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Research Ethics Policy and Misconduct

Research Ethics Policy

The University's research ethics policy states that: 

All research projects ... must identify relevant ethical considerations and, where appropriate, undergo full ethical review (and secure approval) before any work starts. Those undertaking the work should remain alert to emerging ethical issues throughout the life of the project; where issues are identified after project start, or where there are significant amendments to the design or execution of the project, re-approval may be required. 

In setting out the factors that should be considered in ethical assessment, the University includes research involving 'Humans & Personal Data', i.e., 'Any projects involving people, their data or tissues, particularly those which are high risk either due to their participant profile, design or methodology.' They note that significant risks include: 

  1. Potentially vulnerable groups, e.g. children / minors, prisoners, those with cognitive impairment or those in unequal relationships; 
  2. Requirement for co-operation of a gatekeeper for initial access (e.g. students at school, members of a self-help group, nursing home residents); 
  3. Requirement for participants to take part without full knowledge and consent (e.g. involving covert observation or deception of participants); 
  4. Sensitive topics (e.g. sexual activity, drug use, politics, illegal activities);
  5. Members of the public in a research capacity (‘participant research’); 

The University is not able to offer direct ethical assessment of student and staff research projects around the Common Awards, but expects this to be undertaken within TEIs. We therefore expect each TEI to have its own research ethics policy.  

Research Ethics Policy Approval  

TEIs are responsible for creating and reviewing their own research ethics policy, but all research ethics policies (and any proposed changes) must be approved by the University. TEIs may adopt the model research ethics policy, or you may decide to draft your own. See our Templates and Forms page for the model Research Ethics Policy (and accompanying appendices).  

TEI research ethics policies must include the following: 

  • It should state how often the policy will be reviewed by the TEI Common Awards Management Committee.  
  • It should specify who is involved in making decisions about ethical approval.  
  • It should specify that there will be a written record of approval. 
  • The policy should clearly set out its scope, and should be clear that it applies to
    1. all students who are undertaking research involving human participants, and 
    2. all students submitting work that draws directly on experiences in ministry contexts. 
  • It should refer to appropriate safeguarding policies and processes needed for participation in all such work, and make it clear that safeguarding considerations affect all such work. 
  • It should specify that appropriate informed consent is needed for all such work, and specify from whom it is required, and in what forms. 
  • It should specify that confidentiality and anonymity should be observed for all such work, and give guidance on how to ensure it, so that individuals and communities cannot be identified.  
  • It should cover data protection requirements. 
  • It should set out an ethics approval process for research involving human participants, by which a research ethics panel or equivalent body will ensure that all research involving human participants involves  
    1. scrutiny of the information being given to participants;  
    2. scrutiny of the means by which informed consent will be secured and recorded; and 
    3. scrutiny of the research activities that will be used (e.g., of any questionnaires or interview questions).  
  • It should link to or include the Common Awards policy on the academic consequences of research ethics misconduct, in full.  
  • It should not allow for retrospective approval where the policy has not been followed.  

Academic Misconduct: Research Ethics 

This document sets out the procedure to be followed in cases where a suspicion arises that a student has not followed their TEI’s Research Ethics Policy when pursuing academic assignments for a Common Awards module. 

Each TEI’s Research Ethics Policy sets out the kinds of approval and informed consent required for different kinds of work. In particular, such policies typically set out different expectations for formal research involving human participants and for placement- or experience-based reflections. The rules below should be read in the light of those policies. They are not intended to impose extra constraints on students, but to explain how TEIs should handle breaches of existing constraints. 

It covers the following forms of misconduct: 

  • failure to obtain appropriate informed consent, to preserve confidentiality and anonymity, or to observe data protection regulations set out in TEI Research Ethics policies; and 
  • failure to follow the ethical approval process for research involving human participants set out in those policies, or failure to observe the limits of the approval granted through that process. 

It covers such misconduct in the context of formative or summative assessments, whether in the form of placement- and experience-based reflections, or independent learning projects and/or dissertations that include research with human participants. 

It covers the academic consequences of such misconduct – that is, the impact on the student’s marks and academic progression. It does not cover the disciplinary consequences that might be appropriate in serious cases.  

