School of Law, Politics and Sociology

Research ethics and governance

The University of Sussex requires anyone doing research involving human or animal subjects to obtain ethics approval before their work commences. Ethics policies essentially aim to protect the subjects of research (and the researcher) from harm, though they also involve legal protections. They are compulsory, but not applicable in all cases.

New online ethical review application system now open

All ethical review applications must now be made via the new online system on Sussex Direct.

Further information about the system can be found in the FAQs About the New Online Research Ethics Application System.

Research funding opportunities 

Applying for funding? Further information is available on the University's Research and Knowledge Exchange site:

Ethics Support and Advice

Tim Parkinson is the Research Ethics, Integrity and Governance Administrator for the Social Sciences and Arts and the University. Tim is happy to help staff and PGR students with the ethics process including advice on when/how to obtain ethics approval and the process for submitting an application. If you would like to contact Tim, please drop him an email at or

Alternatively you can just come along to the ethics advice and drop in service running on alternate Thursdays at The Hive, in the Library between 2-4 pm on Thursday 5 March, Thursday 19 March and Thursday 2 April.

Preparations and process for ethical applications are outlined below:

Do I have to apply for ethical review?

Are you a member of staff or a student at the University of Sussex whose research involves working directly with people or animals, for example through interviews, observations, questionnaires, or autobiographical writing, whether these are face to face or online?

No (eg if you are only using secondary texts, library-based or online literature):

You do not have to apply for ethical review.

Yes, I am a member of staff or a student at the University of Sussex working directly with people or animals:

You will need to apply for ethical review. The next step is to determine whether your project is low or high-risk - see the next section below.

I'm not sure:

Please use the following checklist to determine whether your proposed research project requires ethical review:

A 5-question self-assessment checklist
  1. a) Will the research project involve human subjects, with or without their knowledge or consent at the time? (Note: 'Human subjects' includes yourself if you are the main subject of the research.)  
    b) Will the research project involve non-human animal subjects?
  2. Is the research project likely to expose any person, whether or not a participant, to physical or psychological harm?
  3. Will you have access to personal information that allows you to identify individuals or to confidential corporate or company information?
  4. Does the research project present a significant risk to the environment or society?
  5. Are there any ethical issues raised by this research project that in the opinion of the Principal Investigator (PI) or Student Researcher require further ethical review?

If you answered 'yes' to any of the above questions, then some form of ethical review will be necessary.

Note: research must not commence before ethical approval has been granted.

If you are uncertain whether your project requires ethical review, please discuss with your Supervisor (if you are a student), your School Research Ethics Officer (SREO), or contact the Research Governance Office:

See the Research Ethics Review Flowchart [PDF 60.38KB] for an overview of the University's ethical review processes.

Before applying: is my project low or high-risk?

Note: All staff and students whose projects require some form of ethical review must apply for and receive some form of ethical approval before their research may commence.

All staff and students applying for ethical review (except NHS, BSMS & CISC projects) should complete the checklist in Section A of the University's Application Form for Ethical Review, available via the new online application system on Sussex Direct. This checklist determines whether the project is low risk or higher risk.

Low risk projects

If you are able to answer 'true' to all seven statements in the checklist, then the project is assumed to be low risk. You should then go on and fill out Section B of the application form and submit this (along with Section A) for expedited review:

  • UG and PGT students apply for expedited review through your School's ethical review process.
  • Staff and PGR students apply for expedited review to your School's C-Rec.

Higher risk projects

If you are unable to answer 'true' to all seven statements in the checklist, then your project is regarded as being higher risk. You should complete Section C of the application form and submit this (along with Section A) to your School's C-Rec for full review.

See the Low Risk and Higher Risk Ethics Review Diagram [PDF 79KB] for an overview of the different review pathways.

Note: Exceptional Cases for expedited review: Part A4 of the application form provides a section where you can make an exceptional case for your project to be considered through expedited review, even if you have been unable to answer 'true' to all seven statements in Section A.

Application form, guidelines and procedures

Applying online

The online ethical review application system is accessible via Sussex Direct. Further information about the new system can be found in the  FAQs About the New Online Research Ethics Application System.


Standard templates

Standard Operating Procedures

NHS research passports

'Blanket' or generic research ethics approval

Please note: for undergraduate Course Convenors only
Blanket approval is intended only for small undergraduate student projects where they are all doing something similar to each other, low risk, small scale and the convener knows exactly what they are doing under his/her oversight. The convener needs to indicate exactly what research ethics teaching will be provided to support the students' understanding of research ethics. 
Who will assess my application?

The University has recently established a revised  research governance committee framework [PDF 285.90KB], to ensure that ethical review procedures take into account:

  • best practice with regard to ethical considerations in research
  • all legislative, regulatory, and funder requirements
  • the reputation of the University

There are different pathways for ethical review of research, depending on whether the project is low or higher risk. Ethical review of low risk projects at the University is carried out at two levels:

Low risk projects

Undergraduate (UG) and Postgraduate Taught (PGT) student projects are reviewed at School level.

Contact: June Edmunds, School Research Ethics Officer 
+44 (0)1273 873249

Staff and Postgraduate Research (PGR) student projects are reviewed by one of the Cluster-based Research Ethics Committees (C-RECs), which in our case covers all Social Sciences Schools with a representative per School, plus a lay member and Chair (Janet Boddy).

