Faculty of Science Research Ethics

All research in the Faculty of Science must be conducted in alignment with the UCT Policy for Responsible Conduct of Research. Your research may also require additional review from an Institutional Review Board (IRB) or Research Ethics Committee (REC). Research on animals needs to be approved by the Faculty’s Animal Ethics Committee (see SCI001 and SCI002 on UCT Administrative Forms; and research that uses biological materials from humans (e.g. fresh tissues, blood or body fluids) needs also to be approved by the Faculty’s Biological Safety Committee. Research with human subjects needs to be reviewed by the Faculty of Science Research Ethics Committee (FSREC).  Research with anonymised third-party data does not require REC approval.

While ethics clearance constitutes a significant milestone for research, clearance does not mean that all ethics issues have been dealt with. Researchers must consider ethical implications throughout the research and as their projects close.

Research Training 

The Office of Research Integrity at UCT offers five modules covering research integrity on Success Factors to postgraduate students and staff.

Starting in 2024 we require researchers applying for ethics clearance to submit certificates of completion of ethics training with their application.

Ethics training requirements:

  • Staff, Masters students, PhD students, and Postdocs should complete the UCT-specific Research Integrity Modules 4 (Research Involving Human Participants) and 5 (Managing and Sharing Human Research Data), available on Success Factors Learning http://successfactors.uct.ac.za.  
  • All other applicants should complete the TRREE training https://elearning.trree.org: Module 1 (Introduction to Research Ethics), Module 3 (Informed Consent), and the South Africa National Supplement.
  • Honours students from CS and EGS can alternately receive certificates of ethics training based on attendance of in-person training organised by the department with the Office of Research Integrity and passing of a quiz on the material administered by the FSREC.

Please read the instructions and the UCT Research Ethics Code for Research involving Human Subjects in full before starting your application.

Pre-Screening Questionnaire 
The pre-screening questionnaire (PSQ) will help determine whether or not ethics review and approval is needed for your research. Complete if you think your research project does not require ethics approval by a Research Ethics Committee (REC) because it does not prospectively involve humans or their data. (See comment below for animal research) 

The PSQ also captures issues that may trigger the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA) and require review by a REC as a safeguard. Researchers, including students and their supervisors, are responsible for ensuring they get appropriate ethics approval for all projects that require such approval, and if in doubt consult appropriately e.g., with supervisors, REC EXCO or Administrator, or the Office of Research Integrity. 

Animal Research and Biosafety: This pre-screening questionnaire does not cover animal research or research with Biosafety concerns. If you plan any form of animal research or research with biohazards, please consult with the Animal Ethics Committee or the Biosafety Committee, as appropriate.  

  • Submit a PSQ on eRA   
  • The departmental authority for all departments in the Science Faculty is A/Professor Melissa Densmore (Chair, FSREC)
  • eRA guides:

           o    PSQ process manual 
           o    Exporting the outcome letter 
           o    Reviewing the PSQ as a Supervisor 

For assistance: Refer to the FAQs or log a call with the Research Support Hub

Human Subjects Research

The 2024 application review cycle runs from 15 January to 6 December. New applications will not be accepted after this date. Applications submitted on or after 2 December may not receive a response until January of the following year.

The ethics clearance application process has undergone a significant change for 2024. We are no longer requiring the ethics statement form. Instead you will be required to submit details of your application on eRA, attaching a research proposal, any study instruments, and consent forms. For student applicants, the supervisor must review and approve the form on eRA before it will be reviewed. Please continue reading for more details and instructions.

Applications for clearance to do research with human subjects must be made to the Faculty of Science Research Ethics Committee (FSREC). A key function of the FSREC is to screen and approve, or otherwise refuse, all research proposals in the Faculty that relate to human subjects, including questionnaires involving human participants; this includes proposed research involving students or staff, by UCT researchers. Outside visiting researchers seeking to work with UCT staff or students must do so in collaboration with a member of UCT staff.

Health Research:  Any health research or research involving staff from the Faculty of Health Sciences needs to apply for clearance through the Faculty of Health Sciences.

Human subject means a living individual about whom an investigator (whether professional or student) conducting research obtains (1) data through intervention or interaction with the individual, or (2) identifiable private information, which includes a subject's opinion on a given topic.

Human subject means a living individual about whom an investigator (whether professional or student) conducting research obtains (1) data through intervention or interaction with the individual, or (2) identifiable private information, which includes a subject's opinion on a given topic.

The diagram linked above gives an overview of the Faculty of Science Research Ethics Clearance Process. The lead researcher for the project (usually a student doing research towards their degree) drafts the application as the Principal Investigator. For student research, this applicant must then be approved by the supervisor, before it is sent to the Faculty of Science Research Ethics Committee.  We review the applications internally and will notify you in about 15 working days of the outcome. If revisions are required you will have the opportunity to submit edits, which will be reviewed by the committee members (the Exco) for another outcome until the application is approved or withdrawn.

All Applicants

Please read the instructions and the UCT Research Ethics Code for Research involving Human Subjects in full before starting your application. You or your supervisor will also need to complete research integrity modules 4&5 on SuccessFactors; please submit the certificates of completion as an attachment on your application.

