Here is a selection of frequently asked questions in relation to ethics and ethics application processes in the College.  Online System FAQ provides specific answers relating to the online Research Ethics System.

What is the history of ethics in research?

Ethical conduct of research is founded in lessons learned following the abuses that took place during the Second World War. These may seem far removed now, but the development of social research extended the principles from the original medical focus and there are standards common to all ethical codes to ensure that research is conducted with integrity and social responsibility.

Historical information links:

The Nuremberg Code 1947: http://www.cirp.org/library/ethics/nuremberg/   

The Declaration of Helsinki 1964:   https://www.wma.net/policies-post/wma-declaration-of-helsinki-ethical-principles-for-medical-research-involving-human-subjects/

The defence of obedience used after the atrocities of the Second World War was explored in:  Milgram’s Study of Obedience (1961)    The aim of the experiment was to investigate what level of obedience would be shown when participants were told by an authority figure to administer electric shocks to another person.   (http://www.simplypsychology.org/milgram.htmlhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=yr5cjyokVUs

Stanford Prison Experiment (1971)    What happens when you put good people in an evil place? Does humanity win over evil, or does evil triumph? In only a few days, guards became sadistic and prisoners became depressed and showed signs of extreme stress. (http://www.prisonexp.org/)

Why do I need ethical approval?

The University requires that before you can start any research project involving human participants, material or data, you have to get approval from your College Ethics Committee (PGR and Staff) or your School’s Ethics Forum (UG and PGT).  This applies to students, staff or external researchers using university facilities or participants.

The University Ethics Committee, which oversees the procedures was established by Senate in 2002.  The ethics process is guided by the requirements of research funders such as the ESRC.

The central principle is the protection of the participants and researchers from harm or distress. This applies at all levels of research.

What does/does not need ethical approval?

Where work is undertaken for publication (journal article, conference paper) or assessment in a thesis or dissertation then it requires ethical approval.

Audit and evaluation work solely for internal departmental purposes (like some NHS PPI work and some teaching and classroom activities) is not deemed to be research and does not require ethical approval.

If using materials already in the public domain such as academic texts, then ethical approval is not required. It is important to check that web-based sources are fully in the public domain as web platforms often own the copyright to hosted content

In most cases if using secondary data that is anonymised, ethical approval will not be required.

It should be noted that in some circumstances the material itself may raise ethical issues which should be considered.

If you are in any doubt, please contact the ethics administrator of either the relevant SEF or CREC and ask for advice. See Ethics Contacts

What is the difference between research ethics and integrity?

Research ethics and our policies in this area are focussed on the moral perspective of how research is conducted, particularly when working with human or animal subjects. Researchers should adhere to codes of practice or regulations in this area and undertake ethical review processes prior to conducting research, attending specific training where necessary. Work in this area is overseen by the University Ethics Committee and the College also has a Research Ethics Committee and local points of contact. Research students should discuss this with their supervisors to identify appropriate training or procedures that should be followed.

Research integrity is focussed on professional standards and responsible research conduct. It is relevant to researchers from all disciplines, as well as anyone supporting research (administrators, public engagement or communications specialists etc.). Training is available, and while this is mandatory for PGRs, and highly recommended for other research staff, all researchers have a professional responsibility to keep up to date with what this means for their discipline, and contribute to a culture of good research practice. Introduction to Research Integrity.  

When does research come under NHS ethics?

The College Research Ethics Committee is responsible for scrutinising non-clinical research involving human participants. Clinical research requires approval from an NHS Research Ethics Committee.

Research involving the following is likely to be classed as clinical:

  • Patients and users of the NHS
  • individuals identified as potential research participants because of their status as relatives or carers of patients and users of the NHS
  • access to data, organs or other bodily material of past and present NHS patients
  • foetal material and IVF involving NHS patients
  • the recently dead in NHS premises
  • the use of, or potential access to, NHS premises or facilities
  • individuals under the care of social or community care professionals, local authorities or prisons

The West of Scotland Research Ethics Service website http://www.nhsggc.org.uk/about-us/professional-support-sites/research-development/west-of-scotland-research-ethics-service/ provides information on the NHS processes and links to tools designed to help you decide if your project is classed as research within the NHS  http://www.hra-decisiontools.org.uk/research/    and if your project requires NHS ethical approval. http://www.hra-decisiontools.org.uk/ethics/

Even if it does not require NHS approval, your project may still require University ethical approval and this should be checked.

How do I apply for ethical approval?

In the College of Social Sciences:

Staff and PGR applicants must use the online Research Ethics System which you access through the Business Systems front door page  https://frontdoor.spa.gla.ac.uk/login/ using your GUID and password. Click on Research Ethics System to see your ethics homepage. This now also applies to UG and PGT students in the School of Education.

UG and PGT applicants must apply via email to their respective School Ethics Forum. This means sending the application to the ethics administrator; administrative contact details are available at Ethics Contacts.

How long does it take for an ethics application to be processed?

College (staff & PGR) level applications: initial reviews should take two to three weeks. Please note that most applications require changes and resubmission, and it may take a further two to three weeks for reviews to be completed. Applicants should ensure that they have applied at least six weeks prior to their intended start date for data collection.

School (UG & PGT) level applications are usually completed within four weeks.

How does the online approval process work?

Staff/Student Creates Ethics Application

1. Choose Ethics Committee to Submit Application to
2. Choose Project Title
3. If Student Choose Supervisor
4. Upload Documents (an Application Form and Participant Information Sheet are Mandatory)
5. Submit Application

Staff:  The application is submitted directly to the administrator.

