Research ethics - what do I need to do?

All research involving human subjects, or which raises other ethical issues (e.g. work with animals) will require ethics review.

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

First step – the ethics self-assessment form

For all staff and postgraduate research (PGR) student projects being conducted on behalf of the University, the PI or academic supervisor must submit an online self-assessment form in the first instance.

For funded projects the project account will not be set up until a self-assessment form has been completed.

If you are not already aware of which ethics approval route you will need to go through you have completed the self-assessment form, the responses submitted in the form will help to determine this. You will also receive an email confirmation from the Ethics Team that provides further guidance and your unique ERN reference number.



On the 3 June 2019 the University implemented the new Worktribe – New Core system. The new system will require some process changes for completing of SAFs, as follows:

For funded staff research: Please complete the ethics checklist in the new system. Once the ethics checklist actions in the system have been completed, a member of the Ethics Team will be in touch as usual to support you with the ethics review process. If you need to submit a University or HRA/NHS ethics application (see ‘second step’ below) your checklist will be returned to you with a message that from the new system that the application is ‘not approved’ and you will get confirmation that your application will be managed via the ethics or governance systems.

There is currently no change for student and unfunded research for which you should continue to complete the SAF available here

Second step – further ethics review if required

Once you have completed the self-assessment form, the next steps in the review process will depend upon the nature of the project. Some examples include:

  • Projects requiring a self-assessment form only – the project involves no human participants and raises no other ethical issues.  No further action is needed in this instance.
  • Studies involving healthy human participants, NHS members of staff or work deemed as ‘service evaluation’ by the NHS – ethical approval via one of the University’s central research ethics committees (for staff and postgraduate research projects).  For funded projects, ethics review should normally be sought after funded has been awarded unless the funding body requires it at application stage.  For PGR student projects ethics approval should usually be sought within the first year of registration. 
  • Studies involving NHS patients/carers, participants with mental incapacity, studies which involve storing human tissue, clinical trials, etc – ethical approval via the Health Research Authority (HRA)
  • NRES Approved Tissue Banks/Research Databases
  • Biomedical Ethical Review Sub-Committee (BERSC) – studies involving work with animals - ethical approval via AWERB (a University ethics committee which reviews applications involving animal work before it is sent to the Home Office for approval)
  • Other specialist review processes, eg. MoDREC (Ministry of Defence). 

See also our application forms for ethics review.

Amendments to ethics approvals

As your research progresses, if the details of the project change from those originally provided to the University ethics committee you may need to submit an amendment for approval.  The form required to submit an amendment is available here.

If the details of your project do not change (i.e. there are no changes that impact upon the ethical issues raised within the project) then your approval is valid until the completion of the project. 

Advice on appropriate route for ethics approval

The Ethics Team and/or the Ethics Committee Chairs will be able to advise you further on the appropriate route for ethics approval for your study.

Ethics for undergraduate and taught postgraduate students

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.



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