Ethics Committee and Guidance


Deadlines for submission of low-risk applications

Final-year UGs: 4pm, Friday 2 February 2024

MA students: 4pm, Monday 19th February 2024

PhD students, Researchers and Staff: on a rolling basis

Research ethics and ethics review for oral history

Research that involves collecting data by talking to other people requires ethical approval. Within the field of history, this method of data collection is typically referred to as ‘oral history’. All staff and students who are considering using oral history as part of their research need to understand the ethics review process.

Oral history is a relatively recent and very important addition to the research toolkit of historians. The Oral History Society is good place to find out more. All students are asked to consult their supervisors about the appropriateness of the approach. However, it is not a simple methodology and may not always produce usable data in a short space of time. Projects that incorporate oral history methodology require careful planning and thought, and – to be conducted ethically – training in research methods, whether that be a formal course or clear guidance and oversight from a supervisor.

Such projects also require a lengthy process of ethics approval, which is a vital part of academic integrity. Ethics approval – or its absence – has legal implications and incorporating oral history work into your writing without approval could lead to parts of the work being deemed inadmissible for assessment or publication. As such, no member of the Department of History should conduct any oral history research prior to receiving official notification of ethics approval.

The first question that needs to be considered is whether the student or researcher is able – in terms of the development of their project, willingness and capacity to undertake training, and length of time left before ethics application deadlines – to incorporate oral history into their research project in ways that will be beneficial. For students, the academic supervisor is the first port of call for discussing this. Students cannot seek ethical review without the support of a supervisor.

Oral history methodologies would typically apply to MA dissertations, PhD theses, and post-doctoral research projects, as well as the outputs of academic staff. In exceptional circumstances, the undergraduate final year special subject or stand-alone dissertation might incorporate oral history. However, where possible, undergraduate students are advised to consider working with already-published oral history resources, which are often embedded within books, websites, and exhibitions. This may also apply to some MA students.

The academic member of staff supervising a given student project is the main person who will advise on the ethics approval process and take a decision as to whether a student should proceed. The academic supervisor will be listed as the principal researcher on the ethics application form, and they are required to approve and sign the application. By doing so they take legal responsibility for the overall project and associated documents.


UCL History has a local Research Ethics Committee (L-REC). The committee is currently chaired by Dr Michael Collins who works with four other colleagues from the department, supported by a committee secretary. The L-REC performs the primary function of reviewing low risk applications. The History L-REC reports to the Faculty of Social and Historical Sciences (SHS). The SHS Research Ethics Committee coordinates activities across our faculty, receives applications, and communicates with applicants. In turn, the faculty reports to the central UCL Research Ethics Committee, which sits within the Office of the Pro-Vice Provost for Research, Innovation and Global Engagement. The overarching policy framework for research ethics is shaped by UK Research and Innovation as well as by laws relating to equalities, data protection, and libel.

The Purpose

The purpose of ethical review is to ensure that every researcher thinks through the possible benefits and harms – particularly to the participants in research – that might arise from undertaking a research project. This allows researchers to mitigate the risk of harm as much as possible. Making sure that we carefully consider the nuanced and sometimes unexpected ways in which our actions could impact others is an essential duty of any researcher.

The Process

Use the online Low-risk research ethics checker as an initial guide to the risk level of your project. Students must discus this thoroughly with their supervisors.

Even if low risk, the application process requires considerable time investment and involves the following steps (for internal, Department of History readers, the relevant forms and links are to be found within the Moodle tabs that follow at the bottom of this page):

1. Register with the UCL Data Protection Office and acquire a registration number

2. Register with the Ethics Database and acquire a research ethics ID number

3. Carry out a risk assessment for your research

4. Complete the ethics application form

5. Create an Information Form for prospective participants

6. Create a Consent Form for prospective participants

7. Submit the full application to the SHS Research Ethics Committee

Applications are incomplete and will not be approved unless the Information Form and Consent Form are submitted along with the application.

If your application is complete and correct, it will then be sent by the faculty team to the History L-REC chair for allocation to a specialist reviewer from within the L-REC committee.

If your application is incomplete, the faculty team will come back to you and request further information.

After review, if the L-REC lead committee member and chair are satisfied, they will sign off your application and you will be notified of the outcome by the faculty team. The L-REC reviewer may come back with amendments or suggestions, allowing you to then modify your application and resubmit.

A typical timeframe for a low-risk application is 4 weeks to prepare the full application with all associated documents (if you are a student, in consultation with your supervisor), and 4 weeks for an ethical review decision, depending on the time of year. Early applications are strongly encouraged. No applications are processed during August.

High risk applications take longer. Please note that students at the undergraduate level are strongly advised not to consider undertaking high-risk research. For MA, PhD, post-doc and staff, if the project appears to be high risk, you should seek guidance and approval from the L-REC chair.


Final-year undergraduates must apply for review before 4pm on Friday 2 February 2024.

MA students must apply for ethical review at the same time that they submit their dissertation proposal forms: 4pm, Monday 19th February 2024.

PhD students, post-doctoral researchers and staff may apply for ethical review on a rolling basis, with the exception that no applications are processed during the month of August.

Next steps for members of the Department of History

For detailed guidance on the process of applying for ethical review, determining your project’s risk level, links to application forms and documents, training links and further guidance relating to oral history and ethics, please continue to the relevant Moodle page:

UCL History Taught Students Moodle Handbook – Research Ethics – UG

UCL History Taught Students Moodle Handbook – Research Ethics – MA

UCL History PGR Students Moodle Handbook – Research Ethics

UCL History Staff Moodle Handbook – Research Ethics