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Challenges to good academic practices in agricultural research

07 October 2020 - IAMO director Alfons Balmann presented his latest report on “Good research standards: recent developments and requirements in agricultural research in Ukraine” on 16 September 2020 at an information event of the same name.

During the virtual event on modern challenges to academic practices, Alfons Balmann highlighted the important societal functions that good research fills, such as the development of new ideas, provision of skills and training, and transfer of knowledge to society, business and politics. The event was organised by the German-Ukrainian Agricultural Policy Dialogue (APD) with the support of the Scientific and Methodological Centre for Higher Education and Vocational Training. More than 70 researchers, lecturers and experts in agricultural research from various research and higher education institutions in Ukraine took part.

At the event, Alfons Balmann began by pointing out that rules of good academic practice are not new. He furthermore explained that the freedom of research and teaching guaranteed in international agreements means a high level of responsibility for the academic community. However, some recent mistakes and experiences led important research organisations, such as the All European Academies (ALLEA) in 2017 and the German Research Foundation (DFG) in 2019, to introduce new codes of conduct. These codes contain new priorities that are very similar. In particular, they place greater responsibility on research organisations, research institutes and the relevant stakeholders, which are no longer only responsible for preventing academic misconduct such as plagiarism or falsification and where necessary sanctioning it, but for facilitating a culture of good academic practices. An important aspect of this is teaching young researchers about research ethics, and modern theories, methods and concepts. This knowledge, along with access to modern literature, is necessary for good research as well as training, performance evaluations and knowledge transfer. In addition, Alfons Balmann addressed questions related to research administration and noted that, given the diversity of the research activities and limited financial resources in Ukraine, conflicting goals were unavoidable. However, decisions on the setting of priorities, allocation of resources, support and recognition, and the assessment of researchers’ qualifications must comply with the standards of good academic practices. If, in a country like Ukraine, little public funding is available for research, activities must be adapted accordingly. An overload of activities would, among other things, create the risk of false incentives, abuse of power and position, and make young researchers dependent on their mentors. Alfons Balmann moreover stressed that, for the further development of agricultural research in Ukraine, a comprehensive evaluation of the academic institutes must be conducted based on international standards. Universities that are not able to conduct research at an international level should be reorganised to focus on teaching and transferring knowledge.

In the course of the discussion, the participants identified a number of challenges and problems facing agricultural research in Ukraine, including the low salaries for researchers, difficulties in accessing academic journals, problems publishing academic articles, and Ukrainian researchers’ insufficient knowledge of research methods. The participants all agreed that appropriate measures should be taken to address these challenges. These include, for example, fighting corruption, conducting internal audits, and evaluating academic institutes and research staff to ensure appropriate academic behaviour and academic integrity.

The full agricultural policy report “Good research standards: recent developments and requirements in agricultural research in Ukraine” by Prof. Dr Alfons Balmann can be found here. (in German only)