The School of ITEE has a strong commitment to conducting high quality research responsibly and with integrity and strives to adhere to all relevant guidelines on the ethical conduct of research.
ITEE’s research often includes work undertaken with human subjects and animals, and may include work involving biosafety considerations.
The ITEE School Ethics Committee considers applications for ethical approval relating to student projects involving human participants that are considered to be of relatively low risk. Student projects requiring other kinds of approvals (e.g. animal welfare), or potentially involving higher levels of risk (e.g.clinical research), are instead considered by UQ’s Central Ethics Committees. All staff research requiring ethical clearance must be approved by the Central Ethics Committees.
Why do we need Ethics Review?
As part of the design process for any research project involving human subjects or human-related materials, The University of Queensland researchers at all levels must investigate the need for ethical clearance and obtain it when required.
This means getting approval to do research that uses any kind of data collected from people, regardless of whether you collected it or someone else collected it, and regardless of when it was collected.
UQ requires its researchers to participate in the ethics process (for both moral and governance reasons).
Ethics Reviews are required to ensure that we as researchers:
- Minimise harm (physical, psychological, social) and maximise the benefit of our research;
- Ensure that individuals are treated as autonomous agents making their own voluntary decisions;
- Protect vulnerable populations;
- Avoid conflict of interest by having those other than ourselves agree that our proposed research is ethical and will be conducted in an ethical manner; and
- Participate in a transparent process which helps to ensure no harm is done to people (so society is reassured and trusts our institutions).
Failure to have proper ethics approval for research using human data is one form of research misconduct.
What kind of risks are there?
- Physical (Such as injury)
- Emotional and/or Psychological (Manipulation of emotions, well-being, beliefs)
- Social (Power balance, loss of respect by self or others)
- Economic (Financial burden or liability)
- Loss of confidentiality (Possible loss of personal dignity; violation of privacy)
- Legal (Revealing violation of law; illegal activity)
What are the requirements of consent?
- The participant must be fully informed about what will happen to them, and how their data will be used;
- The researcher must ensure the participant fully understands the information being put to them; and
- The researcher must allow the participant to make a voluntary choice on whether or not to participate in the research.
What goes where?
School based applications
Applications for ethical clearance are able to be reviewed within the School of ITEE where:
- The researcher is a student of the school (at levels up to and including PhD); and
- The project involves no more than low risk (i.e. where the only foreseeable risk is one of discomfort); and
- The school committee considers that there is no need for institutional review (by either BSSERC or MREC).
In addition, projects involving commonly accepted professional or clinical practices and procedures may be assessed by a School Ethics Committee to be low risk.
NOTE: Research undertaken by staff members or funded by external partners or anticipated to be published in the open literature must undergo an initial review by the UQ central committee.
Central based applications
Research protocols involving potentially greater levels of risk (than low risk) must be submitted to the Behavioural and Social Sciences Ethical Review Committee (BSSERC) or the Medical Research Ethics Committee (MREC), which are subcommittees of the UQ Human Ethics Review Committee (HEERC). These three Institutional Ethics Committees are duly constituted under the Australian Human Ethics Committee (AHEC), which is a committee of the NHMRC.
Irrespective of the level of risk involved, research of any kind falling under the following chapters of the National Statement must be reviewed by one of the Institutional Ethics Committees:
- Deception and concealment (Chapter 2.3.4)
- Interventions and therapies, including clinical and non-clinical trials, and innovations (Chapter 3.3)
- Human genetics (Chapter 3.5)
- Human stem cells (Chapter 3.6)
- Women who are pregnant and human foetus (Chapter 4.1)
- People highly dependent on medical care who may be unable to give consent (Chapter 4.4)
- People with a cognitive impairment, an intellectual disability, or a mental illness (Chapter 4.5)
- People who may be involved in illegal activities (Chapter 4.6)
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples (Chapter 4.7)
What is the process?
1. The student will complete the standard UQ Application Form for Ethical Clearance for Research Involving Human Participants. It is expected that the student will complete these forms with the guidance and assistance of their advisory team - an annotated version of the form is available.
In the case of students carrying out project work as part of their coursework requirements, it is expected that project Advisors and/or Course Coordinators will take responsibility for ensuring that ethical applications are appropriately completed and submitted to the School Ethics Committee in a timely manner (i.e. as early as possible, and where appropriate, prior to the start of semester). Course Coordinators should ensure students are aware of the requirement to apply for ethical approval, and adjust their project schedule accordingly.
2. The student will submit an electronic copy of the completed forms to the Senior Administrative Officer - Research (SAO-Research). The SAO-Reseach and will conduct a preliminary review of the application and checklist to ensure completeness and clarity. The application may need to be revised by the student, in consultation with their Advisor and/or Course Coordinator, and then resubmitted.
3. The student will then submit a revised application by email. The SAO-Research will then forward the application, checklist and required attachments to two members of the Ethical Review Panel.
4. The members of the Ethical Review Panel will review the application. Their feedback will then be considered by the Ethics Coordinator, who will issue and outcome of the review. The application may be approved, approved subject to amendment, or referred to the central UQ Ethics Committees for further consideration. The ethical review process will usually take 1-2 weeks.
