Human Ethics

The purpose of the Human Research Ethics team and associated committees is to protect the welfare and rights of the research participants. Human ethics approval is required for all research conducted with or about people, or their data or tissue. The purpose of ethics review process is to facilitate research that fulfils the principles of human research ethics – research integrity, justice, beneficence and respect.

In Australia, research conducted in or by public institutions such as universities and government departments that involves human participants must be approved by an accredited Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC). The purpose of HRECs is to protect the welfare and rights of the participants in the research. A secondary aim is to facilitate research of benefit to the wider community.

People do not need to be physically involved to be considered participants. HREC approval is necessary for research ranging from examination of records containing personal information, to anonymous surveys and medical intervention.

Information about why we have HRECs and how they operate can be found in the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Research Involving Humans. 

The University of Wollongong has two HRECs:
  • The Health and Medical HREC
  • The Social Sciences HREC
These HRECs review research:
  • Conducted by staff or students of the University
  • Involving staff or students of the University as participants
  • External research may also be reviewed

*Important note: Remote access to IRMA

NB: IRMA has moved behind the UOW firewall. If you are working remotely you will need to log in to the UOW VPN before you can access it.

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Frequently asked human ethics questions

The Ethics Office is not asking researchers to submit an amendment to the HREC for approval before moving data from CloudStor to Microsoft Teams.  As long as you are following IMTS requirements in terms of data storage, you will simply need to note the change of data storage in the next annual report for each of your projects.  If you have any further questions about this, please contact our team at

Applications to the full HREC: Both HRECs meet monthly except in January. Check the meeting dates and agenda deadlines for the committee appropriate to your research. If you are uncertain call the Ethics Unit on 4221 3773 or 4221 5504.

Expedited Review: The Executive Committees meet every Tuesday except in January. Applications can be submitted any time, the agenda deadline is 12 noon Friday.

Agenda deadlines and meeting dates are listed here.

Applications for Expedited Review are reviewed within a week of receipt, after which you will receive a written advice regarding the outcome. Applications to the full Committee are reviewed at the next meeting of the appropriate HREC. You should receive a written advice regarding the outcome within 10 working days of the meeting. DO NOT EXPECT YOUR APPLICATION TO BE APPROVED ON THE INITIAL REVIEW. Less than 10 % of applications are approved without modification or additional explanation. Most applications are approved within a week to 10 days of response to the written review.

Allow at least three weeks to obtain approval through Expedited Review, and six weeks if the application is reviewed by the full Committee.

UOW has two HRECs: a Health and Medical HREC and a Social Sciences HREC, both of which are accredited by the NHMRC. 
 Applications will be reviewed by the most appropriate Committee based on the area of research.

The Health and Medical HREC is certified to review research involving sites from jurisdictions participating in the National Mutual Acceptance scheme.

Please note research involving NSW Health and Indigenous populations, the correctional environment in NSW, or NSW Health state wide data collections must be reviewed by a specialist HREC.

See NSW Health ethics processes.

The Health & Medical HREC

This Committee primarily reviews:

  • Clinical research (including clinical psychology research undertaken through Northfields clinic and clinical trials of drugs, surgical trials or trials of therapeutic goods)
  • Research that has as its primary focus understanding of human physiological processes, the efficacy of medicines and human health
  • Research involving the administration of any substance or agent to participants (e.g. research involving administration of approved drugs, research involving alcohol or special diets or food supplements)
  • Research involving the collection of body tissues or fluid samples (e. g. blood or urine samples)
  • Physical procedures which involve risk of pain or discomfort for participants (including human movement research, research involving strenuous or repetitive exercise)

The Social Sciences HREC

This Committee primarily looks at research involving methods, practices and conceptual analysis familiar to the disciplines of the Humanities (including creative arts, history and English), Social Sciences (including commerce, economics, human geography, sociology, education and politics), or Behavioural Sciences (including marketing and psychology). Such research methods and practices include:

  • Research to be analysed through the methods of the social sciences, humanities and behavioural sciences
  • Research involving focus groups or interviews
  • Research involving access to private papers concerning public figures, political movements, historical events, artistic practice, educational policy, etc
  • Interviews and surveys of community members about social practices and attitudes, public policies, marketing strategies, etc.
  • Educational research.

The way in which consent is established will depend on what the research involves and who the participants are.

It can be written, verbal or implied from conduct. For example:

  • If you are collecting anonymous information you should obtain tacit consent, e.g. by return of postal survey.
  • If there are cultural sensitivities to signing consent forms, recording verbal consent may be better.
  • If in doubt, check with an Ethics Advisor or contact the Ethics Unit

To respect participants' privacy, it is good practice to collect the least amount of identifiable information necessary for the research. For example, if you need the age of the participants, it is preferable to ask for the age in brackets of years, or years and months, or for the month and year of birth.

All staff and students undertaking research at UOW are covered by University insurance. Copies of current insurance certificates can be found on the Finance webpage via the Intranet. For more information, contact the Insurance Enquiries Team at

If you need access you will need to complete the access request form. It should approximately 2 days to receive access.

Yes, access is available for students on research projects. Students in courses expected to have high numbers of students conducting research that requires ethics approval (e.g. Psychology Honours students) will automatically receive access; however not all students have been given access. If you are a student on a research project and require access to IRMA please complete the access request form.

All paper-based ethics applications were transferred over to IRMA. Documents relating to current applications have been retained in the RSO for reference purposes; Papers relating to completed applications have been archived and can be retrieved on request.

Any investigator on a project can prepare and submit the application. It doesn’t have to be the Chief Investigator. You can view all applications where you have been named as an investigator. However, it is not possible for another investigator to sign off applications on your behalf.

You will need to contact the Ethics Unit to arrange for the application to be directed to another suitable person. It is helpful if you can check who is available to sign before doing this. It must be someone senior who can take institutional responsibility for authorising the research, such as the Associate Dean of Research or the Dean. It can’t be a researcher named on the protocol.

You can only view applications where you have been named as an investigator.

When a decision to approve or not approve an application is registered in IRMA it can only be changed by the Ethics Unit. You will need to contact the Ethics Unit and request that the application be unsubmitted so that the decision process can be redone. Please note that the Chief Investigator (CI) will receive an email advising of a ‘reject’ decision; if you are not the CI you should contact them and explain.

IRMA requires ethics applications to be electronically “signed” by investigators and Heads of Unit (or their delegate). If you receive an email instructing you to sign off an application, log in to IRMA and click the “My Approvals” tab. Any application requiring your signature will be listed here.

For detailed instructions on the application sign off process, please refer to the IRMA User’s Guide or view the instructional video.

Emails are sent to the UOW email address attached to the user account of the Chief Investigator named on the application. If you are the Chief Investigator and have checked your UOW email account and cannot see the emails, please contact the Ethics Unit. Co-investigators can check correspondence in IRMA once an application has been signed off and accepted by the Ethics Unit.