It does not cover safeguarding. If any safeguarding concerns arise in consideration of possible cases of research ethics, those must be handled immediately, by invoking the TEI’s safeguarding procedures. 

This document, and the Common Awards Research Ethics policy, are themselves governed by the University’s Research Integrity Policy. 

Categories of offence 

There are two categories of offence: ‘minor infringements’, and ‘more significant offences’. 

When all of the following conditions are met, a student is deemed to have committed a minor infringement: 

  1. either the work involved was not formal research involving human subjects, as defined in the TEI Research Ethics Policy or, if it was, ethical approval was sought in advance; 
  2. in the judgment of the Chair of the TEI’s Board of Examiners
    1. no harm to any of the people involved has been caused or made possible; 
    2. there would be no reasonable cause for offence or upset should the existence and nature of the breach become known by the persons or in the location named; 
    3. there is no reason to suspect that the subjects of the student’s research were misled about the nature of their engagement with the student, and the student’s intentions in relation to that engagement; 
  3. no safeguarding issues are raised (i.e., the failures do not relate to children or vulnerable adults); and 
  4. it is possible for the offence to be rectified by the student. 

All other offences will be considered as more significant offences. 

In many cases, the relevant marker, moderator and external examiner will be the only potential audience for the work in question. That fact by itself does not make an offence a minor infringement. If, for instance, sensitive personal information has been revealed even to that limited audience, this counts as a ‘more significant offence’. 



If a marker, moderator, or external examiner suspects that a student has breached the policy, or is informed by others of such a potential breach, she or he should communicate this to the Chair of the TEI’s Board of Examiners immediately. 

If the potential breach is noticed before work is marked, the work should not be marked until the process set out here has been followed. If the potential breach is noticed after marking has taken place but before the mark has been returned to the student, the process set out here should be followed before the mark is returned. If the potential breach is noticed after the mark has been returned, the process set our here should still be followed, even though it could lead to that mark being withdrawn. 

This process should be followed even if the potential breach is noticed before work is submitted. 

While a TEI’s Research Ethics Panel is responsible for ethical approvals for research activity, it is the Board of Examiners that considers academic consequences of breaching the policy. 


The Chair of the TEI’s Board of Examiners should determine whether there is prima facie evidence of an offence, and whether (in line with the definitions offered above) it is minor infringement or a more significant offence. 

If the Chair judges that the case raises any questions in relation to safeguarding, to fitness to practice policies where they exist, or to discipline, they should ensure that the appropriate TEI procedures are triggered. 


In cases of a suspected minor infringement, the student should be asked to rectify the error – for example, by amending the piece of work so as to ensure that it is appropriately anonymised, and resubmitting it. Where rectification does involve resubmission, the student should be instructed not to make any changes to the work other than those needed to rectify the breach, and the infringing version should be kept on file long enough to allow that to be checked. Once the rectified version has been received and checked, however, the infringing version of the work should be deleted. 

The Chair may require that the student receives advice or undergoes training to help them understand the problem and what is needed to rectify it, and to help prevent future instances. 

In such cases, no marking penalty should be imposed. 


Where there is prima facie evidence that a more significant offence may have taken place, a sub-group panel of the TEI’s Board of Examiners, appointed by the Chair, shall be formed comprising the Chair and two other members of the Board, to consider the case. Wherever possible, the panel should not include any reporting examiner, or anybody closely involved with the work in question (such as a dissertation or project supervisor). TEIs should give careful consideration to the diversity of the panel’s membership, including by ensuring wherever possible that the panellists are not all of one gender. 

The student(s) concerned should be invited to meet the panel together with the reporting examiner(s). The student should normally receive at least 5 working days’ notice of the date of the meeting and should be told of its purpose. They should be offered the opportunity to be accompanied at the panel by a member of staff from the TEI (for example, the student’s personal tutor or equivalent). The student may also be accompanied by a non-staff member for the purpose of providing support to the student, at the discretion of the panel Chair. 

The purpose of the panel is twofold: 

  1. to ascertain, as far as possible, the facts of the case – e.g., what approval was sought; whether, when, and how informed consent was obtained; 
  2. to agree one of the outcomes set out below. 

