Eastern College Australia is a Higher Education Provider with a positive institutional trajectory. As such research is a normal activity within the college. Research does not just exist in the context of faculty roles and responsibilities but also in the context of post-graduate degrees courses.
Under federal laws, persons and institutions engaged in the study of human participants by any means (eg the use of quantitative or qualitative methods and/or the use of previously collected data/records) are required to have their proposed course of research assessed under the criteria laid down in the National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NH&MRC’s) National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research (https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines-publications/e72). This policy, devised in collaboration with the Christian Research Association, is a structured response to the principles of the National Statement.
To outline the permissible types of research, key processes to be followed by researchers and important safeguards that must be in place for a research activity to be approved by a Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC).
This policy applies to all human research activities conducted under the auspices of Eastern College Australia. It pertains to research activities conducted at post-graduate level, or as part of a faculty member’s position description. The scope of this policy extends to students, faculty and senior management, other employees of the college, research collaborators, committee members, participants, collaborating organisations and members of the community.
Research activity means any act of research conducted under the auspices of Eastern College Australia. The Research Framework Policy describes research as “A God honouring creative, but logical, process in which an established body of knowledge is engaged with and enlarged.” That undergraduate activities are not designed to enlarge the body of knowledge they are not subject to this policy.Therefore a research activity may be as large as a faculty led multi-year research project or as limited as a post-graduate research project within a single unit.
Chief Investigator means the individual in-charge of the research activity. The Chief Investigator will always be a paid employee of the college.
Data means any information obtained from a participant either directly through observation, surveys and/or other method(s) or indirectly through the use of previously collected data and/or records.
1. Eastern College Australia is committed to upholding its obligations in law to conduct research in an ethical manner. Therefore the College adopts the NH&MRC’s National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research as its guiding ethical document. In addition, the College expects researchers to be aware of Federal and State legislation as it pertains to their research context. This could also include privacy law and the law pertaining to the storage of data. If researchers are conducting research activities outside Australia they must also comply with the standards for human research ethics in each jurisdiction in which data is gathered.
2. The College affirms the research values of “…respect for human beings, research merit and integrity, justice, and beneficence…”. Researchers are therefore to develop research which:
a. uses volunteers;
b. upholds informed consent;
c. respects privacy; and
d. has demonstrated benefits which outweigh the costs of research.
3. Eastern College Australia will utilise the services of an accredited HREC to evaluate its research activities. This is typically to be the Christian Research Association HREC.
4. The College is committed to assisting an HREC to efficiently approve research. This assistance may take several forms:
5. Research of an historical nature or varieties of action research which require immersion in the candidate’s own organisational or community context will require the specific consent of the organisation/custodian/community leadership.
6. Research activities involving minority groups such as indigenous participants, be it in Australia or abroad, may be undertaken with the approval of an alternate HREC as the Christian Research Association HREC does not consider such applications. The Chief Investigator should consult with the Director of Research about the most appropriate HREC to use in this instance.
7. Research which is conducted in contexts where the researcher has an existing power relationship with the participants requires care to gain participation without coercion and in the management of data so as to maintain participant privacy within the bounds set-out in the participant information letter/informed consent. Such research may include, but may not be limited to, pastors conducting research within their own congregations, teachers within their own schools or executives with their own direct reports.
8. The College will not undertake any research activity consistent with the application of medical treatments or interventions. This does not apply to the use of unpleasant physical stimuli or psychological/counselling interventions.
9. A research activity cannot commence until written HREC approval has been received by the Chief Investigator. Chief Investigators are obliged to conduct the research within the parameters of the approval given by the HREC.
10. The Chief Investigator is responsible for managing all aspects of the project on behalf of the College. This includes a research project’s documentation. If a nominee, such as a research student, is to prepare or store documentation then the Chief Investigator must be satisfied that the nominee can do so in a professional manner.
The approval process:
1. Somebody has a research idea. Following discussion the Chief Investigator initiates the human ethics approval process by completing the application form. A student may assist in the preparation of this form. However, the research activity must be endorsed by the Chief Investigator who is ultimately responsible for it. This endorsement is given when the Chief Investigator completes the declaration at the bottom of the ethics application.
