Ethics Review for Research

When is ethical review required?

All research involving human subjects, or which raises other ethical issues (e.g. work with animals) will require ethics review. The review process will depend upon the nature of the project, and there are several possible options. Some examples include:

  • Studies involving NHS patients, participants with mental incapacity, studies which involve storing human tissue, clinical trials, etc – ethical approval via National Research Ethics Service (NRES)
  • Studies involving healthy human participants, or work deemed as ‘service evaluation’ by the NHS – ethical approval via the University Ethics Review System (for staff and postgraduate research projects)
  • Studies involving work with animals - ethical approval via BERSC (University sub-committee)

Ethical approval is also a requirement of the University of Birmingham’s Code of Practice for Research. If you do not obtain full ethical approval for your study, you are at risk of disciplinary action.

For all staff and postgraduate research project being conducted on behalf of the University, the PI or academic supervisor must submit an online self-assessment form in the first instance. If you are not already aware of which route you will need to go through to obtain your full ethical approval, the responses submitted in this form will be able to assist. You will also receive an email confirmation from the Ethics Team that provides this information.

Undergraduate and taught postgraduate students are not subject to the University's central ethical review process, but should seek ethics review at School/College level.  Applications for undergraduate or taught postgraduate student projects may be accepted by the University's central ethics committees on request.  For details of ethical review of undergraduate and taught Masters projects, please contact your School/College for further information.

Where can I get ethical approval?

Once you have completed the self-assessment form, and it has indicated that further ethical review is required, you will need to apply to the following to obtain your approval (this list is not finite):

  • National Research Ethics Service (NHS Ethics Committee) - submission of IRAS NHS REC form
  • University Ethics Committee - the University of Birmingham operates a centralised ethical review process for research, replacing the previous institutional ethical review structure.  The University’s ethical review process applies to all new staff led research and all new postgraduate student research projects (for postgraduate research students registered on or after 1st September 2008).   The forms necessary to apply to one of the central University ethics committees can be accessed at  Ethical Review Forms and should be completed and submitted by the PI or academic supervisor.
  • NRES Approved Tissue Banks/Research Databases
  • Biomedical Ethical Review Sub-Committee (BERSC) – work falling under Animal Scientific Procedures/with animals
  • Other specialist review processes, eg. MoDREC (Ministry of Defence). 

The Ethics Team will be able to advise you of which route/s would apply to your study, if you have any queries.

Further guidance on submitting University self-assessment forms and applications for ethics review can be found here for PGR student projects and here for staff projects.