All researchers should familiarise themselves with UCT and ASSAF policies around conduct of research:

It is highly recommended that you use your instruction document to complete all the necessary fields before you log into eRA to complete your form online. Please read the instructions in full, and ensure that you have completed your research ethics training BEFORE starting your application.

Instructions for Applying for Research Ethics Clearance (eRA)

Applications should be submitted on eRA https://eraonline.uct.ac.za/ under the Ethics Management Tab, by the Principal Investigator.  For any research towards a degree, the Principal Investigator is the student(s) undertaking the research, unless the project is being undertaken as part of a larger project.  For larger projects, the Principal Investigator should be the lead researcher affiliated with UCT.  Collaborators and students also working on the project can be listed in the application. You will also have the opportunity to attach any related ethics approvals to your application.   If you have institutional clearance from another institution, you are still require to apply for ethics clearance at UCT; please fill in the form in relation to your part of the larger research project and attach any relevant documents to your application.

You may want to prefill your application in this document before starting the application online.

Required attachments for your application include:

  1.           Research Proposal

  2.           Any survey instruments, interview guides, workshop protocols etc. These can be in draft form; please submit any major modifications as an amendment.

  3.          Consent forms. Available here.

  4.           Certificates of Research Integrity training
DO NOT submit the ethics statement used in 2023 or prior years.
Please note that if you are accessing www.successfactors.uct.ac.za. from off campus, you will need to use the UCT VPN to access these sites.

ICTS has introduced extra system controls to address past security concerns. eRA will now be accessible off-campus without requiring a VPN connection.

We aim to provide an initial response to applications within 15 working days. Full ethics review and revisions frequently take up to a month or longer. Please plan your research accordingly.

First time applicants should refer to the Additional Guidelines for more information on how to complete the form and avoid common errors.

For Supervisors

You will get an email notification once your student has submitted an ethics application for review. Unfortunately, clicking on the link will not work because of the way Roles are implemented in eRA.

To access the application:

  • Log into eRA https://eraonline.uct.ac.za using your UCT credentials
  • Change your “Role” (upper right corner) from “Researcher” to “Supervisor”
  • Click on Ethics Management (navbar on left), then Ethics Applications
  • Any open ethics applications should be listed there, Click “Edit/Open” on your student’s application

Expedited Review

Researchers from the Departments of Computer Science or Environmental & Geographical Science conducting studies which entail only minimal risk, that do not involve the collection of any privately identifiable or sensitive personal data, are not contentious, or are not working with any vulnerable populations (e.g., pregnant women, minors, prisoners, low-income communities) may apply for expedited review by answering 'Yes' to “Is this study suitable for an expedited review?” in tab 5. Declaration and Faculty Review. Please provide a motivation for expedited review. Applications for expedited review are not necessarily faster, but only require the approval of one member of the Science Faculty Research Ethics Committee in addition to the Chair. 

For Computer Science applications, this typically (but not necessarily) entails testing the usability of programmes and applications.  'Usability' in this context is defined to include learnability, efficiency, memorability, accuracy, ease of use and user experience, typically with an artefact or prototype.  However, if the research also involves the collection of any privately identifiable or sensitive personal data about participants (e.g. information on disabilities, vulnerabilities, health/ medical conditions and/ or treatments) then the proposal is NOT eligible for expedited review.  Projects using human subjects and not judged to be of minimal risk will be submitted for review by the full committee.

Giving Feedback

If your study included human participants it is required that you give feedback to them, or, depending on your topic, to broader society. Feedback may take many forms, depending on your time, budget and the local context. Circulating your thesis or research report may be useful for some participants but is unlikely to be the preferred format for most people. A summary form of the research findings will typically be more helpful for most. It is good practice to ask participants how best they would like to receive feedback.

The most common form of accessible feedback is a pamphlet or similar, written in accessible language and if needed, translated into local languages so that your research participants can understand the contents. If appropriate, you may produce a pamphlet which broader society will benefit from reading - your language should be adjusted to suit the "general reader" and not contain academic terms. You may choose, however, to do something more creative such as an art piece, a podcast, give an interview on a local radio station, or host a feedback seminar. Posters are also popular as these can be used in schools and public places.

Please make sure to indicate in your application and proposal how you plan to give feedback and who your target audience will be.

Third Party Human Data

Please note that a clearance certificate is not required by the Faculty for use of anonymised third-party data about human-participants, although you should still consider the ethical implications of your work and seek proper permissions from the custodian of the data for its use. However, if the data custodian or another entity requires ethics clearance for use of third-party data about human subjects, please submit an application with the appropriate details to the FSREC.

Faculty of Science Research Ethics Committee 

Servicing Officer

Portia Sithole

Chair A/Professor Melissa Densmore

Dr Jan Buys | Department of Computer Science
Dr Jane Battersby | Department of Environmental & Geographical Science | Dr Thomas Oelgeschlager | Department of Molecular & Cell Biology
Dr Petra Holden | ACDI: African Climate & Development Initiative
A/Professor Patrick Marais | Department of Computer Science
Ms Jaci van Niekerk (until June 2024) | Department of Environmental & Geographical Science
Mr Sulaiman Salau | Department of Statistics
Professor Rachel Wynberg | Department of Environmental & Geographical Science (on sabbatical)

Last updated 17 March 2024