Research ethics

All research involving human participants or personal data is subject to formal ethical review. This includes both standard 'first-person' data collection and nonstandard data collection using social media and other online fora, and some archival research.

For staff and students in the School of Social and Political Sciences, the review process depends on the type of research:

Undergraduate students see below
Postgraduate taught students see below
Postgraduate research students see College Research Ethics Committee
Staff see College Research Ethics Committee

Important Information in relation to Coronavirus and Research Ethics (Last updated 30 September 2021)

Face-to-face data collection is now permitted for UG and PGT students, subject to risk assessment by the Supervisor.

Please note:

  • If you intend to conduct face-to-face research, you must comply with all relevant Scottish Government or relevant local government social distancing measures in place at the time of the proposed research.
  • The SEF will expect to see evidence of relevant social distancing requirements and compliance measures before any research is approved.
  • If lockdowns need to be introduced or re-instated at any point, face-to-face research may not be permitted and so you should develop a contingency plan for your research.

It is the responsibility of Supervisors to ensure that the risks associated with COVID-19 are considered and, where relevant, steps taken to mitigate these. The Undergraduate and Postgraduate Taught Students Application Form for ethical approval has been updated to reflect this.

Undergraduate and taught postgraduate students are not required to submit a Fieldwork/Project Risk Assessment Template to do face-to-face research, but Supervisors may find the form useful to plan, assess and record control measures that may be needed to mitigate risk during proposed fieldwork or project activities, including risks associated with COVID-19.

Any amendments to an already approved SEF project, e.g., moving from remote data collection to face-to-face data collection, must be approved via an Amendments Request Form before the change can be actioned. Evidence of compliance with social distancing measures will be required, alongside a Supervisor risk assessment statement.


  • Establish the current level of risk of COVID-19 in the country and specific location where the research will take place and note any relevant travel restrictions and/or social distancing measures.
  • Identify the specific COVID-19 risks associated with the various aspects of your particular activity - and the measures you will take to mitigate these, e.g. minimising infection risk via use of screening questionnaire when scheduling research appointments, adhering to social distancing/hygiene measures, conducting fieldwork in places that are well-ventiliated etc.
  • Consider how you will communicate these measures to potential participants and how you might accomodate participants who feel uncomfortable with face-to-face fieldwork


  • Consider carefully if the topic is appropriate for an online interview, or if it poses potential risks. If the interview is on a sensitive, traumatic, or intrusive topic, you will need to think about the implications this may have for the well-being of the participant during and after the interview.
  • How will you ensure (and evidence) informed consent? In most cases, the participant should receive the PIS in advance of the interview, complete an electronic consent form, and email it to the researcher.
  • Consider carefully the setting of the interview so that both interviewer and interviewee have privacy on their devices.
  • Are there accessibility issues that need to be considered?
  • Consider carefully how the interview will be recorded, where the recording will be stored, and whether any specific settings will be applied to ensure meetings’ security.

University guidance on the use of video conferencing software is currently as follows:


  • SurveyMonkey, Google Surveys and other commercial survey tools are not supported for University work.
  • If you wish to use an electronic survey tool to conduct your research, the University of Glasgow has an institutional licence for the Online Surveys tool that may be used by PGT (but not UG) students. Please see the University Research Strategy and Policies page on Use of Online Survey Tools for Research for guidance on how to apply to use this. Access is free but by application only. Ethical approval for your research project is required before this access will be granted.
  • The University of Glasgow also has an institutional licence for Qualtrics, which has advanced functionality (e.g. randomised treatments). Qualtrics is available to all Undergraduate (UG) and PGT students, as well as PGRs and staff with ethical approval for their projects. See or contact your school IT officer for information on how to access Qualtrics. 
  • Microsoft Forms is another supported service that can be used to create simple browser-based surveys, provided under the University's Office365 contract.


  • Published biographies, newspaper accounts of an individual’s activities, and published minutes of a meeting would not be considered ‘personal data’ or sensitive personal data requiring ethics review, nor would interviews broadcast on radio, television, or online and diaries or letters in the public domain.
  • Information provided in forums or spaces on the Internet that are intentionally public may be valid to consider ‘in the public domain’, but usually needs to go through formal ethical review to ensure that the relevant ethical issues have been considered and addressed.
  • Ethics review may also be required for analysis of secondary datasets, unless they are open access and do not contain any identifying or sensitive personal data. UKDS Open Access and Safeguarded Access data are exempt from SEF review. 
  • Whilst material in public archives can be considered to be in the public domain, there may be issues about ownership, publication and confidentiality that require ethical review. If in doubt, approval should be sought using ‘Non-standard data’ protocol.


  • One of the main ethical issues involved in social media research relates to whether the consent of participants is required.
  • The answer is often (but not always) no, and depends upon the extent to which data should be considered within the public or private domain.
  • A distinction is usually made between users that have posted information on freely accessible asynchronous forums versus those engaging in synchronous forms of communication and/or using online platforms that accessed through a password or other safeguard.  
  • When there is any ambiguity, researchers should consider the extent to which disclosure may have potentially damaging effects for participants, before making a decision about whether or not consent is necessary.
  • As a general rule, the privacy of participants should be respected by removing any potential identifiers and paraphrasing, although an exception is sometimes made in relation to public figures/those posting in an official capacity.


