Skip to main content

Ethics committees

Birkbeck's ethics committees exist to develop, implement and review procedures for ethical issues related to research, teaching and other areas of College business.


The Ethics Committee meets at least twice per academic year to consider the reports of the School Ethics Committees. It may also deal with issues referred to in correspondence and by convening additional meetings at the discretion of the Chair.


  • College Ethics Framework
    • To develop and keep under review, for approval by Governors via Audit Committee and Research Committee, a College Ethics Framework, setting out:
      • the key principles, policies and procedures through which the College discharges its corporate responsibility for addressing ethical issues
      • the Committees and departments responsible for these policies and procedures.
    • To consider and recommend responses to external and institutional ethical issues.
    • To offer advice to Schools, Departments and individual members of staff as requested on specific ethical matters.
    • To promote good ethical practice throughout the College.
  • Research ethics
    • To develop and keep under review College policy on responsibilities and procedures for ethical review, in consultation with School Research Ethics Committees and reporting to the College Research Committee and the Audit Committee.
    • To develop and keep under review College policy on research integrity and good conduct; and procedures for considering reports of research misconduct, reporting to the College Research Committee and the Audit Committee.
    • To consider and approve annual reports from the School Research Ethics Committees on their work, including ethical review of proposed research projects and oversight of research governance within Schools.
    • To consider specific ethical review cases referred by School Research Ethics Committees under the College's procedures for ethical review, or where institutional level review is required by an external agency.
    • To promote the consistent application of research ethics procedures across the College and to provide advice as appropriate to School Research Ethics Committees.
    • To advise on training and support for staff involved in ethical review of proposed research projects.
    • To make an annual report to the College Research Committee and Audit Committee on business considered under the procedures for ethical review and the policy on research integrity and good conduct.


  • Chair (a senior member of the academic staff appointed by the Master)
  • Independent member (who shall be neither a student or member of staff)
  • Pro-Vice-Master (Research)
  • Academic representatives (One member of the academic staff from each School, nominated by each Executive Dean)
    • Business, Economics and Informatics
    • Science
    • Social Science History and Philosophy
    • Law
    • Arts
  • Deputy College Secretary (Governance)
  • Head of the Research Office
  • Head of Research Strategy Support
  • Research Data Support Manager
  • In attendance
    • Secretary
    • Health and Safety officer
  • By invitation
    • Co-opted Member
    • Members on the Mailing List (Attendance Optional) - College Dean


There are five School Ethics Committees:


  • The College Ethics Committee requires the Terms of Reference for the School Ethics Committees to include the following.
    • To review research proposals on the grounds of ethical acceptability and to approve or reject them where necessary and appropriate. In doing so the Committee shall have the freedom to consult whatever evidence and opinions it considers appropriate to ensure that decisions relating to approval of ethical aspects of research methods are based solely on ethical grounds, and not, for example, on financial interests or solely on the basis of unquestioned current practice.  
    • To promote, communicate and give advice within the School on ethical principles and guidelines.
    • To arrange and promote training on matters concerning ethics and research integrity issues.
    • To consider and advise on any other matters concerning ethics or research integrity issues within the School, referring any matters with College wide implications to the College Ethics Committee.
    • To make an annual report to the College Ethics Committee on the number of ethical approval cases considered, broken down by department, classification of routine and non-routine, actions required (if any) and details of any particular difficulties encountered.
    • The membership of the Committee shall consist of one member of academic staff from each department within the School(s), normally the DREOs, nominated by the Executive Dean plus a DREO from a different School. One member for each School will Chair the Committee. Law and SSHP will decide on whether to have a rotating Chair for alternate meetings, or to appoint one member to Chair for a full academic year. The Assistant School Managers (Research) will normally act as secretaries to the Committees.
    • The Committee has the power to co-opt other such members as it may from time to time deem necessary. A quorum will be constituted by at least one third of the normal membership.
    • The SECs will meet every month to consider applications for ethical approval. If no applications have been received the meeting does not need to go ahead but a record should be kept to this effect and communicated to the College Ethics Committee through the annual report. Dates of meetings should be advertised in advance. Expiated review can happen ‘virtually’ as described in the ‘responsibilities and procedures for ethical review’ document.
    • All members of the SECs shall observe the proper conventions regarding confidentiality of information submitted to their Committee. 
    • The SECs will ensure that full records are kept of their assessment of proposals. 
    • The SEC can delegate decision making for ethical proposals which are in line with disciplinary norms to the DREO as described in the ‘responsibilities and procedures for ethical review’ document.
    • Conflicts of Interest are addressed as described in the ‘responsibilities and procedures for ethical review’ document.
    • When appropriate the SEC may be asked to provide advice around questions relating to research integrity.



The Departmental Research Ethics Officer should be a research active member of the academic staff of Birkbeck with at least three years’ post-probationary experience.


  • The specific responsibilities of the role are:
    • To ensure that there is a departmental procedure for the ethical approval of research projects in place and that a written record is kept of approvals and decisions.
    • To attend SEC meetings.
    • To contribute to the annual report of the SEC to the College Ethics Committee by providing information the cases considered for ethical approval in the department. This includes:
      • number of cases considered
      • type of research
      • ethical issues
      • action required (if any)
      • particular difficulties encountered
      • any changes in departmental procedures.
    • To ensure that mechanisms are in place for approval by appropriate external bodies (e.g. NHS) if relevant and to liaise with those bodies where necessary.
    • To promote awareness of ethical principles among students and staff.
    • To report to the School and/or College Ethics Committees any training or development needs related to ethical issues and approval procedures.