Conflicts of interest in postgraduate supervision

Guidance on how to manage conflicts of interest if they arise in postgraduate supervision.


Every staff member is required to declare to their Head of Department any potential conflict of interest in respect of other roles/relationships, which could potentially be in conflict with their University role. This relates to personal (which would include, but is not limited to, spouse or cohabiting individuals) and business relationships. 

HR policy on personal relationships and conflicts of interest in the workplace (Staff login required)

With specific regard to postgraduate supervision, the following additional guidelines have been developed and approved:

  1. In all cases where a real or perceived conflict of interest between a supervisor and PGR student exists or develops, the academic member of staff involved should declare this at the earliest opportunity to the relevant Head of Department and departmental PGR Lead. If a conflict of interest is deemed to exist, the member of staff should withdraw from supervising that student and every effort should be made to find alternative supervisors.
  2. If the academic member of staff concerned considers that withdrawal from supervision is impossible or undesirable, a written case should be made detailing the relationships involved and the attempts made to find an alternative supervisor. A final decision will be made by the Faculty Lead in consultation with the Head of Department.
  3. In line with the University’s Code of Practice, a supervisory team should be appointed for each postgraduate research student. The primary supervisor and co-supervisor should be identifiably independent. Consequently, wherever possible, where there is an identified relationship between supervisors (personal or business) they should not constitute the only members of the supervisory team for a research student. The same principle applies to the student’s examination (i.e. there should be no conflict of interest between the supervisors and the appointed examiners, as well as between the student and the examiners).
  4. Research student studies should not commence until the identity of the supervisory team has been agreed with the PGR Lead and Head of Department.
  5. If a student has concerns relating to an academic/ personal relationship and is concerned that it is impacting on their studies, they should discuss this matter at their earliest opportunity, in confidence, with the Head of Department.