Accountability and reporting are important elements of our research and innovation processes. The Research and Oversight Compliance Office (ROCO) oversees human ethics, animal ethics, financial reporting and audit and legal services. The Innovations & Partnerships Office also supports audits related to innovation.
ROCO manages the Research Financial Reporting and Audit team, which:
- ensures the appropriate and timely review of approximately 7,000 financial reports and coordination of 85 external audits annually (financial audits conducted/requested by outside agencies that funded the research),
- provides high-quality support to faculty members and divisional staff, and
- is actively involved in business process reviews.
The Office also initiates and executes external audits on those projects whose terms and conditions dictate that an audit is required. In 2015, in addition to the 85 annual audits, we successfully engaged in 3 major external audits:
- Auditor General of the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation University Intellectual Property
- The Tri-Agency (NSERC, SSHRC and CIHR) Monitoring Visit
- Canada Foundation for Innovation Monitoring Visit
U of T is committed to the highest standards of ethical conduct in research and looks to the VPRI to support and monitor the research process. The U of T Framework to Address Allegations of Research Misconduct sets out the process under which we respond to allegations of research misconduct. Our success is made possible via the work of a cadre of dedicated faculty and community volunteers, coordinated and supported by ROCO.
- The Associate Vice-President, Research Oversight and Compliance makes regular presentations on research integrity in the academic divisions and the affiliated hospitals and provides consultation on research integrity and best practices to the University and community.
- U of T Research Ethics Boards (REBs) provide oversight to over 3,000 new and ongoing studies involving humans, with over 230 of those being high risk, meaning that they involve vulnerable populations and pose high physical, psychological/emotional or social/legal risks to their participants.
- Launched in 2014, the Post-Approval Review (PAR) program for human research monitors what is taking place “on the ground” to identify areas of risk, appropriately manage any incidents, and develop tools and resources to promote good practices. It is proving to be successful in enabling the U of T research community to satisfy ethical standards and regulatory requirements, including informed consent, privacy and data security. Forty research sites have been visited thus far, with the expectation that 20 to 30 visits will be conducted annually. Priority is placed upon studies in the high risk category.
Among the praise offered in its 2015 Assessment, the CCAC stated that U of T should “be commended for their strong commitment to and support of high standards of animal care and use.”
- U of T is a recognized leader with respect to the use and care of animals for research. Its staff are often requested to share their expertise by giving presentations to external institutions and organizations. The University Animal Care Committee provides oversight and sets the standards for use of animals in research and teaching at U of T. In 2015, Local Animal Care Committees performed ethics reviews of over 500 new and ongoing studies involving animals. In the past year, the Committees conducted approximately 75 quality assurance visits to labs to ensure animal use practices complied with applicable guidelines and legislation.
Given the increasing levels of accountability being demanded in all areas, the VPRI continues to strengthen and update our best practice culture. U of T’s greatest risk is the potential for financial, legal and reputational repercussions resulting from failures to appropriately manage compliance in a massive and highly decentralized organization.
The 2015 Tri-Agency Monitoring visit is an example of how regulatory controls have changed from examining funding administration from a transactional-based approach to assessing the institution’s ability to implement a more risk-based proactive approach. The latter requires conducting educational and outreach activities so that we actively engage the research community, influence behaviours and ensure proficiencies rather than adjusting to situations as they happen.
Leading our proactive response to such requirements, the VPRI initiated Strengthening the Administration of Research (STAR), an education and outreach program to clearly identify roles and responsibilities in the financial reporting and audit process, and educate business officers in various aspects of financial management of research funds in order to ensure accountability and compliance. The STAR Conference for Business Officers on Tri-Agency Funding was offered four times in 2015 with the objective of supporting business officers and administrative staff in the effective management of Tri-Agency funds, including eligibility principles and financial reporting. The Conference included an interactive segment that reviewed and discussed cases with complex scenarios.
In 2015, the VPRI and University of Toronto libraries worked together to make faculty aware of the new Tri-Agency Open Access Policy that requires grant recipients to ensure that peer-reviewed journal publications arising from Agency-supported research are freely accessible within 12 months of publication and also to inform faculty about the available guidance and access to self-archiving and data-delivery tools available through the institution’s libraries. We also worked with the University’s libraries and requested faculty input to develop and provide a response to the Tri-Agency Draft Statement of Principles on Digital Data Management.