Research Integrity

Notice update on research on children with special educational needs

4 June 2016 


Nanyang Technological University (NTU) upholds the highest research standards and international best practices in research. NTU has zero tolerance towards any form of research malpractice and will not hesitate to take action against anyone found to be lacking in research integrity.

Further to the notice posted on NTU's website dated 4 April 2016, the following is an account of the case concerning research on children with special educational needs by an NIE associate professor, Noel Chia. Noel informed NTU that he had started on the research prior to joining NIE in 2006 with data provided by a Malaysian consortium named PPC (Pusat Pembelajaran Cacat).

In March 2014, the National Institute of Education (NIE), an autonomous institute of NTU, conducted investigations after receiving allegations of research malpractice. The complainant was invited to meet the investigation panel to provide more information but she declined. Due to insufficient evidence, the case was then closed by NIE.

The complainant next referred her allegations to NTU. A university-level panel was convened and the complainant, when invited to meet the panel, again declined the meeting.

During the university-level investigation, Noel told the panel that he had entered a pro bono contractual agreement prior to joining NTU with the Malaysian consortium to write 10 papers based on data provided by them.

The panel wanted to interview one of his co-authors, who was the main intermediary between him and the data collection. He was unable to reach her and showed the University his previous correspondence with this co-author from 2007 to 2012.

Four individuals also made statutory declarations in the presence of the Commissioner of Oaths stating that they had met that uncontactable co-author in person previously and they described her in similar ways.

To agree to publish a set number of papers before seeing the data and without checking if these had been obtained under rigorous ethical conditions are deemed by the university to have not conformed with the best research practices expected of NTU researchers.

He received a stern letter of reprimand from the university stating the importance of obtaining data under rigorous ethical conditions and the requirement to follow all of the University's research integrity and ethical policies and procedures.

Subsequently the complainant made new allegations about him, including that the uncontactable co-author was a fabrication.

This led the university to reconvene the panel to investigate these new allegations. The complainant met once with this panel.

Noel was told it was critical that he contacted that co-author so the investigation panel could interview her. However, as with his earlier attempts, he was unable to contact the co-author who is believed to be a resident in Malaysia. He hired private investigators in Malaysia to locate her but was unable to reach her.

Going beyond the scope of an academic investigation, NIE separately also hired an agency to try and locate the co-author but she remained unreachable. Separate attempts were also made by NIE to trace the Malaysian consortium which the co-author was a representative of, but these too drew a blank. According to Noel, the consortium had folded some time in 2012.

Noel had declared at the start of investigations that he had returned all the primary data to PPC.  However, in Nov 2015, he presented some data sample sheets that he said was used in his research to the investigation panel.

The investigation panel was unable to authenticate the research data. Consequently, the University considered that coupled with doubts about the ethical approvals for the collection of the data, and in order to protect the integrity of its research record, all the 11 papers based on those data should be retracted immediately.

This was agreed by Noel and the co-authors that he managed to contact.

News report

·         The Straits Times, 4 June, page 3: NTU retracts NIE academic papers after malpractice investigations

·         The Straits Times, 13 June, page B4: Research malpractice: Unis have safeguards in place