The starting point is section 14(6) of the University Act: "The rector may impose specific assignments on employees. The academic staff enjoy freedom of research, and research freely within the bounds of the university's research strategy when not performing work assigned by management. The framework of the university's research strategy applies to the entirety of the university. The academic staff may not for extended periods of time have imposed on them assignments that take up all their working hours in such a way that they are essentially deprived of their freedom of research."
And section 14(11) of the University Act: "The rector must approve all forms of external collaboration which place the university under an obligation." In practice, the rector has delegated this assignment to the heads of department (Aarhus BSS, ST, HE)/heads of school (Arts).
Section 40(2) of Aarhus University’s by-laws also states that "The head of department/head of school plans and distributes work assignments, and may impose specific assignments on employees. The academic staff enjoy freedom of research, and research freely within the bounds of the university's research strategy when not performing work assigned by management. The framework of the university's research strategy applies to the entirety of the university. The academic staff may not for extended periods of time have imposed on them assignments that take up all their working hours in such a way that they are essentially deprived of their freedom of research."
When entering into research collaboration with private companies, the university must take account of the state-aid regulations applicable under Danish and EU law. The regulations are in particular to be found in Articles 107-109 of TFEU (in Danish) and on the Danish Competition and Consumer Authority’s website (in Danish).
In the Ministry’s guidelines on universities’ research collaboration (in Danish), item 6 on state aid, the university’s attention is drawn to the fact that it may be a matter of illegal state aid if, for example, in conjunction with a research project being co-financed by the university knowledge is gained that only benefits the company with which the university is collaborating.
Section 11a of the Danish Competition Act (in Danish) allows the Competition Council to issue an order stating that any aid that is or has been granted in the form of public funding for the benefit of specific forms of commercial activity must be terminated or refunded. Orders may be issued if the aid meets the following criteria: The purpose or consequence of the aid must be distortion of competition on the Danish market or part thereof, and the aid must be or have been granted without any authorisation in terms of public regulations.
In parallel with the state-aid issue, the university must take note of the fact that the state subsidies must not be used in contravention of the objective of the relevant subsidies, including that, regardless of the organisation of the project, it must otherwise be ensured that no direct or indirect transfer of the subsidies to other project participants takes place during the project.
Pursuant to section 1(2) of the Danish University Act (in Danish), universities are part of public administration and thus subject to regulations under general administrative legislation on conflict of interest, in particular sections 3-6 of the Danish Public Administration Act (in Danish).
When entering into research collaboration with private companies, it is crucial that Aarhus University, in accordance with these regulations, assesses whether the collaboration raises conflict-of-interest issues in relation to employees at the university.
Conflict of interest may, for example, arise in relation to an employee who has a private financial interest in a product associated with a research collaboration if the employee is involved in decisions relating to the product in question. The issue may become relevant, regardless of whether the project is ongoing or has been completed, for example where the employee, during or after the project, examines a student who has been working with the relevant product.
Whether there is a conflict of interest in individual cases is subject to a specific assessment at the university.
The dean is responsible for this assessment.
In November 2010, the rector delegated the authority to approve external collaboration binding the university to the deans – with the exception of EU research contracts, the Danish National Research Foundation, Innovation Fund Denmark and contracts that involve setting up research centres or sub-centres. See the Delegation Provisions.
The distribution of responsibility is as follows:
The head of department (Aarhus BSS, ST, HE)/head of school (Arts)
The head of department (Aarhus BSS, ST, HE)/head of school (Arts) must:
Approve employees’ agreements on implementation of externally funded research projects, ensuring that the activity can be accommodated within the department's/school’s research plan. At the time of issue of the grant, the approval must be documented through signature by the head of department/head of school and the project manager on the contract or on a form prepared for this purpose (see process descriptions for project creation for divisional financial statement 4 and 5).
Approve the application before submitting it to the funder.
Sign cooperation agreements if the dean has delegated his/her authority to a head of department (Aarhus BSS, ST, HE)/head of school (Arts).
The dean must:
Normally approve cooperation agreements, i.e. cooperation agreements and other agreements or conditions that are legally binding for the university. The dean can choose to delegate his/her authority to a head of department (Aarhus BSS, ST, HE)/head of school (Arts). In practice, the task is delegated to the heads of department/heads of school. If authority is delegated, the dean will still be responsible for adherence to all rules and guidelines on entry into agreements on externally funded research. If the head of department/head of school is a party to the agreement, the agreement must be approved by the dean or deputy head of department/head of school.
