The University must ensure that all its projects undergo appropriate ethical review before commencement. This covers both internally and externally funded projects, and includes undergraduate and postgraduate projects. In addition to the institutional requirement, main research funders (e.g. Research Councils) now require assurances that projects have been through an appropriate ethical review and that the research will be conducted within a research governance framework embedded within the institution.
There are four different routes for obtaining ethical approval, each dependent on the type of project and its subjects. Two of the processes are external to the University, and two are internal. Because each Research Ethics Committee recognises the need to avoid duplication of applications, there a sort of hierarchical process, based on the process of elimination, within the overall approval system as outlined below.
Undertaking a preliminary ethical review is the first step (Stage 1) in this process. It is a light-touch assessment that determines if a project will require full ethical review or not. If full ethical review is required (Stage 2) it does not mean that you cannot do the research - only that you will need to seek and satisfy an ethical opinion from a Research Ethics Committee.
If the preliminary review determines your project deals with NHS staff, patients or premises, then your project will be subject to ethical review by an external health authority ethics committee through the National Research Ethics Service (NRES) – see the NRES website for the process, application and guidance.
If, however, your project does not fit the full requirements for the NRES process above but has a Department of Health award and/or deals with participants in a social care setting who lack capacity and are unable to give informed consent, then it will be required to follow the Social Care REC route for approval.
Finally, if neither of the above routes are applicable, the University can provide approval through its own research ethics committees. For projects that deal with animals, the University Ethical Review Committee will make a decision. For all other projects, the Faculty Ethics Committees will be appropriate to consider the proposal.