As part of the design process of any research involving human subjects, all researchers must pay careful consideration to their ethical obligation to conduct research that protects the welfare and the rights of all human participants. This requires researchers to familiarise themselves with the national codes of ethical research as outlined by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and to subject all research involving humans to ethical review by an appropriate ethics committee.

The University of Queensland operates a peak ethical review committee, the Human Experimentation Ethics Review Committee (HEERC), and two ethics sub-committees, the Behavioural and Social Sciences Ethical Review Committee (BSSERC), and the Medical Research Ethics Committee (MREC). Most, but not all, social science applications are considered by the BSSERC. These three institutional ethics committees are duly constituted under the Australian Human Ethics Committee (AHEC) which is a committee of the NHMRC.

In order to expedite the process of ethical review for students up to the level of, and including, PhD, the School of Social Science has been designated under the AHEC to review ethical protocols for research that does not constitute a risk to human subjects beyond the normal risk of everyday living, and that does not involve groups considered especially vulnerable. School committees are not constituted under, or registered with, the Australian Human Ethics Committee to approve ethical procedures that involve a risk above the risk of everyday living. Protocols involving a higher risk will properly fall within the jurisdiction of the BSSERC. These may include research involving:

  • Vulnerable groups, such as people with an intellectual or mental impairment
  • Children and young people under the age of 18 (in addition, a Blue Card is required)
  • Persons who are highly dependent upon medical care
  • Persons in dependent or unequal relationships (such as patients and health care experts, teachers and pupils, employees and their employers or supervisors)
  • People who may be involved in illegal activities
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, as well as other distinct ethnic and cultural groups
  • People in other countries
  • Socially isolated or marginalised groups.

If the school committee considers the risk to be above the prescribed level, or considers it prudent in the circumstances for an institutional ethics committee to review the protocol (for example, because the research is of a particularly sensitive nature or the study population is a particularly vulnerable group), then the application may be referred to the appropriate institutional committee (such as the BSSERC). Alternatively, the school committee may require the protocol to be amended in order to reduce the risk to within the threshold level.



To speak to an ethics officer, please contact the following:

Dr Richard Martin
Ethics Officer, Research Committee
School of Social Science
The University of Queensland
Ph. 336 53059

Michael Tse
Human Ethics Officer
Research and Research Training Division
The University of Queensland
Ph. 336 53924