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Research ethics

All research projects conducted by University staff or students that:

  • involve human participants in a way that might harm, disturb or upset them (however slight the possibility),
  • or where they can be deemed to be in a vulnerable or disadvantageous situation,

Must receive approval from a recognised University Research Ethics Committee (UREC) or a designated screening panel using an agreed template at School level. 

No work on a research project that raises ethical issues can take place until formal ethical approval has been obtained.

All applications should now be submitted through the University's new ethical application portal.

Further information

Risk assessments / insurance

Applicants for medium and high risk projects will be invited via the ERM process to submit the relevant risk assessments for consideration.

Applicants for low risk projects should file the completed risk assessment with their supervisor. This applies also to undergraduate projects, which in most cases will be low risk in their nature.

Applicants are also advised to consider the insurance implications of their research, particularly if work will be undertaken off-campus. The Insurance Office will be able to advise you.

Staff applications

All staff applications are reviewed by UREC who will confirm the assessment level and consider applications accordingly. Staff applications are pre-screened at School level, and reviewed by UREC.

Please note: this means that all staff should select ‘University Research Ethics Committee (UREC) Review’ when asked how they are applying for ethical review on the ethical application portal (Question A5).

Postgraduate applications

Low risk projects

Student projects deemed to be of low ethical risk require only the approval of the supervisor, but still need to be submitted through the web portal. Low risk projects can be approved by the supervisor at any time prior to the start of the research.

Please note that low risk applications will not be reviewed by the SALC Research Ethics Committee, but you will receive an email receipt, so please keep this for your records.

Medium and high risk projects

Medium and high risk student applications need to be submitted to the SALC Research Ethics Committee. High risk applications will be passed on to the University Research Ethics Committee (UREC) after initial scrutiny at School level.

No work on a research project that involves ethical issues can take place until pre-screening has been fully completed and, if required, formal ethical approval has been obtained.

In order to decide which level of assessment your research project will require, please download and read the instructions contained in this document (NOTE - updated 18 August 2016; to be revised for academic year 2017/18):

Submission of applications

Once you have decided on the correct level of assessment, the instructions within the web portal will guide you through to submission.

Please note that supervisors of student projects are required to assist with the assessment process and have responsibility for signing off the application form. Please ensure that the application is approved by your supervisor as part of the process of submitting them online. 

For any general ethical queries from within SALC, please contact the committee's administrator, Abigail Saffer (salc.ethics@manchester.ac.uk), who will be happy to help.

Application review

The SALC Research Ethics Committee will review applications throughout the year. For postgraduates on PhD programmes, this means that there are no submission deadlines. Please prepare your application and submit it as soon as it is ready. We envisage that in most cases, applicants will be advised of the committee’s decision within twenty working days of submission, though this may take longer for particularly complex or contentious cases. Applicants will be informed if the committee’s decision will take longer than twenty working days.

Applicants are asked to bear in mind the University’s vacation dates when making submissions; whilst applications will be accepted and sent out for review throughout the year, the review process may take longer than usual during vacation periods. If you have any queries about this process, please contact the committee’s administrator, Abigail Saffer (salc.ethics@manchester.ac.uk).

Postgraduate students on MA programmes applying for ethical approval for research activities taking place as part of a taught course, may submit their applications throughout the year.

Postgraduate students on MA programmes applying for ethical approval for research activities taking place as part of their Dissertation must submit their applications by 14 March 2017.

Contacts and advice

Postgraduate applicants from the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures are advised to consult with their divisional representative during their office hours only, either in person or by telephone. E-mail enquiries will not be answered. These are listed below:

Archaeology, Religions and Theology, Classics and Ancient History

  • Dr Holly Morse - Tuesday 10-11am, 12-1pm; Thursday 12-1pm

Art History, Drama and Music

  • Dr. Jenny Hughes - Wednesday 9.30-10.30am, Thursday 1-2pm

English, American Studies and Centre for New Writing

  • Dr David Brown, Monday 9-10am, 3pm-3.30pm; Wednesday 10.30-11am

History

  • Dr Leif Jarram, Tuesday 10-11am; Wednesday 10-11am

HCRI

  • Dr Gemma Sou, Tuesday 10am-12pm

Language-Based Area Studies

  • Prof Vera Tolz-Zilitinkevic, Tuesday 11am-1pm

Languages and Intercultural Studies and Linguistics and English Language

  • Prof Stephen Parker - Tuesday 1-2pm, Thursday 3-4pm
  • Dr Anna Strowe -Tuesday 2-3pm, Friday 3-4pm

If you have a general query, please direct it to: Abigail Saffer (salc.ethics@manchester.ac.uk).

