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Research and Finance Office

Department of Engineering
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Ethics Portal

All requests for ethical review must now be made via the new portal. The old form-based system has been discontinued.

The portal can be accessed here

A quick-start guide to using the portal can be found here

If you have any questions about the new process or experience difficulties please email


Ethical review of research with human participants

Research in the Department of Engineering may involve various kinds of users, experimental volunteers and others. This ranges from the trivial, such as asking colleagues to assist with the evaluation of new software, through to the complex, such as putting subjects in stressful situations and monitoring their responses. In all cases, it is important to plan the research carefully, not least to ensure scientific validity, and to consider any ethical issues.

The Department adopts a lightweight ethical review model, informed by current practice and in consultation with other Schools and Universities.  Research Ethics Committee Terms of Reference can be found here

More information is also available from the REC secretary at

The review process

The review process may involve up to four stages:

  1. Self-assessment, which may lead to
  2. Light-touch review by Divisional Representative, which may be referred for
  3. Departmental review, which may require guidance from a
  4. Specialist panel


Stage 1: Self-assessment

Every research project in the Department should be preceded by consideration of ethical issues, including general issues of research governance, plagiarism, and whether or not the research involves human participants.

The Ethics Committee recommend that individual self-assessment is carried out by the researcher who will undertake the research. This may be done in consultation with the PI/Supervisor or the divisional representative (see table below).  The aim of this assessment is for the researcher concerned to consider whether any ethical concerns are raised. If there are no ethical concerns, then the researcher may proceed with their research work. However, if the researcher has any doubts concerning the ethics of their proposed research work, or whenever the research involves human subjects, the researcher should proceed to Stages 2 or 3 (see below).

University policy statements and guidelines may be useful when undertaking self-assessment:

Stage 2: Light-touch review by Divisional Representative

If the research project involves human participation but the researcher considers the potential risk of harm to the participants to be minimal, then it may be appropriate to seek light-touch review from the respective Divisional Representative (see list below) who can give guidance on whether the application should go on to Stage 3 Departmental review (see below for examples of these types of projects) or can confirm that the research may proceed without further review.  Many student projects may require only light-touch review, but this cannot be assumed.  Projects, including student projects, which involve more than minimal risk should receive a full Departmental review.  Applications for light-touch review should be made through the new portal


Stage 3: Departmental review

For all studies involving human participants, self-assessment is not sufficient, and the applicant should inform the Ethics Committee of the nature of the study. This should be done using the new portal

NHS National Research Ethics Service (NRES) review is required for most research involving NHS patients, staff or facilities, as well as certain other forms of clinical and social science research.  The University has some central guidance on when NHS REC review is required, which is available here

The following flowchart will help to clarify whether your project requires NRES approval

Flow chart to decide whether  research requires NRES approval
Click image to enlarge

If researchers are engaged in a Clinical Trial, an investigation or series of investigations conducted on any persons for a medicinal purpose, the researchers must ensure that Clinical Trials Insurance is in place through the University's Insurance office in addition to gaining National Research Ethics Services.  Details of insurance, together with the definition of what constitutes a Clinical Trial for this purpose, can be found at  Applications to the NHS Research Ethics Committee are managed by your clinical partner and in consultation with your Divisional Representative.  Please note that in the case that NRES/NHS R&D approval has been obtained, a copy of the approval letter should be sent to the Department's Ethics Committee and this will serve as Departmental approval.

The Ethics Committee will consider your application and will offer pragmatic guidance on likely risks and legal constraints, as well as assessing the adequacy of problematic research proposals. In the vast majority of cases, the Ethics Committee is able to approve the proposal and the research can go ahead. In the majority of cases a decision will be given within 7 days, but please allow longer over holiday periods.  Problematic cases will proceed to Stage 4 (see below).

Important note:  The University Research Ethics Committee (UREC) will periodically review the Department's Ethics Committee decisions relating to ESRC-funded projects and may select, at random, individual reviews for audit purposes.  If selected for audit, PIs will be asked to provide relevant documentation on their project.  This may include consent documents and any necessary permissions, information on data storage/gathering, details of changes made following the initial Ethics Committee review and any additional information the UREC judges necessary.  For this reason PIs and supervisors must make their researchers aware of the importance of maintaining adequate records throughout the course of the project.

Assessing very high-risk personal data use.

Any project flagged by the applicant, or identified by the Committee, as potentially including very high-risk personal data processing should be/will be referred the School-level Research Ethics Committee. Further information can be found at the University's Research Integrity page.  If in doubt further advice can be sought from the University’s DPO and in all cases where the application proposes:

a) Utilisation of personal data that is highly and unusually sensitive, particularly where publication of this information could be extremely harmful to the career or personal life of the individual concerned especially where it concerns vulnerable groups.
b) The processing of personal data that, in the event of a security breach or inappropriate publication, might endanger the physical health or safety of the individual concerned.
c) Processing of identifiable biometric or genetic data or the tracking of an identifiable individual’s location or behaviour where the processing poses a plausible risk of harm or significant adverse effect to the individual to whom the data relates in a way that is unusual for the type of research being undertaken.

d) Profiling individual children or other vulnerable individuals.
e) The collection of sensitive personal data, the monitoring of public spaces, or the profiling of individuals on a large scale in a way that is unusual for the type of research being undertaken.
f) Direct collection of personal data without the research participant providing consent, where it would normally be provided in comparable research.
g) Collection or combination of personal data using a highly innovative technological or organisational solution for which there is a plausible risk of harm or significant adverse effect to individual persons that is unusual for the type of research being undertaken.
h) Automated decision-making or profiling that leads to a significant effect for research participants on an individual basis (please note that this is highly unlikely to occur in research)

Stage 4: Specialist panel review

If the Ethics Committee believes further guidance is required, your research proposal will be referred to a specialist panel within the University.

The panel may request further information from applicants before either agreeing that the study can proceed, possibly with specific precautions, or recommending modifications to the study.

Experiments Involving animals and tissue samples

i.  The Academic Committee approved a proposal for a policy on the use of animals and tissue samples in experiments in the Department of Engineering on 3 June 2016. Drs Timothy O'Leary and Michael Sutcliffe are the contacts regarding this policy.
ii. Research involving animals must be referred to University Biomedical Support Services (UBSS), keeping the informed. Drs Timothy O'Leary and Michael Sutcliffe can provide advice.
ii.  Because the Department does not hold an HTA license, NRES approval must be obtained before human tissue can be stored here.  Please send a copy of the appropriate approval to the before commencing the project.




Energy, Fluid Mechanics and Turbomachinery

Stewart Cant

Electrical Engineering

Gemma Bale

Paul Robertson

Mechanics, Materials and Design

Tom Bashford

Civil Engineering

Rob Foster

Dongfang Liang

Manufacturing and Management

Rob Phaal (chair)

Alexandra Brintrup

Information Engineering

Joan Lasenby