skip to content

Do I need ethical review?



1. Which of following best describes your role?

  • an undergraduate or postgraduate research student (or their research supervisor)

  • University employee

  • visitor or any other person conducting research on University premises

If student, Q2.A

If University employee, Q2.B

If visitor or other person, Q2.C

2.A In the first instance, your project should be submitted to your supervisor or mentor for advice. Should you wish to continue with checklist for information, please go to the Q3.

Continue, Q3

2.B. Do you intend to undertake (or, as relevant, supervise a research student intending to undertake) the proposed research within the course of your employment at the University of Cambridge and/or College?

(Note: This extends to proposed research to be conducted outside the University or overseas by university employees and students where this work is to be undertaken within the course of employment or studies)

If yes, Q4

If no, Outcome 1

2.C If intending to work on a research project led by a University employee, visitors should seek clarification from the lead researcher whether the project requires formal ethical review, and as appropriate, has received appropriate ethical approval/favourable opinion (or an amendment) prior to the visitor commencing work on the project.  For more information on the University ethical framework, continue to Q4.

Continue, Q4

3. For supervisors of research students, does the research student you are supervising intend to undertake the proposed research within the course of their studies at the University of Cambridge?

If yes, Q4
If no, Outcome 1

4. Does the proposed research involve human participants and/or personal data as the subject of research?

If no, Q7
If yes, Q5

5. Does the proposed research involve any procedure or the new collection of personal data from human participants? (e.g., interview, observation, original survey) that raises more than minimal ethical risk?

If yes, Outcome 2

If no, Q6

If unsure, section 2

6. Does the proposed research project involve the analysis of secondary data that raises more than minimal ethical risk?

If yes, Outcome3

If no, Q8

If unsure, section 2

7. Does the proposed research project involve the analysis of any secondary data from the NHS (irrespective of the ethical risk)? 

If yes, outcome 4

If no, Q8

If unsure, section 2

8. Does the proposed research involve working with human tissue, organs or human bodies and identifying information derived from it?

If yes, outcome 5

If no, Q9

If unsure, HTA guidance

9. Does the proposed research involve animals in experimental or other scientific procedures, including field-based research?

If yes, Outcome 6

If no, Q10

10. Does the research require review by an external body, such as the HRA or MoDREC?

(Note: if undertaking overseas research, please refer to REG#3 and check whether you require ethical review from an overseas REC)

If yes, seek this approval.

If unsure, section 2

If no, outcome 7


Approval date:  November 2023

Date of next review: 2024-2025

Outcome 1 -seek bespoke advice

Please seek project-specific advice from the Head of Department, local ethics committee or ethics contact, as appropriate. This tool provides generalisable information that applies across the University. As such, local contextualisation should be sought to understand whether ethical review can be sought in light of project-specific matters to ensure ethical conduct of research.

Outcome 2 - appropriate University review is required

Research that involves any procedure with human participants or collection of new data from human participants will normally require appropriate ethical review unless local ethics guidance indicates otherwise.

For further University guidance on research that raises more that minimal ethical risk, please refer to local ethics guidance. 

Light-touch ethical review, where available locally, might provide an appropriate level of review (pp.17-21, handbook). Higher risk research typically requires full ethical review.

If ethical review is not possible at a local level, such proposals should be referred to the relevant School-level REC in accordance with local ethical review procedures or referred to an external body where external ethical review is required (e.g., HRA)

Outcome 3 - appropriate University review may be required

Secondary use of data collected from human participants may require ethical review from a University REC or an external body depending on the source and nature of the data and the rules of the relevant University ethics committee

The lead researcher (or the research supervisor, as appropriate) should refer to local guidance and/or contact their Local Ethics contact or local REC for advice where further information is required and, if needed, seek appropriate ethical review from the Lead Researcher's local REC prior to commencing the research.

For further University guidance on research that raises more that minimal ethical risk, please refer to local ethics guidance. 

If ethical review is not possible at a local level, such proposals should be referred to the relevant School-level REC in accordance with local ethical review procedures.

Further central guidance on secondary use of data is provided in the research ethics guidance note on the re-use of existing data in research (pp. 25-31, handbook)

Outcome 4 - external review may be required

Ethical review from an NHS REC and/or HRA governance approval may be required.

The lead researcher should refer to the HRA Student Toolkit (applicable to non-student projects – see section 2 and/or contact the Clinical School Research Governance team for further advice. 

Outcome 5 - HTA approvals may be required

Research involving human tissues from NHS patients requires NHS ethics approval. 

In all other cases, research using human tissues is subject to the Human Tissues Act 2004 and requires ethical review from the appropriate University REC. Some exceptions exist (e.g., anonymised donated samples from the National Blood Service, human material classed as non-relevant material or anything that falls under the local Clinical School exemption).

If the human tissue is “relevant material” and you are storing tissue in a facility that is not covered by the University’s Human Tissue licence, you will legally be required to get ethics approval from the Human Research Authority (HRA) or register the new facilities under the Act. For further guidance, see the Safety Office website.

Outcome 6 - animal ethics policy applies

The Animals Scientific Procedures Act 1986 (as Amended 2012) ASPA regulates procedures that are carried out on ‘protected animals’ (any living vertebrate, other than man, and any living cephalopod for scientific or educational purposes that may cause pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm.

Please contact UBS HO Licencing and the Named Animal Care Welfare Officer in the animal unit in which you wish to work. In the case of Clinical Veterinary Research the Veterinary Clinical Research Ethics Committee will consider these applications and will advise the University Establishment Licence Holder.

The University of Cambridge Animal Welfare Policy, the Working with animals in the UK, EU and overseas Policy and Overseeing animal research University of Cambridge are stipulated.

Outcome 7 - University ethical review is not required

Such proposals will not normally require ethical review by a University REC unless otherwise required in accordance with local REC procedures. If you are still concerned, ethical review may still be requested if there are any other significant issues identified by the Lead Researcher.

If you are unsure or need further advice, please contact your local REC in the first instance.

Minimal Ethical Risk

Minimal ethical risk (see p.19-20 and p.38, handbook) is a risk no greater than the level of risk research participants are likely to encounter in their normal lives. The level of ethical risk that participants would encounter in their normal lives will, of course, vary according to the participants involved.

For example, research that publicly criticised the policies of a politician or other public figure who might encounter public criticism on a regular basis is more likely to be judged as of minimal ethical risk than research that exposed a member of the public to similar scrutiny in a way that they would not normally encounter.