Data Retention and Preservation

In many cases research data should be retained for a significant period.

The best time to think about how to store and preserve your data safe is right at the beginning of your research project. If you plan out your data retention and preservation needs early on, you won't have to spend extra time or money adjusting your data management later. The University's Research Data and Primary Materials Policy explains what's required regarding retention of research data 

Data archiving and retention information is recorded in the Project Closeout section of your data management plan using Research Data Planner, the University’s data management planning tool. 

According to University policy, the Data Steward (the Chief Investigator on the project unless that person nominates another party) is responsible for planning, managing, and preserving the data. The Data Steward Competency Framework offers guidance on fulfilling these responsibilities, including preservation, and shows where you can find support.

The University's Information Management Policy lays out compliance obligations related to record keeping and data management. The Records and Archives Management Handbook is the University's online repository of records management procedures, guidance and information.

  • Data retention

    The required retention period for research data can be as long as five, seven, or fifteen years. In some cases permanent retention is required.

    Mandated South Australian minimum retention durations are set out in General Disposal Schedule No. 24 for South Australian Universities, Version 5 

    Retention and disposal requirements are summarised in the table below*. You should also check with collaborators and funding bodies associated with your research for any additional preservation requirements they may need you to meet. 

    *Table accurate as of April 2024 

    GDS No.24 Section 

    Type of Research Data

    Minimum Retention Period


    Research data from projects involving gene therapy, e.g. patient records.

    PERMANENT - Retain


    Research data created in the conduct of a research project, including clinical trials, which:  
    are controversial  
    • arouse widespread scientific or other interest  
    • involve the use of major new or innovative techniques  
    • involve eminent researchers or  
    • have the potential to cause major impacts on the environment, society or human health.

    PERMANENT - Retain


    Research data from clinical trials.  

    See 9.5.3 for research data from clinical trials that leads to a patent.

    Retain a minimum of 15 years after action completed, then destroy.


    Research data created in the conduct of research projects that are not clinical trials, but the outcomes of which lead to a patent. 

    Retain a minimum of 7 years after expiry of patent, then destroy.


    Other research data and results.

    Retain a minimum of 5 years after date of publication or 5 years after conclusion or abandonment of project, then destroy. 


    Research data for short-term research projects that are for assessment purposes only, such as research projects completed by students.

    Retain a minimum of 1 year after action completed, then destroy.


    Research data created in the conduct of clinical trials that lead to a patent. 

    See 9.17.3 for other data relating to clinical trials. 

    Retain a minimum of 10 years after expiry of patent, then destroy 

     Decide where you'll store both digital and non-digital data and documents, following the University's Information Management Policy.  

    See the Storage for Staff guide on the Information Technology and Digital Services website for guidance on where to store your data for preservation purposes.  

  • Non-digital data

    Non-digital research data formats include:

    • paper (files, cards, notebooks, maps and plans)
    • photographs
    • film
    • magnetic media (computer disks and tapes, video and audio tapes)
    • optical media (including DVD's)
    • artworks on paper.

    These formats are at risk of data loss and degradation, so care must be taken for long term retention.

    If possible, transfer your physical data into a durable digital format. Even once your data is digitised, you will need permission from the University to destroy the physical data.

    Find more information on the University Archives and Recordkeeping website.

  • Data disposal

    Before you destroy any data, make sure you have complied with the minimum retention period. No data can be destroyed without approval from the University Archivist.

    The destruction of data needs to be non-reversible. This is particularly relevant for sensitive data.

    Records should be kept indicating which data has been destroyed and when.

  • Data preservation

    If you are required to keep your data for a long period of time, it’s important to have a plan in place to ensure that data is actively preserved to enable any future usage. This should include: 

    • Making sure the file formats you use for your data can stand the test of time by transferring older file formats to newer ones. This will ensure your data can still be read by current software applications and avoid potential obsolescence.  

    • Using current University data storage solutions to preserve your data. This will ensure your data is safely stored and able to be accessed when required. 

    • Making sure your data is well documented, so that if you need to access it in the future, you’ll be able to remember what it means. This could include using Readme.txt files or codebooks to describe or help interpret your data.  

    Note that you'll need consent from all participants to store data long-term. It's best to get this permission before you begin collecting the data. 

    Additional resources: 

    • Digital preservation planning  
      Provides an introduction to key concepts, issues and approaches to data preservation (National Archives of Australia). 

    • Digital Preservation Handbook  
      Guidelines for the management of digital resources developed by the Digital Preservation Coalition (UK). Also includes activities, strategies, technical solutions and tools, preservation information for selected content and a glossary.