The Steinhoff Saga Management review - University of Stellenbosch Business School

July – December 2018

The importance of ethical clearance in research

Sunelle Hanekom

  • OCT 2018
  • Tags Food for Thought, Research
9 minutes to read

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Why the need for ethical clearance in research?

The main reasons why most pieces of research require ethical clearance is to:

  • Ensure the research is conducted in a responsible and ethically accountable way,
  • Minimise the risk of harm to humans (and animals), and
  • Ultimately ensure that the research leads to beneficial outcomes.

Research clearance typically involves an ethical clearance committee looking at the research aims and methodologies of researchers to make sure that the research will be conducted in a way that protects the dignity, rights and safety of the research participants, and that the research design is ethically sound and is likely to render the anticipated results.

Ethical approval of a research project also helps to increase the legitimacy of research findings. This is important for those making decisions based on the research results.

Ethical approval of a research project also helps to increase the legitimacy of research findings. This is important for those making decisions based on the research results.

The Singapore Statement on Research Integrity

Stellenbosch University, which includes the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB), endorses the Singapore Statement on Research Integrity to ensure that our research is conducted in an ethical way.

This statement was developed at the Second World Conference on Research Integrity in July 2010. It serves as a global guide to the responsible conduct of research. However, it is not a regulatory document. It was developed to provide ethical guidance for research organisations, governments and scientists when developing policies, regulations and codes of conduct. The guidelines were published to provide the leadership needed to promote integrity in research, with a common approach to the fundamental elements of responsible research practice.

Stellenbosch University, which includes USB, endorses the Singapore Statement on Research Integrity to ensure that our research is conducted in an ethical way.

The four principles of the statement are:

  • Honesty in all aspects of research
  • Accountability in the conduct of research
  • Professional courtesy and fairness in working with others
  • Good stewardship of research on behalf of others.

As part of the implementation of the fundamental principles of research integrity, many universities have ethical committees, also known as institutional review boards. Stellenbosch University is no exception. Here, the process is delegated to departmental ethical screening committees (DESCs).

Over the past few years, the team of reviewers have increased from 1 to 10, allowing us to give feedback of a review within an average of 1.5 days.

USB’s Departmental Ethical Screening Committee

DESC at USB embodies research integrity. The committee is chaired by USB’s Head of Research, and it consists of ten faculty members as reviewers, and a coordinator.

USB DESC supports all the Master’s and PhD students, as well as our own faculty members with ethical clearance applications for their research.

Over the past few years, the team of reviewers have increased from one to ten, allowing us to give feedback of a review within an average of 1.5 days. Our team of reviewers understand the importance of a quick turn-around time as our Master’s students have a relative short period in which to do their fieldwork, data analysis and reporting before submitting the final research assignments.

The ethical clearance process at USB has evolved from a manual process to an electronic system that is easy to understand and navigate. As part of our support to students we have created a link on the student portal Learning Hub. This gives students access to the various templates used in research, guidelines and also the direct link to the application form. We have also uploaded a checklist for students to understand what the DESC is looking for in their application.

Applying for ethics is just another step in the research process – not a barrier. At USB’s DESC we believe in providing true support to our students and academics.

Students may only proceed with their fieldwork once ethical clearance has been granted.

Quick facts

  • USB offers 13 programmes of which 7 have a research component. Students on these 7 programmes are required to apply for ethical clearance.
  • In 2017, USB’s DESC finalised a record number of 468 applications for ethical clearance.
  • Students may only proceed with their fieldwork once ethical clearance has been granted.
  • USB’s DESC aims to give feedback to students within 10 working days. At present, the average is 1.5 days.

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