rare engagements with their co-supervisors. The panel considered that existing committees were not fit for the purpose of monitoring research students’ progress, with seven of them involved in the administration of just 36 postgraduate students. More stringent quality assurance standards were applied to students with bursaries, and postdoctoral researchers have been appointed principal supervisors for research student programmes, a practice the panel says should not be allowed.
A new postgraduate committee and research ethics committee should be in place early next year. The panel found that an ethics committee set up three years ago never met and said ITT was exposed to significant risk by the way the need for formal ethical approval is considered.
“Members of the institute considered that all research proposals where the ethical dimensions were ‘obvious or acute’ were given consideration. But The panel found one obvious case, concerning research on children, where necessary ethics approval had not been considered... and a student was significantly disadvantaged as a consequence,” it said.
In its published response, the college welcomed commendations on its entrepreneurial approach and collaboration with local industry.
QQI will seek confirmation in early January of full implementation.