All research involving human participants carried out by Aston staff or students must be reviewed by one of the University's ethics committees or by a recognised external committee such as an NHS Ethics Committee. Research not involving human participants directly but involving their data or tissue may also require ethical review, and you should contact the Research Integrity Office for advice and guidance. Our Ethical Principles and Procedures document provides information regarding the standards expected of our students and colleagues conducting research.

Aston University has a University Research Integrity and Ethics Committee (URIEC), who provide advice to Research Committee and Senate on the development, implementation and review of institutional procedures and guidelines relating to ethics and integrity issues arising from research and other related activities including emerging issues of institutional, national, or international significance. URIEC will also review institutional policies within the context of emerging ethical issues which may arise from research activities within the University and will provide support and oversight for the work of the College Research Ethics Committees (CRECs). CRECs are responsible for the research ethics review and approval processes for postgraduate research student and staff applications. Terms of reference for URIEC and the CRECs can be found below.

Ethics review and approval process

If you are a staff member or postgraduate research student, and your research involves any of the following, you must apply for research ethics approval (this approval must be received before your research commences):

  • Human participants: (including all types of interviews, questionnaires, focus groups, records relating to humans, use of online datasets or other secondary data, observations, etc.)
  • Human tissue or cells gathered prospectively from participants. Please see our Human tissue in Research page if you are purchasing or transferring samples to Aston University.
  • Risk to members of the research team such as:
    • lone working during data collection
    • travel to areas where researchers may be at risk: (any request for research requiring international travel should be accompanied by a University travel risk assessment form)
    • risk of emotional distress
    • other: please outline
  • Any risk to the environment
  • Any conflict of interest
  • Research that could be considered controversial or be of reputational risk to Aston University
  • Social media data and/or data from internet sources that could be regarded as private
  • Any other ethical considerations: (any substantial ethical considerations you are aware of)

If you have answered YES to any of the above, you need to take the following steps in applying to your College Research Ethics Committee (CREC) to seek approval to commence your research (applicants within AIFL should contact Stefanie Kreibich).

1.    Complete the below application form and all necessary accompanying materials such as but not limited to:

  • Advertising materials (posters, recruitment e-mails);
  • Letters of invitation to participate;
  • Participant information sheets;
  • Consent forms;
  • Questionnaires, surveys, demographic data collection sheets, etc.;
  • Interview schedules, interview question guides, focus group materials/scripts, etc.; 
  • Debriefing sheets (if applicable); 
  • Risk assessment; and
  • Standard Operating Procedure (if applicable, as agreed with Health & Safety).

2.    Create a zip file containing all application materials (i.e., application form and all of the applicable documents noted above).
3.    Submit the zip file to your dedicated CREC e-mail address:

4.    If required by invitation, be available to attend a CREC meeting to present and answer questions on your application (this is mostly for complex proposals).

Upon submission of your ethics application for review, you will be issued with a Research Ethics Committee Identification Number (REC ID). This number must be added to the footer of all approved participant facing documentation prior to use. As Principal Investigator, it is your responsibility to ensure that this detail is added. 

Please note that it is your responsibility to obtain research ethics approval if it is required for your research – if you have any questions or are uncertain if you need approval, please contact your College using the e-mail addresses above, or e-mail the Aston Ethics Team
Failure to obtain ethics approval if it is required could amount to research misconduct and require deletion of any data collected.

Timescales

Your application will be reviewed by colleagues within your College. They will aim to provide an initial review within three weeks of receiving your application. These timescales can be heavily affected by not only the size of the application but also the quality and completeness of your submission. Please ensure you attach all relevant documents and prepare your application with care, submitting it well in advance of your intended research start date. You will receive updates regarding the status of your application, but you can contact the Research Ethics Officer via your College ethics e-mail address at any time. 

Should your project require escalation to the University Research Integrity and Ethics Committee you will be informed, and a member of the Committee will contact you.  This is likely to affect a very small number of applications which either raise substantial ethical or reputational concerns.

Amendments

To request an amendment to a previously approved application, re-send your final approved application and associated documentation with all changes highlighted, along with a completed notice of amendment form (see below).

Where an extension to the end date for your project is needed, please only submit the completed amendment form in the first instance and ensure you outline the reason for the requested additional time therein.
 

Adverse events

Adverse events are any event which has resulted in a deviation from the approved research protocol/processes outlined in your ethics application, any untoward occurrence resulting in participant harm or loss of data/samples, or any event which has the potential to affect the integrity of the research being carried out. Should any adverse events occur during your research, you must notify the Research Ethics Officer via your College ethics e-mail address as soon as possible after the event (and no more than 48 hours after discovering this event), so that we can support you in responding appropriately.  

End of study

All projects will be considered as complete by the date stated on your application unless a formal request to extend this is made with the CREC.  Any projects continuing to collect data beyond a stated end date will be in breach of their approval.

Collaborations on projects or receipt of data from other institutions

Occasionally, staff or PhD researchers may be invited to collaborate on projects which are in receipt of ethics from another institution or are in receipt of an NHS REC favourable opinion but where Aston University is not the Sponsor. If this is the case, please contact the Research Integrity Office as a light-touch governance review will be undertaken before any research can commence on site. This will include collating copies of the confirmation of favourable ethical opinion/ethics approval, a protocol for any work being undertaken at Aston (or by Aston staff) and copies of any localised study documents. Please notify us as early as possible in this process.

Please note that we would ordinarily expect that ethics approval is sought from Aston University, if an Aston colleague is the lead researcher.

Retrospective Ethics Applications

It is never expected that applications for ethics approval will be reviewed and considered retrospectively unless exceptional circumstances exist. Researchers are entirely responsible for submitting their ethics application (and any associated amendments thereafter) in plenty of time to secure approval before their data collection starts. Data collection must not commence until confirmation of ethics approval has been received by e-mail from a College REC (CREC) or the University Research Integrity and Ethics Committee (URIEC). Where a researcher has, under normal processes, submitted an ethics application and unilaterally takes the decision to begin the research data collection prior to obtaining ethics approval this will be dealt with under the University definition of research misconduct, not this policy.

Documentation