University Research Ethics and Integrity Processes for studies that involve human participants

The University is committed to maintaining the highest standards of scholarly and scientific integrity in its research. It expects all students, members of staff, and other researchers using University facilities or researching under the auspices of the University of Birmingham to work to these standards.

Professor Tim Softley, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research and Knowledge Transfer), is the named person within the University responsible for research integrity. The administrative lead for research integrity matters is Dr Birgit Whitman, Head of Research Governance & Integrity. The University Research Committee maintains oversight of ethical issues in research, primarily through the Research Governance Ethics and Integrity Committee.

Processes for research that involves human participants

The University recognises the need for fostering a positive culture in relation to research ethics and integrity amongst students and staff in order to facilitate high quality research that is safe for both participants and researchers, whilst also mitigating the risk for the University and ensuring freedom of speech.

Research that involves recruitment of human participants will require ethics review and this is a requirement of the University of Birmingham’s Code of Practice for Research. The Code of Practice also sets out how the University handles allegations relating to those requirements not being adhered to.

The University currently has two central Research Ethics Committees (RECs) that support the research ethics review process for staff and PGR student projects, and report to the Research Governance, Ethics and Integrity Committee:

  • HaSS supporting the College of Arts and Law and the College of Social Sciences.
  • STEM supporting the College of Life and Environmental Sciences, the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, and the College of Medicine and Dentistry.

The central Research Ethics Team in Research Support Services manages the Self-Assessment Form (SAF) process and informs researchers if a full ethics application (AER) is required, or submission to a NHS Research Ethics Committee or to another ethics review process.

For research that requires review by a University Research Ethics Committee, the Research Ethics Team works in close collaboration with academic colleagues, who are appointed by the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Transfer (PVC) as members of the University RECs. Current ethics review process are based on the complexity of ethics issues and risk:

Low Risk
e.g.

  • No vulnerable people
  • No risky locations
  • No sensitive topics 

Reviewed by an ethics officer and a committee chair

Medium Risk
e.g.

  • Vulnerable people (e.g. children)
  • Risky areas (e.g. disease, terrorism)
  • Sensitive topics (e.g. gender, mental health)
  • Risks to safety (e.g. 'exercise to exhaustion')

Reviewed by the ethics committee online

High Risk
e.g.

  • Escalated from medium risk
  • May/will cause significant harm to participants/researcher
  • Rare

Reviewed in a physical committee meeting


Research that requires review by an external research ethics committee will follow external review process requirements such as the Health Research Authority. Researchers are supported by members of the central Research Governance Team for these submissions.

Oversight for high-risk clinical trials is provided by the Clinical Trial Oversight Committee and the Human Tissue Oversight Committee. Both report to the Research Governance, Ethics and integrity Committee chaired by the PVC.