Contact: June Edmunds, C-REC Officer 
+44 (0)1273 873249

Higher risk projects

All Staff and student (UG, PGT, PGR) higher risk projects are reviewed by a C-REC.

There is also a specialised committee that considers any research which involves non-human animal subjects.

Ethical review within Schools and committees is overseen by the University Research Governance Committee (URGC), which is responsible for broader policy decisions relating to research governance and ethics. The URGC also regularly reviews policies relating to the ethics of research to ensure that they are comprehensive, accessible, relevant and up-to-date.

University policies relating to Research Governance are to be found on the Research Policies page.

What do I need to do after I have completed the form?

When you have completed your online application form you should read it through to check that the information is complete and that you have attached the relevant supporting documents (e.g. information sheet and consent form).

UG/PGT students

You should submit your completed form to your supervisor for authorisation and checking. The ethical review of your project will be done by your supervisor and the School Research Ethics Officer (for low-risk projects) or by your supervisor and the C-REC (for high-risk projects). Once the review has been completed and the Approvals Page has been signed, you will be sent a notification, and you will be able to go ahead with your research.

Staff/PGR students

You should press submit to send your application to the C-REC. 

C-REC contact details


Expedited review will involve at least one Chair-nominated member of the committee for low-risk projects and at least three Chair-nominated members for high-risk projects. If the C-REC reviewer(s) require(s) further information, or for you to make any changes to your research, you will be notified in writing – and approval will be conditional upon you completing those requirements.

Normally, in the case of C-REC review, submissions must be made by the 20th day of each month in order for them to be included in the monthly reviewing cycle. In exceptional cases, where speedy review is required for substantiated good reason, submissions may be made at other points during the month.

In all cases

Before submitting your application electronically, please ensure that you title all documents so that they begin with your surname followed by your first initial and the the name of the document, eg:

  • Wong H application form.doc
  • Wong H information sheet.doc
  • Wong H consent form.doc
When will I be notified of a decision?

UG/PGT Students (School Review):

There are no formal deadlines for undergraduate or taught postgraduate review applications. Once your supervisor and the SREO have approved your application the review process is complete (except for high-risk projects - see the next paragraph) and you can go ahead, but this may take 2-4 weeks.

If your supervisor thinks your project is high-risk, you will need to send it to the C-REC Feedback of some kind will be given within one month of the application being received (normally by the 20th of the following month) and every attempt will be made by the committee to give you a final decision as soon as possible. 

Staff/PGR Students (C-REC Review):

You will receive feedback of some kind within one month of the application being received (normally by the 20th of the following month) and every attempt will be made by the committee to give you a final decision as soon as possible. Exceptionally, feedback for speedy review can be given sooner (see below). C-RECs aim to have the majority of their review decisions completed within one month of a project being submitted for review. If the Committee defers approval, or approves it in principle, the letter will outline the amendments necessary to secure approval. You will then need to make the necessary changes and resubmit the amended pages. Once your project is approved, the C-REC will send you a Certificate of Approval. 

Please note that where minor revisions are requested, a response to these can normally be provided within 2 weeks of amendments submitted; where major revisions are asked for, these will be considered according to the normal monthly cycle.

In exceptional cases only, applicants may request C-REC review of their proposal outside of the normal monthly review cycle. (Examples might be where research funding depends on immediate start, or due to unforeseen circumstances the window of opportunity for conducting research is exceptionally tight). Requests of this sort must be made in writing to the Chair, giving full justification for speedy review. If you have requested speedy review in exceptional circumstances, the Committee will endeavour to respond as soon as possible.

Externally funded research proposals

In the case of externally funded research proposals, applications for ethical approval will normally be made once external funding has been approved, rather than at the point of application. However, as a matter of good practice, all bids for external funding should be subject to internal peer review prior to submission; this should include consideration of ethics.

How to get your ethical review application approved quickly 

The key reasons that Ethical Review applications are rejected first time round are:

  1. You did not describe how you will find your interviewees or questionnaire-responders. Make sure you have done this under section A2. 
  2. You did not attach an information sheet [DOCX 45.36KB]. (Please make sure you have adapted the template, not just copied it.) 
  3. You did not attach a consent form [DOCX 46.47KB].
  4. It would help if you could get someone to check for any language problems, particularly in the Information Sheet and Consent Form, which are professional documents that potential clients or employers may read.
  5. Your topic is potentially sensitive and you did not adequately justify a low-risk application or you did not include a copy of your questionnaire/topic guide/interview schedule and the reviewer wishes to see one.
Further guidelines

Other guidance

Frequently asked questions
  • What do I do if my supervisor or convenor is not able to approve my application because they are travelling or busy?
    You need to find another academic member of staff on your degree who will be able to look at your form and approve it before sending on to the SREO (see previous question).
  • Do I have to include a consent form, information sheet or questionnaire or interview guide with my application?
    Yes you do, if you are proposing to do an interview or survey. But they may be short and simple if your research is simple and low risk. Please see templates in the section above on 'Application Form and Procedures.' 
  • Do I need to put a copy of my application with my essay or dissertation?
    No you do not normally, unless your supervisor tells you to do this. But you should keep a copy of your application form and also of the approval form, and your supervisor should too. This can be in electronic form.