Undergraduate applications

Independant research

During your undergraduate studies, you might have to undertake independent research as part of a taught course, or for independent projects, reports or dissertations, which involve human participants - in the form of interviews, data collection or observation, among others. As a researcher you must be aware of the ethical risks involved in the process, and the possibility that you might harm, disturb or upset (however slight the possibility) your participants.

In keeping with the University’s policy on the ethical approval of research carried out by its staff and students, therefore, you too are subject to certain rules and regulations. This is to ensure that research data is collected in a manner that is ethical and transparent, and displays integrity.

Before you embark on your research, please discuss this closely with your supervisor.

If you need to apply for ethical approval, please do so via the web portal. Please note that:

  • For undergraduate students undertaking research involving human subjects, the supervisor / tutor is required to assist with completion and to validate the form on behalf of the students.
  • For group work or class projects a single form can be completed by the supervisor / tutor for the entire project.

Undergraduate projects must only fall under the low risk category outlined here, unless the supervisor would like to make a case for a student to be granted permission for a higher risk project (for example, using photography/video of human subjects or conducting research in the homes of friends/family). In this case, the supervisor should provide an explanatory text outlining the justification.

All undergraduate ethics documentation should be held and filed by the supervisor. 

External research ethics and approval

Information about research ethics approval processes outside of the University is available below.

Research involving the NHS may require review by an NHS ethics committee, and research involving prisoners or prison staff will need ethical approval from the Ministry of Justice. Research involving the adult social care sector must be reviewed by the Social Care Research Ethics Committee (e.g. research taking place in local authority, private and voluntary care settings, as well as studies which cross sector boundaries). Approval for research involving children, young people or children services depends on the settings and services through which you are sampling. Thus, for example, research with children sampled through NHS organisations has to go through the NHS approval system. Similarly, research involving family court proceedings has to have approval from Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS).

Research involving the NHS

You will need to obtain R&D approval for your research from the NHS Trusts involved and should contact the relevant R&D offices before you start your ethics application. They will be able to give you advice about the approvals that you will require. You will be required to have a research governance sponsor for your research. This will be the University. Details about the University’s process for sponsorship review are also contained on the above website.

Once ethical approval has been obtained, the full application and approval letter must be registered with the ethics office for insurance purposes via the following email address: salc.ethics@manchester.ac.uk.

Research involving prisoners or prison staff

Research involving prisoners or prison staff will need ethical approval from the Ministry of Justice. If you are researching in prisons, your application should be made using the IRAS system:

Once ethical approval has been obtained, the full application and approval letter must be registered with the ethics office for insurance purposes via the following email address: salc.ethics@manchester.ac.uk

Research involving the adult social care sector

Research involving the adult social care sector is reviewed by the Social Care Research Ethics Committee (e.g. in local authority, private and voluntary care settings), as well as studies which cross sector boundaries. Applications for this REC are through the IRAS system: 

Once ethical approval has been obtained, the full application and approval letter must be registered with the ethics office for insurance purposes via the following email address: salc.ethics@manchester.ac.uk.

Research involving children and young people

Detailed information about research involving children and young people requiring CAFCASS approval can be found on the following web site:

Access to the courts or to court records

The approval you need depends on the courts (or court records) that you hope to access in your research. Detailed information can be found on the following web site:

Frequently asked questions

What are Research Ethics?

Research Ethics is a world-wide set of principles governing the way any research involving interaction between the researcher and other humans or data relating to humans is designed, managed and conducted.

Research ethics has its origins in the medical world and the testing of new medicines and new techniques on patients and healthy volunteers (and in some cases forced subjects). Thus, some of the fundamental statements on research ethics, such as the Helsinki Declaration, originate from medical organisations. However, the same principles are now applied more widely to all human and social sciences where interaction with individuals or with defined groups, or confidential information about individuals, is involved.

What are the principles of Research Ethics?

Nowadays the principles of research ethics are grouped under the headings of Autonomy, Beneficence, Non-maleficence, Confidentiality and Integrity.

Autonomy

  • because the participant must be free to take part in the research without coercion or penalty for not taking part;
  • because the participant must be free to withdraw at any time without giving a reason and without a threat of any adverse effect.