Advice for UG and PGT students

Undergraduate and Postgraduate Taught projects with an original research element that involves human participants or the use of non-public datasets are required to obtain ethics approval for their research before commencing data collection. This includes individual student dissertations and small or pilot projects undertaken in the context of a particular taught course.

Students seek ethics approval by completing an application form and having their supervisor submit the application on their behalf to the School of Social and Political Sciences Ethics Forum (SEF). Visit the College Research Ethics page for detailed guidance and advice, including application forms and templates for the plain language statement, consent form and privacy statement.

How to apply

  1. Discuss research ethics and data protection issues with your supervisor.
  2. Download and complete the appropriate Ethics Application Form from the College Research Ethics page and ensure that you have included the required supporting documentation (for example: Plain Language Statement, Consent Form, Privacy Statement, Interview schedule etc.)
  3. Send the form to your supervisor and ask for their comments. Remember that your supervisor must complete Section 2 (‘Ethical Risks’), identifying any potential ethical issues associated with the project and providing evidence of how these are to be mitigated. 
  4. Once they have checked your application and approved it for submission for review, your supervisor must electronically sign/date the application and email to the School Ethics Forum on your behalf:
  5. Please note that ethics applications will be returned if they do not include an up-to-date signature from both the student and the supervisor, or if they do not include the appropriate supporting documentation (for example: Plain Language Statement, Consent Form, Privacy Notice, Interview schedule etc). 

If you need help or are not sure what to do, please ask! Talk to your research supervisor or to your subject area representative in the School Ethics Forum, as listed below.

Advice for supervisors

Most undergraduate and postgraduate taught students need to apply for ethics approval for their dissertation research. If you are a supervisor of dissertation students, your involvement and participation in the ethics approval process is very important. Here are some quick points about what you need to do, and you will find more advice and guidance on the other links on the College ethics webpages:

  1. Discuss research ethics with the student relevant to their particular study area and assist them to fill in the application form – available via the College ethics webpage.
  2. As Supervisor, you must indicate if the application is high or low risk in Section 2 ('Ethical Risks'). The College provides guidance to help you determine whether the project is high or low risk. If you identify the project as 'low risk', the application can be fast-tracked through ethics approval and will only require one SEF reviewer. If you identify the the project as 'high risk' the application will be scrutinised by two SEF reviewers. 
  3. In addition, you must add your comments and electronic signature in Section 2. Please note that ethics applications will be returned if this section is not completed fully. Research involving primary data collection will always raise ethical issues and it is important that you acknowledge that here, even if the research is relatively uncontroversial. As explained in the 'With Notes Application Form', you should identify any potential risks and give evidence of how these are to be mitigated. 
  4. You must submit the application form on behalf of the student. The relevant email addresses are as follows:

If you need help or are not sure what to do, please ask! Talk to your subject area representative in the School Ethics Forum, as listed below.


For applications identified as 'low risk' by the supervisor, an initial decision should be provided within 15 days from receipt of application.

For applications identified as 'high risk', an initial decision should be provided within 25 days from receipt of application.

School Ethics Forum

The School Ethics Forum (SEF) is a subdivision of the College Research Ethics Committee (CREC) and as such, within the School context, have the same powers in relation to ethics applications. They may:

  • Authorise research to proceed without requiring any amendment.  Any such authorisation is granted on the basis of the project as stated on the research submission.  Any changes must be notified to the SEF (see Amendments) and normally approval obtained before proceeding.
  • Require clarification or modification of parts of a research submission.  The amendments will generally be returned to the original reviewers for confirmation.
  • Defer consideration of a proposal if substantial modifications are required or where significant additional information is required until that information is supplied and reviewed.
  • Reject the research proposal in whole or in part.
  • Revoke approval of the research if dissatisfied with the conduct of the research or of the researchers.
  • Refer University students or staff through the University’s disciplinary procedures if issues of concern arise from the research.

In addition, the SEF may call for reports on the conduct of the research during projects and on completion so that they can be assured that projects continue to conform to approved ethical standards. 

Current membership comprises 12 reviewers from across the School, alongside the Ethics Officer/Convenor. We are supported by two colleagues from the School admin team, both of whom work part-time in their ethics role.


Gerda Reith

Central & East European Studies

Federica Prina

Economic & Social History

Felicity Cawley


Louis Bujnoch

Maurizio Carbone

Chris Claassen

Jenny Morrison

Neil Munro 

Tim Peace


Ashli Mullen 

Giovanni Picker 

Kristina Saunders

Tilman Schwarze

Urban Studies

Sohail Ahmad

Michelle McGachie

Dave McKeever

Tunbosun Oyedokun 

Anastacia Ryan

Qunshan Zhao

Undergraduate applications & support

Lesley Scott

Postgraduate applications & support