Irish Research Council launches policy to tackle bullying, harassment and sexual harassment in research system

Posted: 23 June, 2021

Minister Simon Harris welcomes development of policy in this area and re-iterates the need for zero tolerance

Researchers at all levels must play their part in ensuring Ireland’s research system is free from bullying harassment and sexual harassment. That’s according to the Irish Research Council (IRC), which today (23.06.21) launched a new Bullying, Harassment and Sexual Harassment Policy.

The new policy sets out guidelines for individual researchers in receipt of IRC funding, as well as for the higher education or research-performing institutions in which they perform their funded research. The policy requires that:

  • Institutions hosting IRC awardees must deal swiftly and appropriately with allegations and incidents of bullying, harassment or sexual harassment. Furthermore, institutions are expected to advise the IRC where an allegation of bullying and/or harassment against a participant in an IRC award has been upheld or where an upheld allegation involves an academic supervisor/mentor of a postgraduate or postdoctoral researcher funded by the IRC.
  • All researchers applying for funding to the IRC must self-certify at the time of their application that they have not had an allegation of bullying and/or harassment upheld against them for which there is a current disciplinary warning or sanction in place.
  • For the IRC’s individual early-career awards (i.e. awards at postgraduate and postdoctoral level, where researchers are supervised and mentored by more senior academics), all academic supervisors and mentors must self-certify that they have not had an allegation of bullying and/or harassment upheld against them for which there is a current disciplinary warning or sanction in place.

Launching the policy, Peter Brown, Director of the IRC, said: “In recent years, we have seen more and more attention focused on the issues of bullying, harassment and sexual harassment in higher education and research – and rightly so. Unfortunately, these issues can be prevalent for early-career researchers and established academics as well as undergraduates.

“No workplace or campus is safe unless everyone is safe, and the research system is no different. Realising a safe and respectful research environment for one and all is the collective challenge we face. Achieving this will support the key components as set out by government for a world-class research system, including talent, innovation and inclusion.

“Our new policy aims to send a clear message to all those involved in the research system that bullying and harassment are not acceptable. Working together with our department, other research funders and the wider higher education system, we aim to ensure we are building a research system free from bullying and harassment – one where early-career researchers feel fully supported to progress in their careers and where all researchers can work with dignity and respect. The Council is keen to play its role in addressing these issues, and this is a first step in collectively working towards change in the research sector.

The IRC’s new policy ties in with moves in the wider higher education system to tackle bullying and harassment.

Last year, the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris TD, wrote to all higher education institutions, requiring them to develop specific institutional action plans on tackling sexual violence and harassment.

Significant work is underway in higher education institutions across Ireland to implement new policies, procedures and targeted initiatives, such as workshops and training. The Minister’s Department has also worked with the Higher Education Authority to launch a survey of staff and students in HEIs, focused on sexual harassment and violence.

Commenting today, Minister Harris, said: “We must work together to create a culture of zero tolerance for bullying and harassment in our research system. This new Irish Research Council policy sends out a clear message to all research participants and I would like to thank them for their commitment to creating a safe environment to work and research free from harassment or bullying. We will continue to work with the Irish Research Council and other key stakeholders to ensure early-career researchers can pursue their research in a supportive and empowering environment.”

Mr Brown said research-performing institutions, researchers and their mentors and supervisors all have a role to play in tackling bullying and harassment.

“At the institutional level, there is an onus to ensure allegations of bullying and harassment are investigated promptly and dealt with effectively – and that students, researchers and other staff feel comfortable and confident in coming forward to report abuse,” he said. “There is also an onus on mentors and supervisors to ensure they never abuse their positions of power. And there is an onus on early-career researchers – and, indeed, researchers at all levels – to call out inappropriate behaviour when it happens.

“While we must be vigilant in stamping out unacceptable behaviour, it is also important that good practice, like supportive supervision and mentorship is recognised and applauded, and we will have upcoming announcements in this regard.”


Read the full policy here

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