Research policy in revision to reflect current practices

UBC’s policy on research — titled Policy 87 — is undergoing revisions, having been in place without amendment since 1995.

The policy review committee, made up of legal counsel, researchers, administrators and a veterinarian, made changes with the goal of reflecting current research practices. To this end, specific details were removed in order to make the policy more widely applicable. The content of Policy 91 — Purchase of Animals for Research and Teaching — was incorporated into the policy on research so that Policy 91 can be deleted when the revised research policy is approved.

University Counsellor Hubert Lai presented the proposed amendments at the Board of Governors’ standing committees meeting last Tuesday. The revised draft will soon be uploaded to the University Counsel website with an invitation for feedback from the community. Community members will be able to provide comments until late January.

Three notable amendments to the policy include an increased emphasis on academic freedom, a new section detailing fee-for-service practices and the integration of rephrased policy statements in regards to the use of animals in research.

“The proposed policy contains a stronger articulation of the importance of academic freedom and the fundamental importance of research as the foundation of discovery and knowledge creation,” Lai told the board.

The new draft begins with a statement on academic freedom as “one of UBC’s core values” and defines UBC as a place “where researchers are free to investigate and enquire in an attempt to understand and discover, free to challenge conventional thought, and free to disseminate the results of their research.”

Board Chair Alice Laberge raised concerns over whether UBC had the appropriate policies to prevent corporate sponsors from interfering with research and academic freedom. This question was raised in light of a recent controversy at the University of Calgary, in which the energy company Enbridge had financed, but also influenced PR over recent research.

"From a policy point of view, we've got all of the tools, mechanisms and all of the appropriate language in place,” responded Lai, pointing to UBC’s additional policies relating specifically to donations and appropriate donor engagement (Policy 114) and conflict of interest (Policy 97).

Another major amendment relating to new fee-for-service guidelines outlines how university research equipment and resources may be leased to external researchers.

“It's a standard cost recovery practice for such equipment to be made available and, as a fee for service activity, it becomes like faculty consulting,” explained John Hepburn, VP Research and International, to the Board.

The additions to Policy 87 outline the criteria for acceptable fee-for-service projects and note that UBC may give up its rights to keep and use data gathered from such projects as it is the property of the external researchers.

The integration of the specialized policy on use of animals in research into Policy 87 involved the reformulation of several statements pertaining to the humane treatment of animals.

Where the older version of Policy 87 stated that researchers were responsible for ensuring “that at all times [animals] are given every possible humane care and treatment,” the new policy formulation states researchers must “ensure such Work with Animals meets high scientific standards and, in the case of teaching, has pedagogical merit.”

As well as this, a section declaring that UBC veterinarians must advise UBC researchers such that “all unnecessary pain, discomfort or undue stress can be prevented” has been removed.

At UBC the amount of animals used for research totals 182,115, according to the university's annual report on animal research, though the practice has been decreasing.

Despite the deletion of language directly relating to humane care and avoidance of pain, the revised draft maintains that UBC must adhere to the standards of the Good Animal Practice Certificate granted by the Canadian Council of Animal Care and grants UBC veterinarians the authority to remove and treat research animals in emergency cases.

“I can assure you that humane care and treatment of animals and the reduction of unnecessary pain, discomfort or undue stress remain central to UBC’s Animal Care and Use Program and that the proposed revisions to the policy are intended to clarify and strengthen oversight of research practices at UBC,” said UBC Veterinarian Ian Welch, who was on the policy review committee, in an email statement to The Ubyssey.

Welch explained that the purpose of the changes was to avoid restating the details of already existing policies of the Animal Care Committee. The ACC has authority over the use of animals at UBC and a set of rigorous guidelines and procedures which require that UBC researchers comply with their standards and those of the Canadian Council on Animal Care.

“A combination of the investigator using high scientific standards and following all required policies and guidelines leads to the best possible humane care of animals,” said Welch.

The policy review committee will consider the community’s feedback on their revisions and present a summary to the Board. A finalised draft of the policy will be voted on by the board in April 2016.