2. As appropriate to the research activity, include with the application any recruiting material (eg posters, fliers etc), participant information letter, informed consent, screening tools, questionnaires/surveys/interview questions etc., letters of introduction and/or approvals.
3. The ethics application is forwarded to the Director of Research who will forward it to an HREC. The Director of Research may require changes to the research activity or documentation before forwarding it to an HREC so as to ensure an efficient passage through the committee. The Director of Research is not responsible for the quality of the research being proposed and so any required changes will be of a limited nature.
4. The HREC may ask the Chief Investigator to attend the meeting where their application is deliberated upon to provide context to the application and facilitate its speedy passage through the committee.
5. The HREC will forward its approval of an application to the Director of Research who will inform the Chief Investigator. A research activity can only commence when written HREC approval has been received by the Chief Investigator.
Reporting on a research project previously approved:
1. If an ethics application is to be varied during the research process the Chief Investigator is to consult the Director of Research and inform the HREC of the necessary change. The change cannot be implemented until the HREC gives its written approval. All correspondence is to be through the Director of Research.
2. In the approval of a research project the HREC may require the Chief Investigator to report from time-to-time on the progress of the research activity (eg annually and by submission of a final report at the end of the research process). The Chief Investigator is to do this through the Director of Research.
3. Any unexpected outcomes and/or adverse events arising in the course of research must be reported promptly to the HREC, by the Chief Investigator via the Director of Research. The HREC can instruct the Chief Investigator and/or College to take further action if required.
Appealing the decision of the HREC:
Any concerns about, or appeals against, a decision of the HREC will be addressed to that committee in writing by the Chief Investigator. The HREC’s appeal procedures will be followed. The Chief Investigator is to first forward this letter to the Director of Research who will send it to the HREC.
Miscellaneous research-related procedures:
Letter of introduction
If a research activity is to be conducted within an organisation a standard letter of introduction from the Chief Investigator is required. The letter of introduction should indicate as appropriate:
a. The title of the research activity.
b. A summary of its purpose. If it is for an educational outcome detail this including course and unit student researcher(s) are enrolled in.
c. State who is the Chief Investigator and their contact details. State who is to conduct this research if not the Chief Investigator.
d. Verify that all researchers have been successfully trained in the methods they are to use.
e. Note both potential benefits and risks of the research activity to all stakeholders. Note also how risks (eg distress) and complaints are to be managed.
f. State the obligations of all stakeholders.
Potential participants are to be provided with an accurate and complete ‘participant information letter’. This document is to be written so that informed consent can be given by each participant. Therefore participant issues such as language, highest educational level achieved, physical/mental infirmity, intellectual ability, capacity to give informed consent in a variety of contexts, age (especially if minors are to be participants), vulnerability in a variety of contexts and marginalisation should be considered.
In addition, each participant is to be provided with two copies of an HREC-approved ‘consent form’. The participant provides their full name, signature and date on both copies. One copy will be retained by Eastern College Australia.
- Where possible, research will be conducted that is of negligible or low risk. High risk research will not be undertaken by the College.
- HREC-approved proforma are to be used when available. This may pertain to applications, participant information letters, informed consent statements and in annual/final reporting.
- When the opportunity arises for the Chief Investigator, or others within the research group, to attend an HREC meeting they are encouraged to do so.
- Typically, each research project is to have its own application to an HREC. In doing so the parameters of each project are clearly articulated to the committee. However, a key educational objective of the Masters programmes is to have students exposed to research. To do so, a large number of small research activities will be generated throughout the year. The Christian Research Association HREC is willing to assist the College to manage this research load in the following way. In place of an individual application for each research activity the Masters Courses Development Officer is to submit for approval a single application. This application will specify participant types, methodologies and areas of research enquiry which fit the needs of all such research activities. The application is to establish that all research activities will be of negligible or low risk. If approved by the HREC the college will then have the discretion to undertake research activities within the Master programmes for 12 months in accordance with the application and its approval. The college and Christian Research Association HREC will review this process annually.