The first of these will normally take place with the student present, and the second once the student has left. 

In the case of final year students where the reported breach is brought to light at the end of the degree programme it may be necessary to hold a meeting without the 5 days’ notice, provided that the student concerned agrees in writing to this procedure. This course of action may be necessary in order to permit the TEI’s Board of Examiners the opportunity of considering the case without necessarily causing any delay to the normal process of consideration for the award of a degree to the student concerned. 

Following the meeting, a written record of the meeting must be made immediately. The report must be sent electronically to the Common Awards Team as soon as possible. The Common Awards Team will forward the report to the relevant University Liaison Officer, and will use the report to monitor practice within and across the TEIs. 

Deciding factors 

At the end of the meeting, the panel – excluding the reporting examiner(s) – must decide upon how serious the infringement of the research ethics policy has been. This should take into account 

  1. the extensiveness of the breach; 
  2. the sensitivity of the information involved; 
  3. the account given by the student including any mitigation offered. 

Based on this decision, the panel must agree on the appropriate action to be taken. 

Possible outcomes 


that no further action be taken, because, on the balance of probabilities, an offence has not taken place. 


that, whilst there is clear evidence of an offence, due to exceptional mitigating factors a penalty is inappropriate; 


that there is clear evidence of an offence and that the Board apply one of the following penalties: 

a) Require that the student rectify the offence, by amending the assignment in question and/or by seeking missing permissions, but impose no further penalty. (This will only be appropriate where the sensitivity of the breach is very low, and where it is a first offence, or a first-year student; or the TEI’s Board accepts the student’s mitigation). 

b) Award a mark of 0 for the work, require that the student rectify the offence, and permit the student to resit/resubmit the piece of work with a mark capped at the pass mark (within the resit limitations set out in the Core Regulations for the Common Awards programmes). This may be appropriate where the offence is more extensive or more sensitive, or where it is a repeat offence). 

c) Award a mark of 0 for the entire module in which the offence occurred. The student will be required to rectify the offence, and to resit the entire module with a mark capped at the pass mark (within the resit limitations set out in the Core Regulations for the Common Awards programmes). In the case of students in Level 6 of the BA programme, at which level resits are not permitted, this may result in the student failing their programme. This is the most severe penalty open to the TEI’s Board of Examiners, and should be used only in the most serious cases. 

d) Where the level of academic misconduct goes beyond the examples cited in A–C and, therefore, it should be referred to the University as a possible major offence under the University’s discipline regulations. In this case, the panel should choose a provisional academic outcome from A–C (above), and should contact the Common Awards Team as soon as possible to receive advice on progressing the case under the University’s discipline regulations. 


The panel should also give consideration as to whether the case raises any questions in relation to safeguarding, to fitness to practice policies where they exist, or to discipline, and ensure if so that the appropriate TEI procedures are triggered. 

Where one of the above recommendations is applied, a written report specifying the nature of the offence committed, the student’s explanation, and the Panel’s recommendation should be presented to a meeting of the TEI’s Board of Examiners for consideration. The Board should consult the external examiner(s) before making a decision about cases involving work submitted for final honours. The report should also been sent electronically to the Common Awards Team as soon as possible; the report will be forwarded to the relevant University Liaison Officer for review. 

In all cases in which the student is not in the final Level of their programme of study or has other summatively assessed work to complete, an appropriate member of teaching staff in the TEI must arrange a meeting, preferably in person, to counsel the student on how to avoid infringing the research ethics policy in future. A note of the date and time of the meeting is to be kept in the student’s file. 

After the panel 

A written record of the meeting, and the panel's recommendation, must be made immediately and sent electronically to the Common Awards Team as soon as possible. 

The panel’s recommendation must also be communicated to the student in writing by the Chair of the TEI’s Board of Examiners.  

Further information 

TEIs should ensure that all students know what is required and what is acceptable in academic work that involves research with human subjects or that draws on experience in ministry contexts. All students should be made aware of the importance of informed consent, anonymity, confidentiality, and data protection. 

Students may request a formal review of academic decisions affecting them, including decisions made under this policy, by following the Common Awards academic appeal process. See our Complaints and Appeals page for more information.