The Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Studies Research Ethics Committee

FNASREC deals with zero and low-risk studies in the Faculty that are not health-related. Follow the process below to obtain an ethics number.

  1. The researcher conceptualize the research study
  2. The researcher presents the research proposal to the relevant scientific committee for approval
  3. The scientific committee proposes a risk level on the signed ethics application form
  4. No risk studies do the following
    1. Submit the following documents to FNASREC by using this link, or email it to roelof.burger@nwu.ac.za and madieviljoen@gmail.com:
  5. Low-risk studies do the following
    1. Submit the following documents to FNAS ethics at committee using this link , or email it to roelof.burger@nwu.ac.za and madieviljoen@gmail.com, least 2 weeks before the meeting
      • Applicable ethics application form (download here)
      • Research proposal (download here)
      • Proof of ethical training in the last 2 years. Either a course by the NWU or the following online courses at https://elearning.trree.org
        • Introduction to Research Ethics
        • Research Ethics Evaluation
        • Informed Consent
        • South African supplement
      • Signed Code of Conduct of student (download here)
      • Signed Code of Conduct of all supervisors (download here)

General information

Current NWU policy requires all research to be subjected to independent ethics review. It includes all MSc and PhD student research and any funded or unfunded research undertaken by staff and post-doctoral associates. No research is allowed to start without an ethics number as proof of the ethics review. The responsibility of the ethics review lies with the principal investigator or the primary supervisor of the student.

Several research ethics committees (REC) are available to review proposals. The decision on where to submit your application is influenced by both the topic of research and the potential risk level. The FNAS Research Ethics Committee (FNASREC) deals with all research in the faculty with zero or low risk where the research topics do not fall in the scope of one of the other committees, including HREC, Animcare and Animprod. Research with a health-related theme and wishes to publish in health-related journals and inform health-related policy needs to be reviewed by the Health Research Ethics Committee (HREC). Research related to or involves vertebrates and certain higher invertebrates, such as octopus or animal health, must be submitted to Animcare or Animprod. The scope for the different committees is outlined in this document. Contact details for the different committees can be found on the research support website.

The typical minimum documentation needed to complete an ethics review includes:

  • Research proposal
  • Proof of scientific review with a clear proposed risk level and REC for review
  • Signed code of conduct by all researchers involved

The scientific review committee plays a central role in ensuring that the quality and potential ethical risk are promoted in the faculty. The committee needs to make sure that the proposed research meets the discipline’s requirements and suggests the relevant REC and the risk level. 

The research proposal must include the details necessary for the REC to confirm the essential aspects of the research methods that might have ethical implications. The first aspect to consider is if the research topic falls under the auspices of HREC. If the subject matter is human health and the research aims to speak to and inform health bodies or publish in health journals, the study has to be submitted to HREC. This is true even if the risk level is zero. If animals or animal products are directly involved in the study, they must be submitted to Animcare or Animprod. If the study is submitted to FNASREC and there is the possibility of the conflicts above, the research proposal has to clearly indicate why the research topic fits best with FNASREC.

The second consideration of the research proposal is the risk level. All aspects of risk need to be clearly articulated in the research proposal. The proposal also has to state how that risk will be managed. The following includes components of research that will impact the study’s risk level: human participants in the study, any direct involvement of animals, any potential impact on the environment, any sensitive topic or data set. Details should be provided in the research proposal that will convince FNASREC that the risk level does not exceed their mandate. The strategies to manage the risk should also be mentioned specifically. Currently, proof of relevant ethics training is required for low-risk studies submitted to FNASREC. This training outlines the potential risks and how to address them. 

Specific components of research methodologies of concern include surveys. The type of data collected directly impacts on the risk level. In order to classify research as low-risk, the type of data collected from human participants cannot be sensitive. It is further advisable that data collected would be anonymous and that no personal information is captured. The research proposal should be very specific on what data is collected and how that relates to the research question. The researchers should convince the REC that their risk level is not above low-risk for the study to be approved by FNASREC.

Research ethics in the natural sciences is not well defined. You can expect that the way we manage ethics in FNAS will evolve over time. The delineation of responsibilities between the different research ethics committees is also still under debate. The participation of researchers in the faculty in this ongoing debate is encouraged.

Information about FNASREC can be found on this eFundi page. FNASREC has 10 meetings annually. The schedule of meetings is published on the eFundi page

More details about the different ethics committees and the NWU rules and regulations on research ethics can be found here: http://services.nwu.ac.za/research-support/research-ethics