Student:  If the creator is a student, the application is sent to the supervisor for their review prior to the application being submitted to the administrator.  An email is sent to the supervisor alerting them that an application has been submitted.  The supervisor can reject the application back to the student for the student to make changes if required.

Prior to the application being submitted to the Administrator the application is still in a draft state and documents can be deleted and changed.

Administrator Review

The administrator checks over the documents and chooses the committee reviewer(s) and the lead reviewer. An email is automatically sent to the reviewer(s) and the lead letting them know that they have been nominated.

If the documents are not completed correctly or there are documents missing the administrator can return the application back to the student or the member of staff.  If the administrator returns the application they will upload an administrative comments document including the reasons for return.

Committee Member Review

An email alert is automatically sent to the committee reviewer(s) chosen by the administrator letting them know they have an application to review.  The committee member must upload a comment document regardless of their recommendation for the application.  The committee member must action the review before it will move on to the lead for review. Applicants will not see a copy of this review.

Lead Review

Once all the committee reviews are completed an email alert is automatically sent to the lead reviewer letting them know that they have an application to review. The lead reviewer collates all reviews and uploads the feedback and/or approval letter.


Approved:  An approval letter is uploaded by the lead reviewer.

Major Changes Required:  If the application requires Major Changes the lead reviewer uploads a collated comments document including the both their comments and those of the committee reviewer. This details the required changes. This decision means that the application will be returned to both the committee reviewer and the lead reviewer once it is resubmitted by the applicant.

Minor Changes Required:  If the application requires Minor Changes the lead reviewer uploads a collated comments document including the both their comments and those of the committee reviewer. This details the required changes. This decision means that the application will only be returned to the lead reviewer for once it is resubmitted by the applicant.

Rejected:  If the application is rejected the lead reviewer uploads a rejection letter before rejecting the application. The applicant and the supervisor (where applicable) are informed of the rejection and the applicant must submit a completely new application if they wish to re- submit their application.

Note: If the application is sent back to the applicant by either the lead reviewer or the administrator the application becomes version 2 and a copy of the original application is made for the applicant to edit.

If the application is sent back by the reviewers the applicant must fill in the Resubmission Document indicating how they have addressed the feedback before they re-submit their application.

What is the difference between confidentiality and anonymity?

Definition of Confidentiality = revealed in the expectation that it will be kept private.

Confidentiality usually means that you do not identify participants in your research. You may hold information that identifies the participants, but use pseudonyms or codes to refer to them in your results.

It also applies to the information provided to you by participants. A confidential agreement may mean that you agree not to disclose any information you get from an interviewee. However it is University policy that any confidentiality agreements must be limited and researchers are required to inform participants that “assurances on confidentiality will be strictly adhered to unless evidence of wrongdoing or potential harm is uncovered. In such cases the University may be obliged to contact relevant statutory bodies/agencies.”

Definition of Anonymity = the state of not being known by name.

Anonymity means that there is no way to identify an individual participant as no personal identifying information is collected. This is usually only possible in cases where questionnaires are distributed in such a way as the researcher (and anyone else) cannot connect the returned questionnaires with any one person.

It is possible to ‘anonymise’ data you have collected, but this is difficult as not only names, but all details that could identify participants and link them to their contribution to the results have to be removed, including: job title, age, gender, length of service, race, email addresses, ip addresses.

Organisations can also be identified from general information such as geographical location, and this would need to be removed to anonymise an organisation that took part in the research.

What is meant by 'permissions'?

Permissions mean different things depending on where you intend to carry out your data collection.

If you are planning to recruit participants within a primary or secondary school, you need to ask for permission to do so from the local authority (LA) (See Update January 2019 below) within which the school is set as well as the head teacher.

If you are planning to recruit participants within an organisation including a voluntary organisation, or private company, you need to ask for permission to do so. This is likely to be the case even for those working within the organisation and it is vital that, if you are in this position, you do not assume that permission will automatically be given.

Permissions are not usually granted until ethical approval is received. You should obtain some sort of informal permission to carry out your research in the organisation which can be included in your ethics application; however this is not final or full permission, which should be sought after you have your final ethical approval document.

Info on research in schools (Primary & Secondary) pdf

Info on research in organisations pdf

Important Information - Glasgow City Council now has an ethics form that is required to be completed if you wish to do research in schools in the City Council area. There are Ethics meetings to consider these. Details on the forms and meetings are available from: https://www.glasgow.gov.uk/index.aspx?articleid=18238

Is there a risk assessment form for fieldwork?

There is a Graduate School risk assessment form available on the Staff and Postgraduate Research Students section of this website. This is intended for discussion between students and supervisors and may be provided as part of an ethics application if appropriate.  This can also be returned by the student when requesting Research Furth approval in the College. See Graduate School Forms.

Where do I find information on insurance while collecting data overseas?

You should look at the guidance on the University's website regarding travel abroad. Insurance risk and travel There is an online form that you should submit at least five days before you travel.  (You are also reminded to consult the government's foreign travel advice website. https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice).

How do I make an amendment to an already approved application?

Go to your relevant (staff/PGR or UG/PGT) ethics forms and guidance notes section where you can download the ‘Request for amendments to an approved application’ form and see some brief notes on the process. Amendments are normally dealt with within ten working days. You should submit the form and any supporting documents by email to either the College (Staff & PGR) ethics administrator or your School (UG & PGT) ethics administrator, email addresses available from Ethics Contacts.