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Uni in policy “confusion” after students complain of requirement to disclose sexual partners

HDR students will be bound by new external interest disclosure requirements.

The University of Sydney will “refine communication” around the implementation of a new conflict of interest disclosure policy requirement for Higher Degree by Research (HDR) students.

Students had raised concerns that, under the wording of the new policy, they may be required to disclose all previous sexual partners to their research supervisor. 

In slides seen by Honi Soit, “sexual partners” are defined as an example of external interests, while students are subsequently told they “must declare ALL external interests.”

HDR students have not previously been required to fill out formal declaration of interest forms. A University spokesperson said that “In the past, the University has relied on self-assessment alone to identify and address conflicts of interest, however this has meant… issues were not always identified.”

The new policy requirement came into force on January 1, and arises from a November amendment to the University’s Higher Degree by Research Supervision Policy 2020.

The University lamented a “misunderstanding,” and clarified to Honi that the policy does not require HDR students to “disclose all previous sexual relationships,” but rather “interests and relationships relevant to their HDR activities, responsibilities, decision-making or research which might be considered to give rise to perceived, potential or actual conflicts of interest.”

The Sydney University Postgraduate Representative Association (SUPRA) told Honi that they had not received complaints about the policy from students, but had learnt that “HDR students were surprised to receive urgent emails, out of the blue, notifying that they must sign forms declaring any potential conflict of interest, including personal relationships.”

A University spokesperson said that they were working to “refine communication” around the issue, and promised “enhanced FAQs… to provide greater clarity”

When Honi tried to access the impugned slides after raising the issue with the University, the link had been redirected to a document titled ‘Frequently Asked Questions to support the Implementation of the External Interests declaration system for Higher Degree by Research students.’

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