Expedited review may be available in exceptional circumstances (e.g. for minor amendments to an earlier application, or where ethical clearance has already been obtained from another organisation). Students seeking to submit applications for expedited review should first speak with the SAO-Research.
5. The student will be advised of the outcome of their application. If required, they will make any requested amendments and submit revised documents prior to commencing the research. The student will be issued with an alphanumeric reference code to cite on relevant project materials (e.g. EC201301ABC), along with contact details of the SAO-Research (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Hints and Tips
- Keep it simple – use simple language a lay person or non-expert could understand. Your reviewer may not be a specialist in your area, and using language which is too technical can cause the reviewer to require clarification which may delay your application.
- Read the questions carefully. If you don’t understand, ask your Advisor and/or Course Coordinator or a colleague to assist you.
- Be as concise as possible in your responses.
- Use the checklists for the Participant Information Sheet and Participant Consent Form.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to obtain Ethics Approval?
Currently it takes approximately 2 weeks to obtain School Based Ethics Approval from the time it is submitted to Committee. Prior to this, the application goes through a preliminary approval with the Senior Administrative Officer - Research. Depending on feedback received from that Preliminary review, the duration of approval may be extended.
I started collecting data before I got approval. Can I still use it?
No, and ethics approval cannot be granted retroactively.
Any data you collect prior to obtaining full ethics approval cannot be used in your study or in any publication, so it is very important that you apply for your ethics approval as soon as possible.
What are the penalties for not getting Ethics Approval before commencing my data collection?
Data, samples, and materials collected or obtained without UQ ethics approval (and any other relevant approvals) cannot be used for research purposes.
You will not be able to use or publish your data.
If you commence your data collection prior to receiving full ethics approval, and subsequently try to use that data in your research, you will be accused of Research Misconduct.
What is Research Misconduct?
Research Misconduct is defined in PPL4.20.05 Research Misconduct as:
5.1 Research misconduct constitutes a failure to comply with the principles or specific provisions of University policies governing the conduct of research by University researchers and includes but is not limited to conduct in, or in connection with, research that is dishonest, reckless or persistently negligent; and/or seriously deviates from accepted standards within the research and scholarly community for proposing, conducting or reporting research.
Examples of research misconduct include the following:
(1) Fabrication of data or results;
(2) Falsification of data or results;
(3) Plagiarism of data, results, or written outputs;
(4) Redundant or duplicate publication of data, results, or written outputs;
(5) Failure to declare or adequately manage risk to the safety of human participants, or the wellbeing of animals or the environment;
(6) Misleading ascription of authorship to a publication including listing authors without their permission, attributing work to people who did not contribute to the publication, omission of people eligible to be authors, lack of appropriate acknowledgement of work primarily produced by others;
(7) Failure to disclose conflicts of interest or cases where a conflict of interest might reasonably be perceived to exist;
(8) Falsification or misrepresentation to obtain funding;
(9) Conducting research without required ethics approval as required by the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Research Involving Humans and the Australian Code of Practice for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes; and
(10) Wilful concealment or facilitation of research misconduct by others.
5.2 Research misconduct does not include errors or differences in interpretation or judgment of data which are not dishonest, reckless or persistently negligent
5.3 All unethical conduct of research practices should be reported. No claims of research misconduct against other people should be made that are frivolous and based on hearsay rather than fact.
5.4 Substantiated allegations of research misconduct are considered as misconduct/serious misconduct as defined by sections 39.1 (a) and 39.1 (b) of the University of Queensland Enterprise Agreement 2010 – 2013.
5.5 Procedures for dealing with allegations of research misconduct by researchers are outlined in PPL 4.20.05b (Research Misconduct - Procedures).
5.6 Positive efforts should be made to restore the reputation of anyone alleged to have engaged in improper conduct of research when such allegations cannot be sustained.
Who should I seek help from in writing my application?
In the first instance you should seek help from your Advisor and/or Course Coordinator. They should be able to guide you through the ethics application process. You can also use your peers as proof readers of your application. They may be better suited to pick up mistakes or anomalies than someone who is too close to the research.
When should I apply for ethics?
As soon as is practicable. If you are looking at commencing a research project, speak to your Advisor and/or Course Coordinator as soon as possible to work out a timeline for your studies. This should take into account the fact that you cannot start gathering data until after you have received final approval from the Ethics Committee.
How do I know if my project requires ethics approval?
If your project requires human research, then you need to apply for ethics approval. There are no categories of human research which are exempt from review.
What is a low risk project?
A Low Risk project is where the only foreseeable risk to the participant is one of discomfort. For the purposes of the School Based Review, this applies to Undergraduate, Honours, Postgraduate Diploma, Coursework Masters, Research Masters or PhD Level students. Students should first consult with their Supervisors prior to application. The school-level reviewer or panel may decide to refer an application for central review by HREC if appropriate.
Forms and Resources
School of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering
Professor Penny Sanderson
ITEE Research Ethics Coordinator
07 336 52097
ITEE Senior Administrative Officer – Research
07 336 51191
University level Human Ethics Unit (UQ Research Management Office)
Dr Deb Brian
Human Ethics Unit Coordinator
07 344 31656
Dr Ruth Delaforce
Human Ethics Unit Coordinator
07 336 53924