Skip to content

Toggle service links

You are here

  1. Home
  2. Governance
  3. Ethics
  4. Human Research
  5. Human Research Ethics Review Process

Human Research Ethics Review Process


The risk of COVID-19 transmission in a face to face setting remains current. Researchers working with human participants should consider whether it may be possible and preferable to collect data using online/remote research methods, for example to mitigate risks to participants who are judged to be particularly vulnerable. Where it is judged that data collection using face to face methods is most appropriate, the University expects researchers to carefully consider potential COVID-19 transmission risks and mitigating actions to protect researchers and participants Please refer to our Conducting Human Research during the COVID-19 Pandemic webpage for further guidance.

The Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC) provides a mechanism for assuring the ethical integrity of research carried out by OU academic staff and directly registered postgraduate research students. An ethics review by HREC is required for research projects which involve the collection of data or biological samples from human participants.

If you are collecting data in order to conduct evaluation research, audit or market research, this may NOT require an ethics review by HREC. Please refer to the 'What needs HREC review' page for further information.

The following videos explain the role of HREC and outline the research ethics review process.

What is HREC?

Why apply?

How to apply

The ethics review process has two possible points of entry, depending on the level of risk associated with the research project.

Human Research Ethics review process


Long description


The Open University Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC) review process has two points of entry:

  1. HREC Project Registration and Risk Checklist
    Complete the checklist to assess the level of risk of your project. It may be clear from the checklist that a full ethics review is required, in which case you will continue directly to the full review process, by completing an HREC application form. If it is unclear whether a full review is needed, the checklist should be returned to the Human Research Ethics team and we will make an assessment and let you know if you need to submit a full HREC application.
    Response time: seven working days.
  2. HREC application form
    To apply for a full ethics review, please complete the application form and submit it to the Human Research Ethics team. The deadline for submitting applications is every Wednesday at 17:30.
    Response time: up to three working weeks.

When submitting either a Project Registration and Risk Checklist or an application form, documentation related to your project (e.g. a consent form, participant information sheet, or questionnaire) should also be provided. Please see below for templates for consent forms; participant information sheets; and other documents, which you can adapt for your study.


Further considerations

The links in this section are internal only.

It is essential that you do not advertise for, or attempt to recruit, potential participants until you have received a formal response from HREC. The ethics review must take place before the data collection phase of the project commences.

The HREC reference number should be included in any documents designed for participants, so it is clear that the research project adheres to OU ethics review processes. Logos on all research documents must comply with the current OU brand guidelines on the Asset Bank.

If you are carrying out research overseas and will not be conducting your data collection in English, an English translation of all paperwork should be provided.

If your research involves collecting data from OU staff or students you will need to obtain approval from either the Staff Survey Project Panel if you are surveying more than 30 OU staff, or the Student Research Project Panel.

If your research involves the collection or processing of personal data it will need to be registered with Data Protection.

Additional information

Research ethics applications – our collection and use of your data

Information provided in application forms is stored so the HREC has an accurate record. All data will be managed and held securely by the Human Research Ethics Team and only shared with HREC members as part of the research ethics review process. Occasionally, and only where relevant, applications are discussed with other OU research review panels, e.g. the Student Research Project Panel and the Staff Survey Project Panel, predominately to avoid delays where applications are being made simultaneously.

Any sensitive personal data disclosed as part of a research ethics application, will be stored securely and only shared as above. If such data is volunteered but then needs to be withdrawn, the researcher should email the Human Research Ethics Team. More information about the collection and use of data is available in our Student privacy notice and Staff, workers and applicants privacy notice (internal link only).