UCL Research Ethics


Which committee do I apply to?

Depending on the nature and location of your research you may need to apply for ethical approval from one or more ethics committees, including within UCL or external committees (both in the UK and overseas).

As a general rule you should work from the premise that you will need to apply for UCL ethical approval, unless the study falls within the remit of an external ethics committee (such as the NHS) or it is classed as exempt from UCL ethical approval as per UCL policy (*see Departmental committees below).  

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There are a number of different application routes for UCL staff and students whose projects require research ethics approval. The following sets out the different types of ethical committee routes you may need to apply to depending on the nature and location of your research.

University Ethics Review

If your research (staff or student) involves human participants, their tissue and/or the collection or use of their data, then you must check if you need to apply for UCL ethical approval. Full details on what requires ethical approval under UCL research ethics policy can be found on the 'Do I need UCL ethical approval' webpage - www.ucl.ac.uk/research-ethics/ethical-approval/do-i-need-ucl-ethical-approval.  

There are two routes to ethical approval at UCL: 

  • UCL Research Ethics Committee 
  • UCL Departmental Ethics Committee 

If you are unsure about the type of ethical review that is required please email: ethics@ucl.ac.uk for advice.

UCL Research Ethics Committee (UCL REC)

The UCL REC is the central UCL research ethics comittee and is resposible for reviewing most (non-NHS) ethics applications across UCL.  Before to submitting an application to the UCL Research Ethis Committee, you should check whether your department has a local Ethics Committee or Ethics Lead that must review and approve your application prior to submitting to the UCL REC.

Departmental committees

There are a number of departments that have their own ethics systems and committees in place and it is important that you understand what your local arrangement are when planning your application. Local systems can involve one, or a combination, of the following:

  1. *Exempt research - requiring local review and approval of research deemed to be exempt.
  2. Local review and sign off of applications before submission to the UCL REC for approval.
  3. Devolved authority for low risk research - some departments have devolved authority to approve low risk ethics applications without submitting to the UCL REC.  

UCL Institute of Education Research (IoE) Ethics Committee 

The Institute of Education maintains its own REC and policy separate from the UCL REC, and under IoE ethics policy, all research projects which collect or use data from human participants including secondary data analysis and systematic reviews require ethical approval before the project starts. This includes preliminary and pilot studies and research undertaken by IoE staff, students and visitors. Further details can be found on the IOE REC website: www.ucl.ac.uk/ioe/research/research-ethics 

Collaborative research within the UK

For UCL staff or student researcher involved as co-researchers on a project led by a Principal Investigator (PI) from another UK university and ethics approval has been granted by that institution (with the UCL co-researcher named on the application along with an account of their role on the project) then additional ethical approval through the UCL REC will not be required.  The co-researcher must ensure that the PI gains ethical approval from his/her own institution before the commencement of data collection as well as local ethics/research permission if the study is based overseas.

Research outside the scope of the UCL REC (requires external approval)

The UCL REC does not review the following:

  • NHS Research Ethics Review – any research that involves NHS patients and carers, invasive research involving prisoners or adults lacking capacity, a Clinical Trial of an Investigational Medicinal Product or human tissue. Please refer to HRA checklist, the HRA's decision tool.
  • Social Care Research Ethics Committee (SCREC) – ethical approval is required through SCREC for social care research projects funded by the Department of Health.
  • Ministry of Defence Research Ethics Committee (MoDREC) – ethical approval is required through MoDREC for research involving human participants either undertaken, funded or sponsored by MOD in order to meet nationally and internationally accepted ethical standards.
  • Animal Welfare Ethics Review Board (AWERB) – research which involves animals (further information on this can be found here ucl.ac.uk/research/integrity/ethics/animal-research   

Research requiring NHS ethical review

The UCL Committee is not responsible for considering the ethics of research which falls under the remit of Department of Health approved ethics committees who abide by Governance Arrangements for NHS Research Ethics Committee.

