Introducing and establishing national or institutional training on research ethics and research integrity for students and junior academics

Part of creating a culture of integrity is to ensure that future generations of researchers are well educated on research ethics and research integrity. It is in the interest of institutions to create structures that enable sustained, continuous training of junior researchers. Here it is considered that training should be provided on all degree levels ranging from BA and MA levels to PhD studies. Also post docs may be considered here. Their training needs will be geared more towards establishing themselves in the academic community, forming their own team and supervising doctoral students, whereas degree students’ needs center more around understanding principles and mastering the basic ethical requirements. The level of students’ engagement in research varies from country to another. Whenever students are engaged in research as junior colleagues, irrespective of the level of study, they will need to be knowledgably about the ethical requirements of their institutional context.

Training is the best way to make sure everyone

1) understands the ethical requirements, and

2) adheres to high standards of integrity.

Objectives of research ethics and research integrity training for students and junior researchers

One of the most important objectives is to raise awareness of research ethics and integrity. These may be addressed in separate courses, but may also be combined as modules of one course. An important aim is that participants understand guidelines for responsible conduct in research, and know where to access these and other related resources. Training may also be geared towards helping participants to identify and implement cognitive analytical tools for handling ethics and integrity in their own work as researchers. The extent of such a course can range from one to several credits.

Generic training may not be as effective as training focused on sub-fields and cultures or campus-specific training (Kezar & Sam, 2011). Specific training with experts knowledgeable of those contexts or the more detailed aspects of the field generally raise the perceived level of relevance. However, the level of generalization versus specificity may also be an economic question. Some institutions offer general training for their undergraduates, but field-specific for their PhD students. A general course may be sufficient in terms of providing a learning environment for learning basic ethical requirements and integrity standards, but with increasing specialization, there is a need for the ethics and integrity training to reflect the specialization.

National or institutional training?

If there are national research integrity and ethics review guidelines in place, there may be good opportunities for setting up a national course as long as the institutions of higher education concerned are willing to agree on

  • commitments (e.g. who contributes with what expertise; how is the resource financed),
  • responsibilities (e.g. who produces and maintains an online portal, registers students and registers course completions),
  • rights (e.g. using and modifying common material for own purposes), and
  • cooperation for the common goal.

If operating on an institutional level, there may still be merit in institutions cooperating to create a course that will have sufficiently shared common content.

In collaborative efforts, it is advisable to agree on:

  • financial commitments in the development phase
  • personnel resources committed to the development phase and later implementation
  • how course enrollments, administration and course completion and certification are organized
  • location (e.g. server) of an online course including possible IT support
  • responsibilities around updating of contents and resources

Even under common national research ethics and integrity guidelines there may be institutional characteristics and needs regarding how to use a national course resource. It may be wise to discuss how the resource can be used and the degree of flexibility institutions wish to exercise. A second step may be the need to train trainers, i.e. teacher/tutors for the course, or at least, provide a space for tutors/teachers of the course to share their experiences and good practices for teaching the course. Academics generally need training on how to teach research integrity and ethics (Hyytinen & Löfström, 2017). While it is necessary to focus on ethics and integrity content itself, it is equally important that those who are assigned with teaching responsibilities understand learning processes associated with ethics and integrity and understand how they as teachers can support these processes.

Voluntary or compulsory?

There has been much discussion on whether voluntary or compulsory ethics training lead to better learning outcomes. Compulsory ethics/integrity courses may be less effective than voluntary ones (Bernardi et al. 2011), as participants tend to have an interest for the topic. However, institutions have a responsibility make sure that their graduates master ethical requirements and adhere to high standards of both ethics and integrity. Institutions therefore offer ethics training as a compulsory part of the training. There is agreement that ethics and integrity training should begin early on in the studies. Explicitly acknowledging ethics and integrity in a curriculum will help to ensure that the program covers these topics sufficiently (Gynnild & Gotschalk, 2008).

Pedagogical implementation

The course can be fully online (Massive Open Online Course, or a more traditional online course of smaller scale), blended including both online and face-to-face learning, or only face-to-face. It may be worthwhile to consider the option of having contents that work both online and face-to-face. Irrespective of the mode of study, it is important that learners can get feedback on their learning, and therefore it is advisable to build in opportunities for feedback from tutors and/or peers. Research shows that it is the opportunity to receive feedback about the sustainability of one’s ethical reasoning in particular that is crucial for the learning process (Rissanen & Löfström, 2014).

Basic principles for educational planning (cf. Biggs, 1999; Biggs & Tang, 2007) are helpful in the process of devising research ethics/research integrity training. These basic principles include:

1) Identification of the intended learning outcomes, i.e. which competences should the learners have after a completed training;

2) defining the core contents in alignment with the intended learning outcomes;

3) defining appropriate teaching methods and learning activities, i.e. explicating the pedagogy that support the fulfillment of the intended learning outcomes; and

4) identifying practices for the assessment of to what extent the intended learning outcomes have been reached, and for provision of feedback to learners.

Teaching approaches that embrace ethics as something positive may be beneficial in fostering positive attitudes among students towards ethics and integrity. Focus on rules and regulations is necessary, but may not be sufficient for inducing change in students’ thinking about these important topics (Segal et al. 2011). As a teaching method and learning activity, cases and dilemmas are effective in engaging the learner with ethics and integrity, and they help connect the content with real-life situations (cf. Löfström, 2016).

Some examples


Bernardi, R. A., Lecca, C. L., Murphy, J. C., & Sturgis, E. M. (2011). Does education influence ethical decisions? An international study. Journal of Academic Ethics, 9, 235–256.

Biggs, J. (1999). What the student does: Teaching for enhanced learning. High Educ Res Dev 18(1):57–75.

Biggs, J. & Tang, K. (2007). Teaching for quality learning at university, 3rd ed. Society for Research into Higher Education & Open University, Maidenhead.

Gynnild, V. & Gotschalk, P. (2008) Promoting academic integrity at a Midwestern University: Critical review and current challenges. International Journal for Educational Integrity, 4(2):41–59.

Hyytinen, H. & Löfström, E. (2017). Reactively, proactively, implicitly, explicitly? Academics’ teaching conceptions of research ethics and integrity. Journal of Academic Ethics, 15(1), 23-41. DOI 10.1007/s10805-016-9271-9.

Kezar, A. J., & Sam, C. (2011). Enacting Transcendental Leadership. Creating and supporting a more ethical campus. In T. Bertram Gallant (Ed.). Creating the Ethical Academy. A systems approach to understanding misconduct and empowering change in higher education (pp. 153-167). New York. Routledge.

Löfström, E. (2016). Academic Integrity in Social Sciences. T. Bretag (Ed.) Springer Handbook on Academic Integrity (pp. 713-728). Singapore: Springer Reference Works. SpringerDOI 10.1007/978-981-287-079-7_47-1.

Rissanen, M. & Löfström, E. ­(2014). Students’ research ethics competences and the university as a learning environment. International Journal for Educational Integrity, 10(2), 17-30.

Segal, L., Gideon, L. & Haberfeld, M. R. (2011). Comparing the ethical attitudes of business and criminal justice students. Social Science Quarterly, 92, 1021–1043.