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Understanding ethics requirements
Common research ethics questions
This page provides answers to commonly asked questions around research ethics.
What is research ethics?
Ethics is the philosophical study of moral principles and rules or codes of behaviour which define what is good for individuals and society.
Research ethics is the study, practice and monitoring of ethical conduct in research. Research ethics also provides a framework of broad ethical principles that can be applied to the responsible conduct of research and to the use of any outcomes resulting from research.
What are ethics requirements?
All research projects need to meet ethics requirements. If your research project involves the use of:
- human participants; or
- previously collected confidential data; or
- animals for scientific purposes
You will need to submit an application for ethics approval.
If none of these apply to your project, you need to complete an Ethics Declaration.
Applications for ethics approval and ethics declarations can be completed online using STREAM.
Why are ethics requirements important?
It is ECU's basic assumption that research staff and students are committed to high standards of professional conduct.
Researchers have a duty to ensure the integrity of their work and that their research enhances the good name of the University and the profession to which they belong.
Researchers are also required to observe ethical, professional and legal responsibilities in the conduct of research.
Ethics approval helps to ensure that research complies with established guidelines. For more information visit the Human research Policy and Legislation and Animal ethics Policy and legislation web pages.
Researchers should only participate in work which conforms to accepted ethical standards and which they are competent to perform.
Researchers have an obligation to achieve and maintain the highest standards of intellectual honesty in the conduct of their research. Ethics approval protects participants (human and animal), the researcher, the University and the community in general.
When should I apply for ethics approval?
All staff and students must apply for ethics approval before starting any work with participants or animals and before commencing any data collection.
Retrospective ethics approval cannot be granted.
Where research projects require approval from the Ethics Committee, research must not proceed without formal notification of approval.
The Office of Research and Innovation will not release research funds until approval has been obtained. Similarly, Faculties will not release funding to support research conducted by postgraduate students before formal approval of a research proposal and ethics approval has been granted.
How is an ethics declaration assessed?
Ethics declarations are assessed by your Faculty. Your Faculty will review your proposal to determine if an ethics declaration is appropriate for your project. You may be contacted for further information and – depending on the nature of your project – you may be advised to submit an ethics application.
The Faculty officers should be contacted for any questions about ethics declarations.
How is an ethics application assessed?
Ethics applications are assessed by one of the Ethics Committees – this may be the Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC), the Animal Ethics Committee (AEC) or one of the Ethics Subcommittees.
The Ethics Committee will review and assess the proposed conduct of your project in order to identify any ethical issues or obligations and to ensure that these are satisfactorily addressed by you.
Ethics committees use approved guidelines in the assessment of research studies. The primary purpose of these guidelines is to ensure:
- the humane care of animals used for scientific purposes, including teaching; and
- the protection of the welfare and the rights of human participants.
The secondary purpose is to foster research that is of benefit to the community.
What if there are risks associated with my research?
Risks can be associated with any research project.
It is important that these risks are identified and described and a plan is developed to prevent, minimise or manage the potential risks.
What if I disagree with the Ethics Committee decision?
Ethics Committees aim to facilitate research. The Research Ethics Office and members of the Committee are willing to work with you to resolve any issues that are identified in the application review.
If you are dissatisfied with the decision of the Committee, you should first contact the Research Ethics Office.
The Office will attempt to resolve the problem by negotiation with you and the Committee. You may also be invited to attend an Ethics Committee meeting to discuss the issue directly.
If the problem cannot be resolved through negotiation, you can lodge a written appeal against the decision. Please contact the Research Ethics Office for more information.
What if I have a complaint?
If you have a complaint about a research project or about the Ethics Committee, you should first contact the Research Ethics Office. They will investigate the complaint, working with the Ethics Committee Chairperson.
All complaints are taken seriously and investigated thoroughly. You will be notified of the outcome of any investigations.