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Ethical guidelines for supervisors at INN University

The guidelines apply to assignment supervision, academic supervision and practical experiential learning supervision at all levels of education at INN University. Both PhD candidates and students are referred to as “students” in these guidelines.

These ethical guidelines have been adopted by INN University's R&D Committee and Education Committee on 16.10.2018.

Ethics in supervision is a matter pertinent to quality of education. Supervisors who are employed at, or are appointed by INN University must:

  • Use their authority in a professional manner,
  • Offer good learning arenas where there are clear expectations from the students, as well
  • Provide students with insight into relevant academic and professional ethical issues and experience in applying the methods and rules of their discipline for ensuring academic integrity (cf. the Qualifications Framework).

The general guidelines for employees’ personal conduct apply to supervision, as well. Equal treatment and good administration, including requirements for confidentiality, are important in matters related to the course of studies. The following specific guidelines are provided in regard to supervision:

1. Respect for the student's personal and professional integrity

  • The supervisor and student should show respect for each other's personal and professional integrity. They shall not perform actions or make statements that may violate the integrity or dignity of the other.
  • The supervisor must be open to feedback from students pointing out unpleasant circumstances, unfortunate use of language or improper behaviour, and focus on correcting what might be amiss.

2. Asymmetry in the context of supervision

  • The supervisor must be aware of the asymmetry that exists in the context of supervision. Academic knowledge and authority shall not be exploited in order to win academic/personal advantages at the expense of others, nor should they be exploited to offend or suppress others.

3. Dual relationships

  • Dual relationships in the context of supervision should not occur. A dual relationship means that the supervisor is involved with the student in at least one other role beside the professional one. The supervisor must ensure that he/she keeps a professional distance from the student and has a particular responsibility to not start relationships that put the student in a vulnerable position.

4. Trust and Confidentiality

  • The supervisor should be open and responsive in regard to personal circumstances of the student that may affect the work on the student’s thesis.
  • The supervisor should exercise great care and discretion when mentioning or discussing any colleague in the context of supervision.

5. Academic integrity

  • The supervisor and student/candidate should exercise respect towards each other's work and mutually practice good source referencing and citation. If a supervisor or student wishes to use the data or research results of another person in her/his own publications, research, or in another professional or commercial setting, permission must be obtained in advance. INN University's rules regarding copyright apply to students, as well.

6. Gifts and remuneration

  • The supervisor shall not receive any form of remuneration for supervision beyond what has been agreed with INN University. The supervisor must carefully assess the consequences that may arise if he or she accepts any gift or other benefit from the student.

7. Third party involvement in case of dispute

  • If the supervisor or the student finds the supervisory relationship so difficult that further cooperation seems impossible, the supervisor/student should consider involving a third party in the clarification of whether the supervisory relationship ought to cease or be renegotiated.

8. INN University’s and the supervisor's obligations towards the students

  • INN University must quality assure the supervision through training and / or increasing awareness regarding supervision.
  • The supervisor must show respect for supervision as a field of competence and the particular challenges that supervision entails.
  • The supervisor should allocate time as a part of the supervision in order to discuss how the work will be carried out. The form of the work should be evaluated along the way and adjusted in line with the results of the evaluation.
  • It is the responsibility of the relevant department to inform the student and supervisor of these Guidelines when establishing a supervisory relationship.

9. Addressing violations of the Guidelines

  • If the student or supervisor perceives circumstances in the context of supervision as a violation of the ethical Guidelines, the matter will be brought to the attention of the study programme coordinator. If this person happens to be the supervisor, the case must be brought to the head of department. Students can also contact student representatives regarding such matters.


The comments given below provide clarifications and examples to the individual Guidelines. It is noted that the comments are not exhaustive. The comments are divided to the same sections as the Guidelines.

1. Respect for the student's personal and professional integrity

  • The cooperation with the student will be based on consideration, respect and mutual trust and be conducted in a way that ensures his or her right to self-determination. It is important to be continually aware of underlying attitudes and habitual beliefs that are indirectly expressed through language use and adopt a reflective perspective towards gender, ethnicity, life views, sexual orientation, life situation and similar topics.
  • Any casual or off-hand remark about the student's personal, physical or gender expression that is hurtful is unacceptable, even when thought innocent, friendly and/or humorous.
  • Offensive remarks must be evaluated based on the recipient's perception of these. These can be words or actions of an erotic/sexual nature, which lead the person exposed to the acts to feel angry, afraid or uncomfortable. These may include seemingly joking hints or gestures, comments about body or private life, confidential/intimate or sexual contact, or suggestions or demands for sexual favours, including ones linked to threat of sanction or promise of reward. The supervisor should encourage the students to comment on any negative reactions to his / her language use or behaviour, immediately when those occur in an appropriate opportunity.

2. Asymmetry in the context of supervision

  • Supervision is based on formal, academic and personal authority, and neither of the parties will benefit from any attempt to erase the asymmetry of the supervisory relationship. At the same time this authority confers power, and the individual supervisor must therefore take great care not to misuse it.

