Ethical approval

Student research occasionally raises ethical issues.

If you are undertaking research for a course unit, dissertation, thesis or project that involves collecting data on or from human participants, it will involve ethical considerations and University requirements for research ethics.


For coursework involving limited data collection such as evaluations, market research or working with professionals (note: students are not classed as professionals) ethical approval is not normally required but this is subject to local requirements and the decision is made by your course leader. Therefore, it is important to verify this with your course leader before you start your research.

Ethical approval of coursework is required if:

  • topics are sensitive or contentious;
  • vulnerable groups are included such as NHS patients, children under 18, adults with learning difficulties, adults with a terminal illness, mental illness or dementia, adults in care homes, adults or children in emergency situations (eg refugees, asylum seekers, prisoners or criminals, young offenders, users of illegal drugs or illegal substances);
  • unless otherwise exempt, the data collected will form the basis of a publication or similar.

Please note that even if your project does not require formal ethical approval you must adhere to the best practice guidelines:

  • GDPR Compliant participant information sheet and content form/script must be used, normally your course leader will have copies available for you to use;
  • ethical consent must be obtained and you must provide the signed copies to your course leader (in their role as the data custodian);
  • any audio transcripts must be anonymised and the original recordings deleted;
  • all data protection expectations regarding storage, confidentiality and retention must be followed.

 If, after speaking to your course leader, you need further advice please contact the General Reviewer for your area.

Projects, dissertations and thesis

Before you begin your ethics application, you should complete the Ethics Decision Tool. The tool will advise whether ethical clearance is needed for your project. Ideally, you will complete the Ethics Decision Tool with your supervisor but if this is not possible, take a screengrab of the outcome and share it with your supervisor for discussion. 

If the tool and your supervisor agree that ethical approval is not required, your supervisor will email the screengrab to your Programme Administrator so that this is recorded and you can proceed with your project or research.

If the tool determined that you require ethical approval then you need to log on to the online Ethical Review Manager (ERM) to create a new ethics application and have it reviewed and approved so you can start your project or research, without receiving formal ethical approval by email you cannot start your research.

You may view the School of Social Sciences guidance and the health, safety and risk information online, there is also ethics guidance for staff members.

All ethics applications are submitted via the Ethical Review Manager (ERM), please read our guidance on completing the ERM form or read our frequently asked questions (FAQs) document.

Further information on good research conduct, misconduct and policies and guidelines can be found on our research governance, ethics and integrity webpage on the central University website.

The application

The application

Students and supervisors are advised to complete the application together. There are two main routes for obtaining ethical approval for your research project. The first set of questions, as well as the School of Social Sciences (SoSS) guidance notes, will determine which route you need to follow via the Ethical Review Manager (ERM).

  • The SoSS Research Ethics Template (do not take this route if your data collection does not comply with the template in the SoSS guidance notes).
  • The University Research Ethics Committee (UREC) reviews projects that fall outside of the scope of the SoSS template and/or require full ethical review.
  • Projects involving NHS patients/users typically require review by an NHS REC.

Completing the application

When completing your application, consult with the help of bubbles beside each question as they contain lots of vital information and links to documentation such as templates for participant information sheets and consent forms.

Do not submit your application without checking that it is fully completed and all the necessary documentation is attached (consent forms, recruitment adverts etc). Applications that are not fully considered or are incomplete will be returned to you and this will significantly delay the process.

Submitting the application

Once you have completed your application (including the risk assessment) and you have signed it, you then request your supervisor signature by pressing the blue "sign" button. Once it has been signed by both of you, it will automatically be submitted. You will receive an email confirmation that it has been submitted, if you do not receive this, check with your supervisor or read our Frequently Asked Questions guidance

Health and safety

The health and safety of you and your participants is very important. For this reason, all students embarking on fieldwork must complete a risk assessment with their supervisor and attach it to the ethics application. These can be found on our Health and Safety intranet, you will also need to ensure that you have adequate insurance in place.

How long does the ethical review process take?

This will depend on whether you are seeking review via the University Research Ethics Committee (UREC) or at the School level.

On average, the process can take:

  • 8-12 weeks for full UREC.
  • 6-8 weeks for Proportionate UREC.
  • 4-6 weeks for Division/School Review although we endeavour to process applications that are fully completed within 2 weeks.
  • NHS approval can take a very long time, for example, a year.

It is therefore very important that you submit your application in good time and when entering the dates of your proposed data collection that they are far enough in the future for your application to be considered. Often applications are returned to applicants to amend those dates as they are not far enough in the future. Approval cannot be given retrospectively.

School template review and approval

When your application is submitted, it will be assigned to a General Receiver and to a Chair Reviewer for their consideration. You will receive an email following their consideration. The outcome of this will either be "approved" or "revisions needed".

If approved

  • You and your supervisor will receive email notification of this and you can embark on your research. It is very important that you read the contents of the approval letter.

If revisions needed

  • You and your supervisor will receive an email advising you that the application has been returned for further amendments or clarifications.
  • You and your supervisor will consider the feedback, make the amends in the Ethical Review Manager (ERM) and resign the application, you will both need to sign this again.
  • Check you have received your confirmation email.
  • Your application will then be sent back for consideration and you will be informed of the outcome. 


UREC review and approval

If your research project needs ethical review and approval from the University Research Ethics Committee (UREC), read our research ethics guidance

The UREC application is submitted via the Ethics Review Manager (ERM), the process is:

  • Complete the application online and upload documents and appendices (eg participant information sheets, consent forms and recruitment advertisements). Templates for participant information sheets and consent forms are available on the research ethics guidance webpage.
  • The completed form will be pre-screened by a research ethics signatory authorised on behalf of the School. The purpose of pre-screening is to check if the project necessitates UREC approval and ensure that all applications are completed appropriately. The school signatory will aim to review your application within 10 working days.
  • Once completed, the signatory will submit it directly via the ERM (applicants will be copied into the email confirmation) for subsequent review at the next available UREC meeting. Dates of UREC meetings and potential outcomes can also be found on the research ethics guidance webpage.

The Research Ethics Office will email you to confirm the details of your review. You cannot proceed with your research until you have received an email confirming you have received ethical approval.

Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS)

Do you require a DBS check?

  • This depends on various factors such as the environments, the activity being completed, the duration and the subjects involved, read our DBS webpage for more information.
  • If you do need a DBS check, please contact Susan Rowe in the Faculty of Humanities. 

If you already have a DBS certificate from The University of Manchester

  • You may upload this certificate when completing your online ethical application.

If you already have a DBS certificate but it is not from The University of Manchester

  • If you signed up for the update service at the time your certificate was produced, you can contact your Programme Administrator who will check the update service to verify that there have been no changes since your check was completed. You can upload a copy of the certificate when completing your online ethical application.
  • If you did not sign up for the update service, you may require a new check to be completed by The University of Manchester.

Data protection

It is imperative that data is handled confidentially and securely to protect research participants and to preserve the reputation of students, staff and the University.

Data protection and processing personal data guidance has been issued by the University and should be followed in all research studies.

Please ensure the guidance is read carefully and issues of data security are explicitly addressed in applications for ethical approval.

Training on research ethics, practice and integrity

Training related to research ethics, practice and integrity that you should take depends on the nature of your research and may include:

  • research integrity;
  • clinical trials;
  • human tissue;
  • DBS check; and
  • data protection.

Some of these may be required by the research ethics reviewer/committee. Please see the research governance, ethics and integrity website for more information.

Research integrity training for PhDs

PhD students within the School of Social Sciences can view our research ethics policies in the PGR handbook.