Audit Shows U of R’s Research Needs to Shape Up
Provincial Auditor outlines recommendations for the U of R
On June 3, the Provincial Auditor of Saskatchewan released an audit report done on the University of Regina’s Research. This report outlined 26 recommendations for the U of R to look into implementing. The audit came after questions began to arise about the International Performance Assessment Centre for the Geologic Storage of Carbon Dioxide (IPAC-CO2). The controversy went as far as to be debated in the Legislative Asssembly. The controversy lied in the questions about an non- tendered contract and possible conflicts of interest between IPAC-CO2 and Climate Ventures, who are a private company. IPAC-CO2 was created in 2008. The University, the Saskatchewan Government and Royal Dutch Shell shared partnership in it.
The university’s operations outlined that a regular audit would have occurred within the next two years. The recent attention to IPAC-CO2 prompted Saskatchewan and the University to agree that an audit should happen sooner. From a media release that was released on March 25, 2013, Vianne Timmons, University of Regina President and Vice-Chancellor, states, “Given the public attention in recent months regarding our research operations, we worked with the Provincial Auditor to fast-track an examination of our policies and processes in the research portfolio, and have, in fact, welcomed this examination.”
The audit completed by the Saskatchewan Provincial Auditor this past summer discusses protecting the University of Regina’s Research in chapter 15 of Volume 1 of the 2013 Report. The Saskatchewan Government is a large contributor to the University’s research financially. In 2011-2012, the University research revenue was $22.9 million, and $2.8 million was from the Saskatchewan government. The provincial government also plays a large role in the University’s Board of Governors, as it appoints five of the eleven members. The audit completely focuses on protecting interests of U of R research and commercialization of research. No audit was done on the financial administration of research funds.
Research plays a key role in universities. The audit outlines that the amount and quality of research academic staff partake in, funding permitting, and with publications of research results, are key to staff being tenured and promoted. Protecting the interests of the University’s research is also important, as negative effects of unprotected research could be detrimental. Risk of loss of reputation, and difficulty recruiting new academic staff, and having less of an ability to attract research funding are a few of the consequences that are possible, the audit states.
As of March 31, 2013, the University has 300 research grant agreements, 100 research contracts, 70 research partners and 19 intellectual property files.
IPAC-CO2 was used as an example in the audit.
The audit stated, “reporting was inadequate to enable appropriate oversight by senior management and the Board of Governors of the University, and created risks to the University’s finances and reputation.”
This was due to IPAC-CO2 not being classified as a Type 1 institute, which would have called for different reporting structures than what was used.
Type 1 institutes cover cross-disciplinary collaborations.
At the time of the audit, the University has completed evaluating 30 per cent (6 of 19) of research initiatives. The 19 files are estimated to have 109 patents. The audit explains that the University needs to be able to know the potential commercialization of intellectual property. The University has reported at the time of the audit that it was working with outside agencies to complete re-evaluation of some of its patents. If the University cannot afford to evaluate patents in time, it could lose potential commercialization of intellectual property and the benefits that brings. Recommendation 24 deals with this specifically.
“We recommend that the University of Regina complete its evaluation of patents to support its decisions to continue maintain patents,” it states.
Intellectual property is owned by the University’s academic staff. Academic staff is welcome to pursue commercialization of their intellectual property as well. Staff must disclose to the university if they are going to be commercializing intellectual property though a disclosure form provided by the Office of Research, Innovation and Partnership. The audit found that intellectual property files did not always include disclosures and that the University has not received any new disclosures of intellectual property for over 18 months. It was not determined if this time frame for absence of disclosures was acceptable.
Recommendation 8 tries to deal with this.
“We recommend that the University of Regina ensure that intellectual property disclosures are completed in accordance with policy and communicate this requirement to staff.”
Overall, the audit said, “While the University of Regina had many structures and processes in place for protecting its interests as it fostered research and commercialization of research, these structures and processes could be improved.”
In a media release on May 30, 2013, Timmons is quoted as saying, “We are pleased to have received these recommendations. The recommendations will serve as a guide to enable to strengthen our research enterprise.”
Other notable recommendations to make point of:
“1. We recommend that the University of Regina assess whether its organizational structure is effective to support the achievement of its strategic research goals and make any necessary changes.
2. We recommend that the University of Regina document in policy and enforce its requirements to centrally manage all research agreements to protect its interests in research.
12. We recommend that the University of Regina establish policies and procedures for evaluating when to pursue and when to discontinue commercialization efforts.
16. We recommend that the University of Regina immediately confirm, document, and enforce its delegations to staff of research-related signing authority.
19. We recommend that the University of Regina follow its policy to have external boards pass resolutions allowing University-nominated directors to share information with the University. Where such resolutions cannot be obtained, the University should consider not naming directors to these external boards.”