Research ethics committees: values and power in higher education

Ruth McAreavey, Jenny Muir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)
278 Downloads (Pure)


The rise of research governance structures in universities has created huge disquiet amongst academic researchers. The unquestioning adoption of a medical model of ethical review based upon positivist methodological assumptions has created for many a mismatch between their own ongoing ethical research practice and the process of obtaining clearance from Research Ethics Committees (REC). This paper examines the issues that have contributed to dissatisfaction with the ethical review model that is prevalent within the modern university. Using examples from the authors’ own experiences, the dynamics of values, interests and power in research governance is examined from multiple perspectives including that of REC member and applicant; lecturer/student supervisor; researcher; and
university administrator. The paper reveals a rift between the values and objectives of the key players in research governance within the modern university and concludes by asking whether differences can be resolved so that a collaborative approach to ethical review may be incorporated into a renewed academic research culture. It is suggested that the alternative is increasing alienation from anything to do with ‘ethics’, with potentially serious consequences for the ethical standards of social research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)391-405
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Social Research Methodology
Issue number5
Early online date13 Jun 2011
Publication statusPublished - 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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