Assess in concrete terms whether there is any question of conflict of interest (see item 7 in the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation’s letter of 21 January 2005) (in Danish) when entering into research collaboration with private companies.
Sign cooperation agreements unless authority has been delegated to a head of department/head of school.
The dean must in all cases:
Ensure approval in AU Corporate Relations & Technology Transfer, the Research Support Office and Financial Control, where it is required under the rules. In practice, the task is delegated to the heads of department (Aarhus BSS, ST, HE)/heads of school (Arts).
Receive a copy of all agreements covered by the rules on entry into cooperation agreements.
Have had submitted to him/her applications that entail use of the university’s premises and other infrastructure, unless this can be deemed completely insignificant.
Assess the research interest (in Danish)of cooperation agreements or draw up guidelines on how the assessment is to be undertaken by the head of department (Aarhus BSS, ST, HE)/head of school (Arts) (see cooperation agreements between Aarhus University and external partners).
Assess whether a cooperation agreement comes under the rules for income-generating activities (see the applicable rules (in Danish) in this regard).
Ensure that the rules on VAT on sales are complied with in research collaboration with companies (see VAT Instructions (in Danish)).
Decide on any embedding obligations.
Ensure that the (cooperation) agreements are filed – with the exception of EU framework programme agreements, which are filed by the Research Support Office, and contracts with Innovation Fund Denmark, which are filed by AU Corporate Relations and Technology Transfer.
Corporate Relations and Technology Transfer
Corporate Relations and Technology Transfer must approve:
Cooperation agreements with other public or self-governing state institutions.
Any special conditions regarding the use of funding or presentation of accounts.
Contracts with the Danish National Research Foundation and binding cooperation agreements concerning applications to and/or contracts with Innovation Fund Denmark.
Agreements including any conditions concerning transfer of rights (IP rights), including cooperation agreements (in Danish) and Consortium Agreements concerning EU framework programme contracts.
The Research Support Office
The Research Support Office:
The Research Support Office assists with drafting of all forms of applications for research-project funding.
The Research Support Office approves applications, fills in contract preparation papers and various forms, and signs grant agreements concerning EU framework programme contracts.
The Research Support Office provides ad hoc assistance with the filling-in of administrative documents during the contract-preparation phase, e.g. regarding NIH, IMI and Bonus programmes.
The rector signs:
Contracts with the Danish National Research Foundation.
Contracts with Innovation Fund Denmark.
Certain contracts with the EU that concern not research but education, e.g. Erasmus Mundus.
The division manager for Corporate Relations and Technology Transfer
The division manager for Corporate Relations and Technology Transfer signs:
A condition for use of ordinary funds to co-finance a grant-financed research project is that Aarhus University must itself have a research-related interest in taking part in the research project. The project must thus fall within the scope of Aarhus University's research purposes.
Ordinary funds are the subsidies Aarhus University receives pursuant to section 19(1) of the University Act (in Danish), or as donations or gifts without any purpose. These subsidies must be used within the scope of the university’s purposes as defined in section 2 of the University Act.
This condition is also specified in the Ministry's guidelines on universities’ research collaboration under item 3. Characteristics of project types.
In item 8 of the same guidelines. Procedures for entry into cooperation agreements: when entering into cooperation agreements it must be clear from the university’s procedures "How it is ensured that the rector or person to whom responsibility has been delegated will actively decide whether a project is of research-related interest, and on the guidelines to be used to make this assessment."
Based on the Delegation Provisions and the Distribution of responsibility concerning external projects (in Danish), Aarhus University’s guidelines are that the decision on whether the university has a research-related interest in a project is to be made by the dean or the head of department (Aarhus BSS, ST, HE)/head of school (Arts) based on an assessment undertaken in connection with the organisation of the collaboration/preparation of the cooperation agreement, and at the latest in connection with submission of the project’s cooperation agreement to Aarhus University’s Corporate Relations and Technology Transfer office.
If it is deemed necessary or beneficial, the dean or the head of department/head of school may obtain advice on the decision from others.
The dean’s or the head of department’s/head of school’s assessment can include consideration of whether the collaborative project can overall be deemed to be research, whether the subject of the project falls within the scope of the department’s/school’s or the university’s areas of research to the current, planned or desired extent, or whether the collaborative project is expected to contribute any knowledge that could serve as a basis for future research and thus contribute towards opening up fruitful new fields of research.