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UCL Research Ethics Committee



Within the definition of research, the following are not considered to be 'research' and would be exempt:

  • Performance reviews
  • Testing within normal education requirements
  • Literary or artistic criticism
  • Service evaluation * )
  • Quality assurance/audit ** ) projects that do not involve access to or collection of private or sensitive data

The NHS Ethics Review Procedure (i.e. the National Research Ethics Service – NRES) distinguishes research from audit and service evaluation in a decision toolkit available at the → NHS Health Research Authority website

In accordance with the following criteria, Department Heads have final judgement as to whether a particular activity should be exempt from the requirement for approval by the UCL Ethics Committee. But note that the exemptions below do not apply to research involving vulnerable participants. For example children and young people, those with a learning disability or cognitive impairment or individuals in a dependent or unequal relationship.

The following types of research do not require ethical approval through the UCL REC unless you are research council funded or plan to publish your research results as many research councils and journals will not agree to fund or publish results of research that has not been ethically approved.

Also, even if your research qualifies as being exempt, it must still be conducted in accordance with accordance with → accepted ethics standards as well as your recognised → professional codes of conduct suitable for your research specialism and exemption DOES NOT IMPLY that the research is also exempt from registration with the UCL Data Protection Officer. If you are in doubt about Data Protection requirements, please consult the → Legal Services for further information.

  1. Research involving information freely available in the public domain. For example, published biographies, newspaper accounts of an individual's activities and published minutes of a meeting, whilst still personal data under the Data Protection Act would not require ethics review.
  2. Research involving anonymised records and data sets that exist in the public domain. For example, datasets available through the Office for National Statistics or the UK Data Archive where appropriate permissions have already been obtained and it is not possible to identify individuals from the information provided.
  3. Studies of public behaviour that are purely observational (non-invasive and non-interactive), unless the recorded observations identify individuals (names, photographs) which could place them at risk of harm, stigma or prosecution.
  4. Research involving the use of non-sensitive, completely anonymous educational tests, survey and interview procedures when the participants are not defined as "vulnerable" and participation will not induce undue psychological stress or anxiety.
  5. Research involving the use of educational tests, survey and interview procedures on human participants in the public arena (e.g. elected or appointed public officials, candidates for public office, artists).
  6. Taste and food quality evaluation and consumer acceptance studies, if the food consumed is wholesome without additives or contains a food ingredient, agricultural, chemical or environmental contaminant, for a purpose and at a level declared safe by the relevant national food safety agency.

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