Beneficence

  • because the research must be worthwhile in itself and have beneficial effects that outweigh any risks; it follows that the methodology must be sound so that positive results will be yielded.

Non-maleficence

  • because any possible harm must be avoided or mitigated by robust precautions

Confidentiality

  • because the right of the participant and his/her personal data to remain unknown to all but the research team must be respected (unless the participant agrees otherwise).

Integrity

  • because the researcher must be open about any gains he or she makes from the research.

What is ethical approval?

Research Ethics Committees are responsible for reviewing ethics applications in order to ensure that adequate consideration has been given to the ethical aspects of a research project thus reducing the potential for harm and upset to the participants.

An ethics committee will assess whether the research you propose can be considered ethical, i.e.

  • Whether the research is justified, i.e. whether it is likely to add to the existing knowledge base;
  • Whether it is of sufficient standard - including whether the researchers are qualified to carry out the roles proposed in the research proposal;
  • Whether the risk it poses to participants is outweighed by the potential benefits of the research;
  • Whether the research appears to comply with all statutory and other guidance;
  • Whether data management and handling appears to comply with the relevant legislation (Data Protection Act 1998) and guidance (e.g. Research Governance Framework, NHS Code of Practice on Confidentiality; NHS Care Records Guarantee);
  • Whether financial arrangements appear sound - it would be unethical to start research that may not be completed because insufficient funds were available.

Does my project require ethical approval?

It is up to staff, and research students in conjunction with their supervisors, to make an initial assessment of how their project potentially involves ethical considerations, and to consider whether or not to make an application for ethical approval.

The key principle here is that all research projects conducted by University staff or students that involve human participants in a way that might harm, disturb or upset them (however slight the possibility), or where they can be deemed to be in a vulnerable or disadvantageous situation, must receive approval from a recognised research ethics committee or a designated screening panel at School level. No work on a research project that involves ethical issues can take place until pre-screening has been fully completed and, if required, formal ethical approval has been obtained.

If your research does involve contact with human participants, you must read the guidelines contained in the SALC Research Ethics Assessment document to determine whether your project matches the criteria for low, medium or high risk in terms of the ethical issues it raises. Projects in the low risk category may be approved by the supervisor or self-certified by staff (using the form appended to the SALC Research Ethics Assessment document).

Projects in the medium risk category must be approved by the SALC Research Ethics Committee (using the SALC Research Ethics Template). Both of these forms adhere to accepted principles of informed consent and University regulations on data management and IT security.

Does every project involving human subjects require a full ethical review?

As a general rule projects do not usually require a full ethical review if they involve course evaluation, evaluation of teaching methods, the audit of secondary analysis of existing datasets, archives or other publicly available documents such as service evaluation, market research or research into public opinion rather than the collection of new primary data involving interaction with human subjects.

What is meant by 'informed consent'?

This means that people are able to give their consent (with regard to their involvement in your research) fully and freely. You must consider whether or not your research participants might be defined as ‘vulnerable’ or ‘dependent’ according to the definitions below (provided by UREC). If the level of vulnerability or dependence is such that research participants cannot give informed consent fully and freely, your research will need to go forward to UREC for approval.

Vulnerable subjects are individuals whose willingness to volunteer may be unduly influenced by the expectation, whether justified or not, of benefits associated with participation, or of a retaliatory response from senior or powerful members of a hierarchy in case of refusal to participate. Examples are members of a group with a hierarchical structure, such as medical students, subordinate hospital and laboratory personnel, employees of the pharmaceutical industry, members of the armed forces, and persons kept in detention. Other vulnerable subjects include patients with incurable diseases, persons in nursing homes, unemployed or impoverished persons, patients in emergency situations, ethnic minority groups, homeless persons, nomads, refugees, minors, and those incapable of giving consent.

Dependent subjects are those who cannot give informed consent because of limited autonomy, such as children and the mentally ill.

What happens if my research does not comply with the criteria for low or medium risk ethical issues?

If your research project does not comply with the criteria for low or medium ethical risk, then a University of Manchester Research Ethics Committee (UREC) ethical approval form must be completed and referred to UREC for approval, following initial review by the SALC Research Ethics Committee.

