Ethical review is required for all proposed human research activity conducted in association with Swinburne. The judgement that the proposal meets the requirements of the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research (2023) and is ethically acceptable must be made before research can begin and before full funding for the proposal is released.

When is approval needed?

All Swinburne staff and students (including undergraduate and postgraduate students) who intend to conduct research involving human participants and/or their data or tissue must apply for approval from the appropriate Swinburne human research ethics committee prior to commencing their research.

'Human research' has a broad definition that includes:

  • humans taking part in surveys, interviews or focus groups
  • humans undergoing psychological, physiological or medical testing or treatment
  • humans being observed by researchers
  • researchers having access to participants’ personal documents or other materials
  • the collection and use of participants’ body organs, tissues or fluids (such as skin, blood, urine, saliva, hair, bones, tumours and other biopsy specimens, or exhaled breath)
  • accessing participants’ information (in individually identifiable, re-identifiable or non-identifiable form) as part of an existing published or unpublished source or database
  • accessing health informationpersonal information, and sensitive information for research purposes.

Research exempt from ethical review

Commencing in January 2024, the Ethics Office will be trialling a new process to enable researchers to request exemption from human research ethics review for certain types of research involving human participants and/or their data. This aligns with updates to the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research (2023) which come into effect from 01 January 2024.

What type of human research will be considered for an exemption?

As stated in NS 5.1.17, research that may be eligible for exemption from ethics review includes research that carries a lower risk to participants or the community and satisfies one or more of the conditions in (a)–(d), below:

(a) the research involves the use of collections (sets) of information or data from which all personal identifiers have been removed prior to being received by the researchers and where researchers explicitly agree

(i) not to attempt to re-identify those with whom the information or data is associated;

(ii) to take all reasonable steps to prevent re-identification of the information or data for unauthorised purposes or access to the information or data by those who are not authorised; and

(iii) that any sharing of any research data during or after the project will not create any additional risks of re-identification of the information or data;

(b) the research is restricted to surveys and observation of public behaviour using information that was or will be collected and recorded without personal identifiers and is highly unlikely to cause distress to anyone associated with the information or the outcomes of the research;

(c) is conducted as part of an educational training program in which the research activity is for training purposes only and where any outcomes or documentation are for program use only;

(d) the research uses only information that is publicly available through a mechanism set out by legislation or regulation and that is protected by law, such as mandatory reporting information, information obtained from registries of births and deaths, coronial investigations or reports of the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

How to apply for an exemption

Applications for an ethics exemption are submitted by the Chief Investigator via Swinburne’s online ethics application and review portal, ERM (Ethics Review Manager).  Please select ‘New Ethics Exemption Application Form’ from the pull-down menu and complete the form online.  Further information regarding ERM is available here.

Why does exempt research require a formal application?

Institutions or other granting bodies must keep a record of any decision to grant exemption from ethics review [NS 5.1.18].  ERM therefore maintains the repository of applications that have been submitted by Swinburne Researchers and assessed as fulfilling the requirements for an exemption to be granted.

Review process for exemption requests

Ethics exemption requests will be reviewed as they are submitted, ie. there are no specific submission deadlines.  Applicants will typically receive the review outcome within 5 working days.  If an exemption application is not approved, a standard human research ethics application must be submitted for SUHREC/SHESC approval before the research can commence. 


The exemption review process will initially be trialled for a period of 6 months.  During this time, the Ethics Office welcomes feedback from researchers on both the exemptions form and review process.  The Ethics Office will review feedback received and assess whether the exemptions process will continue beyond July 2024.

Further information

If you have any questions regarding the ethics exemption form or process, please contact the Research Ethics Office via email on

Educational and training exercises that are being conducted at Swinburne do not usually require review. This is because taught units are not undertaking research activity (i.e. are not answering a specific research question, aim or hypothesis) but are teaching students how to employ different research methods. 

Examples include:

  • undergraduate projects with an education, training or practical experience or placement
  • undergraduate or postgraduate student (e.g. Honours) coursework, assignments and essays
  • non-intervention activity in established educational settings that do not constitute a deviation from normal education practices
  • research on the effectiveness of current instructional techniques, curricula or classroom management that don’t constitute a deviation from normal education practices
  • education, training and practical classes among students, which do not involve students learning through testing procedures on one another
  • evaluation surveys of university staff and students, including student evaluation of teaching.

A helpful way to consider whether your education and training activity requires ethical review or not is to consider the intent of the activity:

  1. Are you undertaking the activity only to demonstrate and teach a research method such as surveys, interviews or focus groups and analysis?
  2. Are you conducting the activity to generate data or information to answer a specific research question (in addition to the teaching aspect)?
  3. Does the activity involve vulnerable groups or controversial topics?

If you are undertaking the activity to only provide education and training on research methods and the activity does not involve vulnerable groups or controversial topics, then you most likely won’t require an ethics review. If you are unsure, please contact the Research Ethics, Integrity and Biosafety office on

Regardless of whether your activity falls within the definition of research or not, you should always ensure you conduct the activity ethically, with integrity and in accordance with Swinburne's People, Culture and Integrity Policy and the Swinburne Research Conduct Guidelines. 

Many professional practices also have their own code of ethics:

Quality assurance/evaluation projects that do not involve access to or collection of private, sensitive or health data may not require review.

Quality assurance and evaluation activity can be one of these types:

  • very low-risk activity, usually involving the collection and analysis of data generated coincidentally out of current practices or current standard operating procedures and/or protocols
  • data being collected and analysed expressly for the purpose of maintaining standards or identifying areas for improvement in the environment from which the data was obtained.

Find out more information from the National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines.

Ethical approval and publishing

Many peer-reviewed journals require evidence of ethics approval prior to submission of manuscripts for publication. The Graduate Studies Office may also want to see evidence of relevant ethics approval when it comes to submitting your thesis for your Honours, Masters or PhD thesis. 

Swinburne's human research ethics committees cannot retrospectively grant ethics approval so please ensure you have checked whether you require ethics approval before conducting your research activity. 

The Ethics Requirements for Research Publication guide can also provide further information.

Levels of ethical review 

Ethics clearance for Swinburne-sanctioned human research proposals is obtained from one of the following ethical review processes, depending on risk, impact or other criteria.

Swinburne's Human Research Ethics Committee (SUHREC) would review:

  • research that is not low-risk
  • research involving vulnerable or specified groups/individuals, regardless of whether high or low risk is involved
  • research involving significantly sensitive or specified issues or contexts.

A SUHREC sub-committee (SHESC) would review:

  • research that is low-risk
  • research that doesn’t involve vulnerable or specified groups/individuals
  • research that doesn’t involve sensitive or specified issues or contexts.

Other authorised ethical review or process:

  • multi-centre or multi-site research requiring external ethical review
  • research conducted at or with an Australian hospital/university requiring other or non-Swinburne ethical review
  • specified clinical research or clinical trials
  • external research involving Swinburne staff and students as co-investigators
  • external research involving Swinburne staff and students as participants
  • research transferred to Swinburne with existing ethics clearance
  • research that is defined as negligible risk or impact and involves existing collections of non-identifiable data and thus may be exempted
  • other special circumstances.

Ready to submit an application?

Find out how to apply for human ethics review at Swinburne, including the deadlines for submission and where you can get further assistance. 

Find out more