Human research at VU

It is required that all research involving or impacting on humans is performed in an ethical manner.

Victoria University is committed to quality research that respects human research participants. We ensure all reasonable steps are taken to implement the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research (2007).

Values & principles

Human research ethics ensures researchers and research students uphold the values and principles of ethical conduct when designing, conducting and reporting research findings.

All research 'with or about people, or their data or tissue' (National Statement) should reflect the following values:

  • Respect for human beings - individuals should be treated as autonomous agents and that persons with diminished autonomy are entitled to protection. Requires respect for the privacy, confidentiality and cultural sensitivities of research participants. All people involved in research have the right to make informed decisions about matters that affect them. People must be protected and empowered if their capacity to make informed decisions is impaired.
  • Research merit and integrity - research must be worthwhile, and have value to the community. Requires the use of methods, facilities and resources that are appropriate to achieve the aims of the research. Benefits of research must be justified, it should be supervised by researchers with appropriate expertise, and findings reported accurately and responsibly.
  • Justice - addressing the resolution of the question of who ought to receive the benefits of research and bear its burdens. Requires procedural fairness in the recruitment of participants and review of research. Research aims should be achieved using 'just' means that do not unfairly burden particular groups. The benefits of research should be distributed fairly between participants and the wider community, and research findings should be provided within a reasonable time.
  • Beneficence - the obligation to maximise possible benefits and minimise possible harms. Requires a sensitivity to the welfare and interests of participants, and the cultural and social implications of the research. The likely benefits to participants or the wider community must justify any risk of harm or discomfort to research participants.

Such principles help guide researchers to develop and conduct research in a way that is:

  • safe
  • respectful
  • responsible
  • high quality.

These principles apply to all research, including:

  • surveys, interviews or focus groups
  • psychological, physiological or medical testing or treatment
  • being observed by researchers
  • researchers accessing personal documents or other materials
  • collection and use of body organs, tissues, fluids or exhaled breath
  • access to information as part of an existing published or unpublished source or database.

Ethical practice legislation

Ethical practice is also underpinned by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). The current legislative basis of the Council is the National Health and Medical Research Council Act 1992 (the Act). The Act ascertains that the functions of the Australian Health Ethics Committee are:

  • to advise the Council on ethical issues relating to health
  • to develop and give the Council guidelines for the conduct of medical research involving humans
  • such other functions as the Minister from time to time determines.

The Australian Health Ethics Committee (AHEC) is a principal committee of the NHMRC. The Act sets out AHECs functions, which are to advise NHMRC on ethical issues relating to health and developing guidelines for the conduct of medical research involving humans. The AHECs functions also include the:

  • promotion of community debate on health ethics issues
  • monitoring of human research ethics committees (HRECs)
  • monitoring and advising of international developments in health ethics.

Ethics approval

Victoria University is serviced by the Victoria University Human Research Ethics Committee (VUHREC) and the Low Risk Human Research Ethics Committee (LRHREC), ensuring research projects involving or impacting on humans are conducted ethically.

The HRECs are responsible for ensuring that research projects involving humans adhere to ethical principles and conform to relevant legal requirements.

The primary responsibility of each committee member is to decide whether the welfare and rights of research participants are protected.

The VUHREC meets regularly to review and monitor emerging ethical issues and ensure relevant scholarly and scientific standards are met.

Human Research Ethics resources

Contact us

If you have questions about participating in research, contact the researcher responsible for the project.

If you would like further information about the conduct of research or the human research ethics approval and review process, please email VUHREC Executive Officer Elizabeth Hill at elizabeth.hill@vu.edu.au.