Research that must be reviewed by UREC includes research that involves the following:

  • Any form of physical risk or serious inconvenience to the subject or to any third party;
  • The administration of drugs or use of invasive or semi-invasive procedures;
  • Any risk of psychological damage or distress to the subject (or the subject’s family);
  • Privileged access to the subjects’ clinical records, or that may incur the risk of the disclosure of sensitive information about the subject disclosed by persons taking part in the investigation;
  • Participants deemed to be vulnerable or dependent or otherwise have an unequal relationship with the researcher;
  • The deception of research participants;
  • The use of tissue from living subjects (subject to the Human Tissue Act 2004)
  • Cadavers of or tissue from the recently dead, other than bequeathed cadavers and tissue obtained in the normal course of necropsy (subject to the Human Tissue Act 2004).

This is not an exhaustive list and if you have any doubts you should seek advice.

In addition to the above, if your project involves a likelihood of danger to you above and beyond risks normally associated with research in your discipline you may be advised to apply for approval from UREC.

It is vital when completing the relevant application form for ethical approval that both you and your supervisor have read and understood the guidance provided in the SALC Research Ethics Assessment document and elsewhere in these pages.



No work on a research project that involves ethical issues can take place until pre-screening has been fully completed and, if required, formal ethical approval has been obtained.

How do I apply to the University Research Ethics Committee (UREC)?

If you have established that your project falls into the high ethical risk category and therefore requires ethical approval from the University Research Ethics Committee, you will need to complete a UREC ethical approval form.

The form and guidelines must be read carefully and the questions answered fully. The form is, however, designed to cover many different types of research project so some of the questions may seem more relevant than others.

If you are a postgraduate student, you and your supervisor are jointly responsible for completing the form.

On submission you will normally have the choice of review by the first available committee or you may wait for the committee which specialises in your subject area, which could take 6 weeks.

What are the issues that I need to consider in preparing an application?

Each research project will have its own ethical implications but in general you will need to consider the following factors:

  • Does the research have clear objectives?
  • Is the methodology sound?
  • Have you sought advice on research design?
  • If it is quantitative research, what statistical advice have you sought?
  • If it is qualitative research, is the design appropriate?
  • Has the application been prepared in understandable English, free of jargon and terms that may not be understood by the intelligent layperson?
  • There must no element of coercion in the recruitment of volunteers. Adverts and invitations to participate must be drawn up in neutral terms and potential participants cannot be approached directly by the researcher and asked for an immediate answer
  • All participants must give informed consent, which means providing an information sheet (generally in a standardised format) and asking for written consent.
  • If consent is to be obtained in possibly difficult or complex situations, the researcher should show that they have experience in administering consent.
  • Participants must be able to withdraw at any time without giving a reason and with an assurance that it will not effect any benefit, service etc. which you or the organisation hosting the research might be offering.
  • Any compensation, financial or otherwise, must be related to expenses incurred and time taken up and not be seen as an incentive to take a risk. Modest prize draws are, however, permissible.
  • There should be an assurance that there will be some sort of outcome to the research, preferably as a publication. In this respect a dissertation or thesis, even if not publicly available, counts as a research outcome.
  • Any conflicts of interest should be declared.

What supporting papers will be needed?

The Committee will want to see relevant supporting documents, which may include:

  • Any research protocol (this will only be relevant to the more complex projects)
  • Any advert of letter of invitation to participate
  • A participant information sheet (known as a PIS for short)
  • A consent form
  • Any questionnaires or research tool being administered
  • A schedule (i.e. a list of topics) to be discussed at any interview or focus group
  • Ground rules for any meetings or focus groups
  • Any consent letters from third parties involved

Not every application will need all these documents. For instance, the return of a questionnaire does not always need a consent form, since the return itself implies consent, but the implied consent should be set out in the information sheet.

What happens at the University Research Ethics Committee (UREC) meeting?

After submission to the University Ethics Review Committee, you will be told the date of the meeting. It is also quite usual to invite you to meet the committee at a given time. This will be an opportunity to clarify uncertain points or agree amendments. If you are a postgraduate student, it is important that your supervisor(s) make to time to attend as well since they are formally responsible for the management of the research and may be in a better position to answer questions.

After the meeting you will be sent a letter which may: confirm ethical approval, give conditional approval, or give an unfavourable opinion and ask for a revised submission.

What happens if I do not get ethical approval?

It is contrary to University policy to collect data for a research project which requires ethical approval without having first obtained that approval. A number of consequences flow from this:

  • Conducting research without proper ethical approval could be construed as misconduct in research
  • The University cannot protect you against any consequences, financial or otherwise
  • An aggrieved participant could seek legal redress and you would have a weaker defence if the research did not have ethical approval