Human research requiring ethical review
Find out what research requires ethical review and what level of review is required, or whether your research is exempt from needing a review.
Ethical review is required for all proposed human research activity conducted in association with Swinburne. The judgement that the proposal meets the requirements of the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research 2007 (updated 2018) and is ethically acceptable must be made before research can begin and before full funding for the proposal is released.
When is approval needed?
All Swinburne staff and students (including undergraduate and postgraduate students) who intend to conduct research involving human participants and/or their data or tissue must apply for approval from the appropriate Swinburne human research ethics committee prior to commencing their research.
'Human research' has a broad definition that includes:
- humans taking part in surveys, interviews or focus groups
- humans undergoing psychological, physiological or medical testing or treatment
- humans being observed by researchers
- researchers having access to participants’ personal documents or other materials
- the collection and use of participants’ body organs, tissues or fluids (such as skin, blood, urine, saliva, hair, bones, tumours and other biopsy specimens, or exhaled breath)
- accessing participants’ information (in individually identifiable, re-identifiable or non-identifiable form) as part of an existing published or unpublished source or database
- accessing health information, personal information, and sensitive information for research purposes.
Research exempt from ethical review
Some research projects may not require review, including research that has been considered exempt from review under section 5.1.22 in the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research 2007 (updated 2018).
Examples of other types of research that may be exempt from review are listed below.
Educational and training exercises that are being conducted at Swinburne do not usually require review. This is because taught units are not undertaking research activity (i.e. are not answering a specific research question, aim or hypothesis) but are teaching students how to employ different research methods.
- undergraduate projects with an education, training or practical experience or placement
- undergraduate or postgraduate student (e.g. Honours) coursework, assignments and essays
- non-intervention activity in established educational settings that do not constitute a deviation from normal education practices
- research on the effectiveness of current instructional techniques, curricula or classroom management that don’t constitute a deviation from normal education practices
- education, training and practical classes among students, which do not involve students learning through testing procedures on one another
- evaluation surveys of university staff and students, including student evaluation of teaching.
A helpful way to consider whether your education and training activity requires ethical review or not is to consider the intent of the activity:
- Are you undertaking the activity only to demonstrate and teach a research method such as surveys, interviews or focus groups and analysis?
- Are you conducting the activity to generate data or information to answer a specific research question (in addition to the teaching aspect)?
- Does the activity involve vulnerable groups or controversial topics?
If you are undertaking the activity to only provide education and training on research methods and the activity does not involve vulnerable groups or controversial topics, then you most likely won’t require an ethics review. If you are unsure, please contact the Research Ethics, Integrity and Biosafety office on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Regardless of whether your activity falls within the definition of research or not, you should always ensure you conduct the activity ethically, with integrity and in accordance with Swinburne's People, Culture and Integrity Policy and the Swinburne Research Conduct Guidelines.
Many professional practices also have their own code of ethics:
- The Victorian Teaching Profession Code of Conduct & Ethics
- Design Institute of Australia Code of Ethics
- Australian Community Workers Association Code of Ethics & Practice Guidelines
- Australian Psychological Society Code of Ethics
- Media, Entertainment and Arts Association Code of Ethics
- APES 110 Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants
- Royal Australian Institute of Architects Code of Professional Conduct
- Exercise and Sports Science Australia Code of Professional Conduct and Ethical Practice
- Early Childhood Australia’s Code of Ethics
- Engineers Australia – Code of Ethics and Guidelines on Professional Conduct
Quality assurance/evaluation projects that do not involve access to or collection of private, sensitive or health data may not require review.
Quality assurance and evaluation activity can be one of these types:
- very low-risk activity, usually involving the collection and analysis of data generated coincidentally out of current practices or current standard operating procedures and/or protocols
- data being collected and analysed expressly for the purpose of maintaining standards or identifying areas for improvement in the environment from which the data was obtained.
Find out more information from the National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines.
Ethical approval and publishing
Many peer-reviewed journals require evidence of ethics approval prior to submission of manuscripts for publication. The Graduate Studies Office may also want to see evidence of relevant ethics approval when it comes to submitting your thesis for your Honours, Masters or PhD thesis.
Swinburne's human research ethics committees cannot retrospectively grant ethics approval so please ensure you have checked whether you require ethics approval before conducting your research activity.
The Ethics Requirements for Research Publication guide can also provide further information.
Levels of ethical review
Ethics clearance for Swinburne-sanctioned human research proposals is obtained from one of the following ethical review processes, depending on risk, impact or other criteria.
Swinburne's Human Research Ethics Committee (SUHREC) would review:
- research that is neither negligible nor low-risk
- research involving vulnerable or specified groups/individuals, regardless of whether high, low or negligible risk is involved
- research involving significantly sensitive or specified issues or contexts.
A SUHREC sub-committee (SHESC) would review:
- research that is negligible or low-risk
- research that doesn’t involve vulnerable or specified groups/individuals
- research that doesn’t involve sensitive or specified issues or contexts.
Other authorised ethical review or process:
- multi-centre or multi-site research requiring external ethical review
- research conducted at or with an Australian hospital/university requiring other or non-Swinburne ethical review
- specified clinical research or clinical trials
- external research involving Swinburne staff and students as co-investigators
- external research involving Swinburne staff and students as participants
- research transferred to Swinburne with existing ethics clearance
- research that is defined as negligible risk or impact and involves existing collections of non-identifiable data and thus may be exempted
- other special circumstances.
What is negligible risk?
Research that is considered negligible risk involves no greater risk than one of ‘inconvenience’.
Ready to submit an application?
Find out how to apply for human ethics review at Swinburne, including the deadlines for submission and where you can get further assistance.