Office of the Ombudsperson for Academic Ethics and Procedures
Particular concern about academic ethics in Lithuanian academia was addressed in 2009 by the national decision to establish an Office of Ombudsperson for Academic Ethics and Procedures (Office). The decision was taken during the approval of the revised Law on Higher Education and Research by the Parliament of Lithuania (Seimas). However, the Office began to function at full extent a few years later, in 2013, when the first ombudsperson was appointed by Seimas.
Based on its regulations the Office has been assisted by the Advisory Board composed of delegates from diverse stakeholders, such as Research Council of Lithuania, Lithuanian University Rectors’ University, Lithuanian Association of Junior Researchers, Lithuanian Bar Association and others. Lately, the Office has started to set up working groups that are invited to share expertise in particular cases (e.g. issue-specific guidelines development, refinement of provisions related to the Law on Research and Higher Education) and help to improve academic practices. In addition to this, the Office invites individual experts to find out the scale and type of academic malpractice.
The team of the Office is composed of nine employees contracted as public officers (e.g. advisors and senior specialists for public administration) and as regular employees (e.g. senior specialists for technical assistance). Public officers’ educational background is law.
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The Office is an independent not-for-profit public body that is responsible to Seimas.
The Office, part of a national higher education and research system, is co-involved in the higher education and research policy implementation. It contributes to the development of the higher education and research quality through diverse activities, such as handling the alleged violations of academic ethics and/or procedures, having roundtable discussions with academia and other stakeholders, developing recommendations, carrying out analytical overviews. In addition to this, the Office further envisages to strengthen prevention-related activities, e.g. to develop issue-specific guidelines and organise training for academia.
The investigation of an alleged violation of academic ethics and/or procedures begins with the reception of a complaint and/or evidence. At the initial stage, a preliminary investigation encompass an analysis of the information/evidence obtained and consideration of prospective actions. If the Office decides that there is no grounds for initiating an investigation (e.g. due to kind of malpractice), the case is forwarded to a related public body. For instance, cases related to mismanagement of funds by university rectors are handled by the Chief Official Ethics Commission; cases related to discrimination in academia is handled by the Office of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson. If the Office decides to proceed further with the investigation, details of an alleged violation are specified and the communication with affected stakeholders is initiated. Decision of the ombudsperson might be of different nature: s/he concludes to terminate the investigation because of the absence of supportive evidence, declare the complaint as unfounded or acknowledge the violation of academic ethics and/or procedures. After the decision is taken, the Office informs the parties involved as well as the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport and, where relevant, Research Council of Lithuania. In addition to this, the ombudsperson might provide recommendations to further certain improvements in higher education institutions. Afterwards the ombudsperson monitors the implementation of these recommendations and finds out difficulties that higher education institutions face while implementing them.
Any decision of the ombudsperson might be appealed following administrative proceedings within a month after publicizing the decision. The court might remain the Ombudsperson’s decision in force at partial or full extent as well as make it null.
The start of trainings is envisaged since 2019. The first workshop will be organised to librarians in order to share real-life examples how university librarians can contribute to the promotion of academic integrity. Later on, the Office will invite students, junior researchers and other researchers to customized workshops.
Promoting Research Integrity
The promotion of research integrity is at the outset of the Office activity. Hence, until now decisions were publicized on the Office website; in most cases personal data were not anonymised and summaries of decisions in English were published online.
In addition to this, the Office will develop diverse guidelines related to academic and research integrity. Also, there is an ongoing discussion to approve a national-scale guidance of mandatory character that could serve as a basis for ombudsperson’s decision making, but not rely only on codes of ethics approved by higher education institutions.