3. Dual relationships

  • An example of dual relationships is a supervisor having a romantic relationship / family ties with a student, beside the supervisory relationship. Another example includes cases in which the supervisor has an economic interest related to the student.
  • Of the above examples, it is especially the case in which the supervisor and student have developed a romantic relationship which may cause a problematic situation. As a rule, in such a situation the supervisory relationship will be dissolved. If for various reasons it is impossible to dissolve the supervisory relationship, the parties must try to find other suitable solutions. The parties must then be aware that a key rule is broken and thus pay close attention in regard to further cooperation. In the wake of dual relationships, an impartiality problem may arise when assessing the student's work. It is not only the student's integrity that is to be protected. It must not be possible for anybody to raise doubts about the boundaries between what is private and what is professional, nor about the supervisor's objectivity and impartiality.

4. Trust and confidentiality

  • The supervisor must consider himself/herself as the player of a professional role and the relationship with the student as a professional one. This means that the supervisor must make every effort to distinguish between any possible private interests and what is the professional focus in a supervisory relationship.
  • The supervisor must not prioritize her/his own needs within the context of supervision, e.g. by confiding about her/his own professional or personal problems without it being relevant for the student's work. Academic writing work may in periods be psychologically demanding on the student. Many get to a point at which they lose heart and feel a desire to give up. The supervisor should be attentive to such signals on the part of student and take them up for discussion. Support and encouragement from the supervisor is generally valuable. Nevertheless, such conversations should not to any great extent impinge on the time that is set aside for academic discussion. If the supervisor forms the opinion that the student needs help on account of problems in his or her private life, the supervisor should, as a general rule, encourage the student to seek help from the relevant bodies. Any confidential information that may have been disclosed by the student during supervision must never be communicated to any outside person.
  • The supervisor has a particular responsibility to be cautious about openness with respect to internal matters between colleagues. The supervisor cannot simply take for granted that the student will exercise the same degree of caution in the handling of confidential information as the supervisor is obligated to do.

5. Academic integrity

  •  Academic integrity must be upheld to just as great a degree in respect to the student as in respect to other research colleagues. There should be open and clear lines of communication between the supervisor and the student when it comes to the supervisor's use of the student's data or research results, and the practice relevant to references of published and unpublished theses by master’s degree and PhD students.

6. Gifts and remuneration

  • Supervision is part of the working duties of INN University staff. In some cases, other sources of funding will come into the picture. In such cases there shall be clear agreements on any such remuneration for supervision with the department to which the member of staff concerned is affiliated, so that no doubt can be raised concerning the justification for the remuneration and/or the question of impartiality.

7. Third party involvement in case of dispute

  • Both parties to a supervisory relationship should be determined to complete their cooperation notwithstanding any difficulties that might arise, and to take responsibility for ensuring that such cooperation does function. Contacting a third party who can assist the parties in settling any conflict and reaching agreement on the form and content of further cooperation can have a beneficial effect.
  • Conciliation in a dispute may prevent the supervisory relationship from dissolving and assist in avoiding the possible problematic consequences this may entail. For cases in which such efforts do not succeed or in which the parties are in fundamental agreement to end the supervisory relationship, the faculties must have procedures in place for termination or change of supervisor. (Reference is made to the supervision agreements for master’s thesis and the standard agreement for research training, when it comes to procedures relating to termination and change of supervisor.)

8. INN University’s and the supervisor's obligations towards the students

  • In order to increase competence in supervision, it is necessary to create greater publicity and openness related to supervision.
  • INN University should, for example, regularly arrange seminars in which academic-pedagogical and ethical issues related to the supervision are discussed.
  • Showing respect for supervision as a field of expertise means that the supervisor continuously acquires knowledge, skills and qualifications in order to be able to optimally fulfil his/her duties as academic support in the student's work. Being academic support of high quality also means being thoroughly prepared, meeting at the agreed times and avoiding interruptions and disruptions during supervision meetings. (See supervision agreement for master's thesis and the standard agreement for researcher training for information on the academic requirements that are imposed on the supervisor.)
  • It is equally important that the supervisor is consciously acting as a role model for the students, as well as assuring that students also live up to the standards by which researchers are bound.
  • A supervision relationship is a professional relationship that works best when the cooperation between the two is agreed upon and frames between the parties to the relationship. Throughout the supervision process, the supervisor should initiate an open dialogue about how the supervision should be outlined and implemented, so that the work is understood to the greatest possible extent by the two parties, and there is a reasonable balance in terms of any conflicting interests and needs.
  • The faculties must prepare a routine for how the guidelines are to be made known to the student and the supervisor.
  • For supervisory matters at PhD level, it is the responsibility of the head of each PhD programme to ensure that there is a procedure for making the guidelines known when the PhD candidate and supervisor(s) enter into the supervisory contract.
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