Policies and practices on competing interests of academic staff in Australian universities

Simon Chapman, Bronwen Morrell, Rowena Forsyth, Ian Kerridge and Cameron Stewart
Med J Aust 2012; 196 (7): 452-456. || doi: 10.5694/mja11.11224


Objectives: To document the existence and provisions of Australian universities’ policies on the competing interests of academic staff and university practices in recording, updating and making these declarations publicly accessible.

Design and setting: A 14-item survey was sent to the vice-chancellors of 39 Australian universities and university websites were searched for relevant policies.

Results: Twelve universities declined to provide any information. Of the 27 that did, all had policies on staff competing interests. Fifteen did not require regular declarations from staff and only four required annual declarations. Eight universities maintained a centralised register of COIs of all staff and six had a mechanism in place that allowed members of the public to access information on COIs. None reported that they required that staff place their COI declarations on their website profiles and none had policies that indicated that staff should declare COIs when making a public comment.

Conclusions: Australian universities vary significantly in their approaches to the declaration and management of competing interests. While two-thirds of Australian universities require staff to declare competing interests, this information is mostly inaccessible to the public. Australian universities should adopt a standard approach to the declaration and management of competing interests and commit to meaningful transparency and public accountability. This could include frequently updated declarations on website profiles of all staff. In addition, dialogue about what is needed to effectively deal with competing interests should be encouraged.

  • Simon Chapman1
  • Bronwen Morrell1,2
  • Rowena Forsyth1,2
  • Ian Kerridge1,2
  • Cameron Stewart2,3

  • 1 School of Public Health, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW.
  • 2 Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW.
  • 3 Centre for Health Law, Ethics and Clinical Governance, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW.


This study was funded by a National Health and Medical Research Council grant (63284). The NHMRC had no role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing interests:

No relevant disclosures.

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  • 6. Australian Law Reform Commission. For your information: Australian privacy law and practice (ALRC Report 108). Sydney: ALRC, 2008.


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