University of Greenwich Research Ethics Policy

1. Scope and Purpose


The aim of the University of Greenwich Research Ethics policy is to encourage a high quality research and enterprise culture, with the highest possible standards of integrity and practice. The policy applies to all academic, contract research and administrative staff, all postgraduate research students, and also undergraduate and masters students who are undertaking research. In short, the policy applies to all disciplines and research activities within the University, or sub-contracted on its behalf.


All staff and students are expected to act ethically when engaged in University business. Any research involving the following requires ethical consideration:

1.2.1 Human participation, defined as:

i. Direct involvement through physically invasive procedures, such as the taking of blood samples

ii. Direct involvement through non-invasive procedures, such as interviews, questionnaires, surveys, observation, laboratory-based experiments

iii. Indirect involvement through access to personal information and/or tissue

iv. Involvement requiring consent on behalf of others, such as by parents for a child participant While particular attention must be paid to the interests of potentially vulnerable groups, including children under the age of eighteen, elderly people, physically or mentally ill people, people with learning difficulties, people in care, bereaved people, and people in prison, the University recognises that it has a duty of care towards all members of the wider community affected by its activities. The University also recognises that it has a duty of care to its own staff, and that this includes the avoidance of harm to those undertaking research. In general, it may be inappropriate for undergraduates to undertake research projects involving vulnerable participants.

1.2.2 The use of non-human sentient creatures. This shall be restricted to research falling outside the scope of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, for example this could include observational and behavioural studies of animals in a natural setting. This Act regulates the use of protected animals in any experimental or other scientific procedure which may cause pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm to the animal. A protected animal according to the Act is "any living vertebrate other than man and any living cephalopod. Fish and amphibia are protected once they can feed independently". The Home Office requires a licence for such studies.

1.2.3 Any research proposal involving harmful or criminal, or sensitive or extremist subject matters or research protocols. Extremism is defined, in line with other University policies, as engagement in, or advocacy of, activities which seek through actual or threatened violence, intimidation or harassment to restrict or oppose values of liberal democracy: tolerance, equality, justice, respect for the rule of law, non-violence, inclusiveness, freedom of thought and of expression of thought (whether by oral, visual, written or other means).

2. Responsibilities


The University has established a framework for research ethics governance in which its Research Ethics Committee (UREC), a Committee of Academic Council, has a central approval and provision of advice role.


2.2.1 Ethical scrutiny of certain categories of research is delegated to Faculty Research Ethics Committees (FRECs), in line with their Terms of Reference:

  • undergraduate and taught postgraduate investigations, procedures and investigations carried out in the Faculty or under its auspices;
  • pilot studies of research projects from staff and higher degree students. A pilot study is defined as a small-scale, preliminary study which seeks to evaluate and validate the method and/or aims of the substantive study, including feasibility, time, cost, adverse events, and sample size, in order to improve upon the design of the study. Pilot studies may increase the likelihood of success in the main study.

2.2.2 Students or staff studying for Masters by Research, or higher degree, must receive approval from their Faculty Research Degrees Committee, before gaining approval from the University Research Ethics Committee.

2.2.3 Notwithstanding the delegation of such ethical approval applications to Faculty Committees as set out above, any research activity involving vulnerable people (as set out in above) or sensitive subject-matter (as set out in 1.2.3 above) may be called in by, or referred to, the University Research Ethics Committee (UREC).


University staff have an obligation to ensure that not only their own research but any undergraduate, masters or higher student research conducted under their supervision is ethically sound.


Where research projects are subject to external approval, for example by the NHS, the Faculty responsible must ensure that this approval is sought, given, and evidence provided to the University of Greenwich Research Ethics Committee. Similarly, where approval for a project has been given by a Research Ethics Committee at another university, as may be the case with a collaborative project, the University of Greenwich Research Ethics Committee must be provided with evidence of this.

Research should not commence until the relevant approval has been granted. See the University's Guidance on Ethical Approval in Research for more guidance.

3. General Principles


The University Research Ethics Policy is based upon widely accepted principles and practices governing research. The key elements are as follows:

3.1.1 Minimal risk of harm to participants and researchers, including emotional and mental distress, and possible damage to financial and social standing, as well as to physical harm. Health and safety issues should always be considered, and risk assessments completed if necessary.

3.1.2 Minimal risk of harm to the environment.

3.1.3 Potential for benefit by society.

3.1.4 Voluntary informed consent by participants. Enough information should be given to participants such that they can understand what the research involves, that they are not coerced into taking part, and can withdraw if they want to. Where this is not possible, for instance in studies where covert observation is employed, or deception is involved, special safeguards or measures should be put into place.

3.1.5 Confidentiality of information supplied by research participants and anonymity of respondents (unless explicit consent is given to the contrary). Issues of lack of privacy and anonymity should always be considered and addressed. Research should conform to Data Protection legislation, including around the keeping, sharing and disposal of personal data.

3.1.6 Maintenance of the dignity of participants.

3.1.7 Independence and impartiality of researchers. Research integrity should be high, research being sound, accountable, and supervised by appropriately qualified and experienced people. Conflicts of interest should be declared. There should be transparency in declaring funding sources.

3.1.8 Appropriate publication and dissemination of research results, in line with the Research Data Management Policy. Assistance will be acknowledged.

4. The Legal Framework, the Role of Professional Associations, and Research Councils


All research undertaken under the auspices of the University of Greenwich must meet statutory requirements. Of particular relevance is the Equality Act (2010), as well as the Human Rights Act (1998), the Data Protection Act (1998), and the requirement for Disclosure & Barring Service clearance for those working with children and provision within the existing legal framework for those working with vulnerable adults.


Researchers in particular disciplines should comply with any research ethics guidelines set out by their professional associations.


NHS National Research Ethics Service (NRES) review is required for most research involving NHS patients, staff or facilities, as well as certain other forms of clinical and social science research. Any applications of this type made through the Integrated Research Application System (IRAS) would not require approval from UREC. Evidence of approval from the relevant body is required to be provided to UREC.


Research Councils, charitable trusts and other research funding bodies in most cases require an undertaking from grant applicants that research proposals involving human participants have been approved by the University Research Ethics Committee or another appropriate body. Some also require audited compliance with their guidelines.


Version 09/12/15 approved by Academic Council 20/01/16