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Ethical Approval for Research


Your Supervisor is the first point of contact when thinking about ethical issues in your research, but further information is available through the links below.

POLIS adheres to University policies on research standards, including the Policy on the Ethics of Research Involving Human Participants and Personal Data.

The Research Operations Office website on Ethics in Research gives details of how ethical approval is managed within the University.

The Humanities and Social Sciences Research Ethics Committee (HSS REC) reviews complex or high-risk ethics issues in research projects in the arts, humanities and social sciences or cognate areas. All research involving vulnerable adults or participants under 18 will be referred to the HSS REC after consideration by the Department’s Ethics Committee.


In some instances, researchers may be asked to provide proof that they and their research is covered by the University Insurance. To receive confirmation of this, researchers should contact to discuss the process.


How to Apply for Ethical Approval

*PhD students should not seek ethical approval until they have completed their first year registration exercise.* 

Step 1: Consult the relevant guidance when writing your research proposal to ensure your study design does not include anything that might be problematic (see Thinking about Ethics, below).

Step 2: Select the correct application form (see Which form do I need, below), and return it to your Course Administrator after consultation with your Supervisor. Submission should be at least one month before the start of your planned research and at least a week in advance of that month's Research Committee deadline (dates listed below). 

Ethics Committee Meetings

The Ethics Committee circulation dates for 2019-2020 are listed below.

6th October 2020
3rd November 2020
24th November 2020
26th January 2021
16th February 2021
16th March 2021
4th May 2021
25th May 2021
22nd June 2021

 Summer circulations will be conducted in July, August, and September with dates to be determined by staff availability.

Thinking about Ethics

When planning your research and before you complete the application form, you may wish to consult the following guidance –

When ethical approval is required - this document is drawn from the ESRC Framework for Research Ethics and lists some of the many types of research which require ethical approval. The full ESRC Framework for Research Ethics is available online and is a very useful tool for researchers.

Points to consider when planning your research – a list of areas you will need to have explored when planning your research, writing your proposal and submitting your application for ethical approval.

An example research proposal – an example proposal from the ESRC Framework with ethical considerations included.

The Data Protection Act - a guide to the principles and how you should ensure you protect personal data you have gathered/are using for your research. This has been superseded by GDPR in many ways, but the guidance in this document all still applies.  

Which form do I need?

The procedure you need to follow depends on whether your research involves certain types of data or human participants, and whether the participants are adults, vulnerable adults or under 18.

Each procedure is listed below, and summarised in the flowchart:

Flowchart for determining which ethical approval forms to use.


If your research involves Adult participants

You will need confirmation from your Supervisor, with approval by the POLIS Ethics Committee.

You must submit the (A) Application for Ethical Approval Form and the required documents (listed on the form) to your Course Administrator, who will forward them to the relevant committee.

If your research involves Vulnerable Adult participants

You will need confirmation from your Supervisor, and approval by the POLIS Ethics Committee and the HSS REC.

You must submit the (VA) Application for Ethical Approval Form and the required documents (listed on the form) to your Course Administrator.

You may also need to apply for ethical approval from any relevant external committees who have oversight of your participants.

Note: The Prisoners’ Education Trust has a policy on the protection of vulnerable adults (POVA) which states the following:

This policy takes account of legislation which comes into force in October 2009 in which prisoners are classed as vulnerable adults.

If your research involves participants under the age of 18

You will need confirmation from your Supervisor, with approval by the POLIS Ethics Committee and the HSS REC.

You must submit the (U18) Application for Ethical Approval Form and the required documents (listed on the form) to your Course Administrator.

You should also read the additional Guidance for participants under 18.

If you are working with schools or other educational institutions then they may also have procedures which you must observe.

If your research involves access to personal, controlled or confidential data

You will need confirmation from your Supervisor, with review by the Research Committee.

You must submit the (DATA) Application for Ethical Approval Form and the required documents (listed on the form) to your Course Administrator.

If your research does not involve participants or use personal, controlled or confidential data

You will not need Research Committee approval but should still obtain confirmation from your supervisor, and submit the Ethics Confirmation Form to your Course Administrator to pass on to the committee.

  GDPR Compliance

All researchers conducting studies with human participants must ensure that their participant information documents are compliant with the new GDPR legislation. In-depth details can be found here and here.

If you are unsure of whether your participant information sheet will be sufficient, please include a link to direct your participants to the University's standard GDPR policy for research participants. This will provide a basic level of compliance, but please ensure that you have read the statement too and can provide all of the information mentioned.

We also strongly advise that you personalise and include the following additional Privacy Notice template with your participant information sheet- GDPR Privacy Template.

If you have any questions about GDPR compliance, please contact .


Thinking about Risk

Keeping yourself safe is also an important consideration, for everyone involved in a study.

Students who are applying for Leave to Work Away need to both apply for Ethical Approval and to conduct a Risk Assessment to assess the potential risks involved in your research and how you will mitigate them. 

The Risk Assesment form for MPhil and PhD students can be found with the Graduate Student Resources.

The Ethics Guidebook has a useful page on Risks to Researchers which we recommend that you read through. It highlights five important dimensions - 

  • risk of physical threat or abuse;
  • risk of psychological trauma, as a result of actual or threatened violence or the nature of what is disclosed during the interaction;
  • risk of being in a comprising situation, in which there might be accusations of improper behaviour;
  • increased exposure to risks of everyday life and social interaction, such as road accidents and infectious illness; and 
  • risk of causing psychological or physical harm to others.

The Social Research Association also has a Safety Code of Practice which we recommend that you consult as well.