It should be noted that some studies that fall outside of the review requirements of the UK Health Departments' Research Ethics Service will still also require approval/management permission from the host care organisations, often called R&D approval. For all UCLH, RFH and Institute of Neurology staff undertaking medical research the Joint Research Office provides all the information for i) R and D approval at UCLH; ii) Research contracts with UCLH both commercial and non-commercial; iii) for research governance and keeping your study legal; iv) training and education in research governance; v) collaborations with statisticians.

Research that may need ethical approval through this route [click to expand]
  • potential research participants identified from, or because of, their past or present use of NHS healthcare (UK-wide), Adult social care (England, Wales and Northern Ireland), Children's social care (Wales and Northern Ireland) and services provided under contract with the private or voluntary sectors including participants recruited through these services as healthy controls.
  • potential research participants identified because of their status as relatives or carers of past or present users of these services.
  • Xenotransplantation (i.e. putting living cells, tissue or organs from animals into people).
  • health-related research involving prisoners in the custody of the National Offender Management Service, Scottish Prison Service and Northern Ireland Prison Service.
  • social care research projects funded by the Department of Health.
  • patients (or information about patients) who are cared for in private and voluntary sector nursing homes (in England, Wales and Northern Ireland) and/or residents (or information about residents) of residential care homes (in Northern Ireland only).
  • exposure to ionising radiation.
  • medical devices that are not CE-marked (i.e. not compliant with European Directives) or CE-marked medical devices that have been modified or are being used for a new purpose;
  • investigational medicinal products;
  • practising midwives conducting a clinical trial
  • protected information from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority Register.
  • people who lack (or lose) the capacity to give informed consent * ) to take part (or to keep taking part) in the research.
  • collection of tissue (i.e. any material consisting of or including human cells) or information from users of these services; or
  • use of previously collected tissue or information from which individual past or present users of these services could be identified, either directly from that tissue or information, or from its combination with other tissue or information in, or likely to come into, the possession of someone to whom the tissue or information is made available without consent where this could breach confidentiality.

Please refer to HRA checklist, the HRA's decision tool. but please also contact the Joint Research Office who can give the appropriate advice.

Research Conducted Overseas  (to include the rest of Europe)

All research with human participants or using human data is expected to follow ethical requirements conforming to UK’s AND the study country(ies) regulations.

The International Compilation of Human Research Standards listing, compiled by the Office for Human Research Protections, US Department of Health and Human Services, provides details of Research Ethics Committees in over 100 countries.  It is strongly recommended that when planning overseas research you review the Overseas Research Roadmap which sets out the processes involved in planning and conducting international research.

Summary of ethical review required for studies conducted overseas [click to expand]

All non-patient and patient studies (including clinical trials) solely conducted overseas (to include the rest of Europe) require the following two-fold review:

  • UCL Research Ethics Committee (REC) review.
  • Local ethics approval in the study country(ies) in accordance with local requirements.* 

For non-patient and patient studies conducted overseas and studies on healthy volunteers in the UK the following two-fold review is required:

  • UCL Research Ethics Committee (REC) review.
  • Local ethics approval in the study country(ies) in accordance with local requirements.* 

For non-patient and patient studies conducted overseas and on NHS patients in the UK the following triple-review is required:

  • HRA review for the NHS patient element.
  • UCL REC review for the overseas element.**
  • Local ethics approval in the study country(ies) in accordance with local requirements.*

*Approval of studies conducted overseas through the UCL REC is conditional on the securing of local research/ethical approval in the study country(ies).This is invaluable. It brings local and cultural considerations to bear that might not otherwise be appreciated by ethics committees outside that country/ies particularly around the issues of recruitment and consent.

A local ethics committee could be either a site/area specific committe, regional, or country level committee, or even a combination depending on the country specific structure.  If local committee/s do not exist, or your research does not require/is exempt from ethical approval in that country, you must evidence this within your application form.  Please note, local ethical approval is separate from any other approvals you may need - see the guidance on Overseas Research on the research integrity website. 

**This is obligatory given that the Health Research Authority (HRA) does not consider the ethical perspectives of the overseas elements of research and therefore it must also be reviewed by the UCL REC*.


    Page last updated: September 2021