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The Offices of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (DVC): Research, Innovation and Engagement held a Private Works Policy and Conflict of Interest webinar, at the Durban University of Technology (DUT), on Tuesday, 2 February 2021, via MS Teams. Facilitators at the webinar were the Chief Risk Officer, Mr Sikhuthali Nyangintsimbi and the Technology, Transfer and Innovation Director, Professor Keolebogile Shirley Motaung. 

The DUT community were invited to share their viewpoints, comments and ideas in terms of reviewing key policies and looking at possible amendments that can be implemented once it has been revised and approved by all parties concerned. 

DUT’s DVC for Research, Innovation and Engagement (RIE), Professor Sibusiso Moyo started the session by giving an introduction on what policies were to be discussed.  

“As you know, part of our governance framework within the university is that we have a number of policies, but we found obviously over the years that once policies are in place they kind of sit in the portal. I suspect many people don’t know where to find these policies, but we want to discuss the key policies which relate to private work and also conflict of interest, they are all related, and the third being on maximising third stream income. All of this we are framing within the context Envision 2030, especially under the first perspective which has to do with stewardship, and which also talks of our living value,” said Prof Moyo. 

She emphasised on DUT’s own framework as well as the importance of having a governance framework. 

“To promote transparency, honesty, integrity, accountability, we normally commit to do all of this, obviously with fairness, professionalism, commitment, compassion and excellence. To promote transparency, honesty, integrity, accountability, it is important to have a governance framework so the policies help us to do that. Also, remember that what we want to do is to encourage a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship as it is part of our DNA, within the frameworks making sure that it is with acceptable norms and standards, and we are promoting excellence,” she said. 

She indicated that the aim is for the DUT staff to be entrepreneurial but the question is how can it be done? Prof Moyo focused on the three-related processes and said even though the talks are on Private Works and Conflict of Interest, the aim is to also look at diversifying DUT’s Income Streams.  

“So remember that income for the university comes from tuition, Government grants but the third stream is mainly from your innovation capacity and research contracts,” she said. 

Prof Moyo further emphasized more on the Third Stream Income Policy which can be found on DUT’s shared portal. She said that the aim of the policy looks at a fair, transparent and equitable system for earning and sharing third stream income between the university and the staff in the employ of the university.  

“We want to encourage our staff, obviously to be innovative and to create third stream incomes, and this policy refers to a 30% levy to the university and the rest to the person who is heading the project. So, the aim of the policy is to create an enabling environment and platform for staff, students, departments, faculties, institutes and units to engage in entrepreneurial and commercial activities in order to maximise and diversify income to the university. I mentioned this because it is important within the framework of this webinar workshop taking place,” she said. 

Speaking on the Private Works Policy and the Conflict of Interest Policy was Chief Risk Officer, Mr Sikhuthali Nyangintsimbi. He put together a high level view of the two policies because he said the belief is to have a conversation on what is missing on the policies, on whatever areas of clarity. “It also lays the foundation for everyone to look at those policies much more closely,” he said. 

He explained the purpose of the workshop and his understanding is that conflict of interest is not a minor problem but is a central problem with wide-ranging impacts on responsible conduct of research. 

“My understanding is that research is part of the main pillars of an academic institution. It has a wide-ranging impact, and hence the relevance of our conversation. One of the challenges is that staff, academics particularly, we tend to overestimate our ability to handle temptation, to navigate around temptation. The reputational risk associated with conflicts of interest can be more damaging than the loss of funding or fines and penalties, we find ourselves in. And that view says that whilst many research organisations have a policy on institutional conflicts of interest relating to research, it appears that these policies are not being followed,” he said. 

He indicated that his and Prof Moyo’s expectations is the fact that they are going to reflect on that aspect during the webinar. 

“Why is that we are not following the policy, perhaps we are not familiarising ourselves enough with the policy or it could be that we are ignoring the policy. To conclude the purpose aspect of the presentation, you will realise it talks about brand reputation, and that is one of the risks we have identified as an institution at a strategic level, as well as this portfolio,” he said. 

Nyangintsimbi relayed more on the Conflict of Interest Policy, in particular, stating that it is applicable to staff members affiliated with the DUT as an academic/support staff member, student, member of the management of the university, and DUT Council members. 

He explained and gave examples of Conflict of Interests such as on the entities doing business with DUT and the acquisition and disposition of assets. He also spoke on the conflict of interest principles saying: “Acceptance of external employment, which by virtue of their time commitment: interferes with or prevents performances of DUT duties, and creates divided loyalties is not accepted.” 

He further gave examples of allowable and permissible income-generating activities, which are published scholarly work, lectures and presentations. “Also, participation in professional conferences, a special reviewer on being on a reviewer panel, preparing books, articles, software, and other creative works relevant to DUT duties, as well as approved third stream income activities in -line with the policy,” he said. 

Nyangintsimbi focused on the point under the policy which is: Non-Permissible Income-Generating Activities, looking at it as if what is entailed under this requires the seeking of prior considered approval, with one of the points being channelling purchasing opportunities to a family-owned company or an associated entity. 

He then explained on the Private Works Policy, and what the private work requiring prior approval was, which is on research where DUT staff has substantial financial interest, holds a board or committee position in an external entity that funds the staff member’s research project, or diverting research and innovation opportunities from DUT to another academic entity. 

He said deliberations and inputs on the discussion of the two policies, will help the university to move forward. He also stated that policy is a council matter and council will not be happy if one contravenes the policy. 

Further comments and questions posed at the webinar by attendees, included looking at the policy on maximising and diversifying, and distinguishing between academic activities and other work, and for DUT to possibly look at introducing these policies at induction. 

Facilitator Prof Motaung also said suggested that with the things that the DUT staff are raising, there was a need to have a post-graduate orientation. “This is where it can be discussed what is the role of the supervisor, what is the role of the student, so that at the end of the day the students also understand what are their roles and the supervisor also understands what their roles are. I think the post-graduate orientation can assist, whether it can be done quarterly or semester, it depends on how the students are admitted at the post-graduate level at the university,” she said. 

Pictured: DUT hosts the Private Works Policy and Conflict of Interest Webinar. 

Waheeda Peters 

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