Human Ethics Committee

People standing on reflective surface at sunset

The Human Ethics Committee (HEC) reviews all proposals that are conducted within the University or outside the University that do not involve an educational setting for either research or teaching and learning as covered by the Educational Research Human Ethics Committee (ERHEC). The HEC reviews research proposals from all colleges and research units within the University except for those covered by the ERHEC.

How to apply to the HEC

Any research or teaching activity in which persons are subjected to experimental procedures or observation or questioning or otherwise used as a source of information or data unless excluded by the scope and exemptions in the Human Ethics Committee Principles and Guidelines.

The Human Ethics Committee of the University of Canterbury (HEC), only accepts project applications for review from:

  • Academic staff of the University of Canterbury
  • Visiting academic staff
  • Research Associates of the University of Canterbury, as endorsed by an academic staff member
  • Students who are enrolled in a course of study at the University of Canterbury and who will carry out research under the supervision of, or in collaboration with, an academic staff member of the university

Please note that it is not possible to grant "retrospective" ethics approval for projects.

If your research involves any of the following, you may also require, by law, review by the Ministry of Health administered Health & Disability Ethics Committees (HDEC).

  • Human participants recruited in their capacity as consumers of health or disability support services, or relatives or caregivers of such consumers, or volunteers in clinical trials; or
  • Human tissue; or
  • Health information.

Does your study require HDEC review? (PDF, 96KB)
Check this flowchart for preliminary guidance on whether or not review by HDEC is required.

See the Health and Disability Ethics Committees (HDECs) website for more information.

Should you require HDEC review, the University of Canterbury requires a finalised copy of your application when it is submitted and when it is approved and reserves the right to ask for changes within the scope of HDEC’s approval.

In 2015 the Human Ethics Committee revised its application forms and processes. Applicants are now required to fill out a cover sheet and the application form. Staff members and students fill out different cover sheets. The cover sheets contain all the contact details of applicants, and enable applicants to request a low-risk (and thus expedited) review.

We hope you find the new forms easier to fill out than the old forms.

Please email the chair if you have suggestions as to how to improve their legibility or flow. 

  • TREAD (The Research Ethics Application Database) - for examples of ethics applications from around the world.
  • Survey Policy - If you are surveying students or staff at the University of Canterbury.
  • The aspirational New Brunswick Declaration on Research Ethics (PDF) (promoting respect and equality for all in the regulation of research ethics).
  • Ethical Research Involving Children: A product of the ERIC (Ethical Research Involving Children) to help researchers consider the ethical complexities of research involving children. ERIC is a joint project between UNICEF’s Office of Research, Innocenti, the Childwatch International Research Network, the Centre for Children and Young People at Southern Cross University, Australia, and the Children’s Issues Centre at the University of Otago, New Zealand.
  • Subjects Wanted: helping researchers connect with potential participants.

The general procedure for all applications to the HEC (excepting that at the review stage, low-risk applications are seen by a maximum of two committee members):


  • Application forms are downloaded and filled in by the applicant.
  • Student applications are reviewed, edited and signed by supervisors.
  • Applications are submitted to the Ethics secretary. For the review process to start, the secretary must receive: one hard copy with all signatures completed (Ethics secretary, Level 5 South, Matariki) and one e-copy of that fully signed application (


  • Applications are circulated to HEC members for their review and comment.
  • HEC responses to applicants will be via email within three weeks (low risk two weeks) where the application has all required documentation and signatures.
  • HEC member responses are collated by the chair and the secretary and a response is sent to the applicant by email (it is very unusual that applications do not need some adjustments in response to HEC queries so applicants should expect some questions from the HEC).
  • Applicant reviews response from HEC and replies via email.
  • Committee reviews applicant’s response and either approves the applicant or asks further questions.


  • Final approval is by email and electronic approval letter from the secretary.

The committee meets several times a year to discuss general ethical issues and applications where necessary.
Please note that, in very special circumstances, expedited review is possible. Please contact the chair in the first instance.


Any research or teaching activity in which persons are subjected to experimental procedures or observation or questioning or otherwise used as a source of information or data unless excluded by the scope and exemptions in the Human Ethics Committee Principles and Guidelines.

Please refer to the policy linked from the top right of the page.

Nominated byCurrent member
One member nominated by the Vice-Chancellor Dean of Science or nominee: Dr Kelly Dombroski (Geography)
Three members nominated by the Dean of Humanities Social Sciences (previously Arts)
One each from the Department of Psychology, the School of Humanities and the School of Social & Political Sciences
Dr Tiina Vares (Sociology)
Professor Jane Maidment (Human Services & Social Work)
One Position Vacant
One member nominated by the Dean of Commerce Prof Adrian Sawyer (Accounting & Information Systems)
One member nominated by the Dean of Education Position Vacant
One member nominated by the Dean of Engineering Kim Rutter (Electrical & Computer Engineering)
One member nominated by the Dean of Law Dr Rhonda Powell (Law)
One member elected by the academic staff Position Vacant
Two laypeople appointed by the committee Ken Booth
Lauretta Muir
A representative of the Students' Association

Lance McBride

Two representatives of the Maori community One of whom is nominated by the iwi, and the other by the Maori Community within the University.
Iwi representative: Lindsey Macdonald (Political Science and Communication)
Maori Community within the University: Lindsey Macdonald (Political Science and Communication)
Two co-opted members Cindy Zeiher (Human Services and Social Work)


 The committee should elect its own chairperson and have the power to co-opt.

  • Public Records Act 2005
  • Care of Children Act 2004.
  • Injury Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Compensation Act 2001
  • Health and Disability Commissioner Act 1994
  • Health Research Council Act 1990
  • Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1992
  • New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990
  • Official Information Act 1982
  • Privacy Act 1993
  • Protection of Personal and Property Rights Act 1988
  • Human Rights Act 1993
  • Archives Act 1957

For details of each Act see New Zealand Legislation.


Social Media and Research – Blogs and Forums

[With thanks to Keely Blanch, PhD Candidate from the University of Otago for these suggestions].

One of the key principles of ethical research is that information is used for the purposes for which it is given. Most social media sites are developed to provide a forum for a particular issue, without a research audience in mind.

The following is intended as a guide only to help you consider some of the ethical issues involving researching Blogs, Forums and other Social Media. If you are unsure about anything mentioned here, please contact the HEC Chair or Secretary at to discuss your research.

If blogs are public, posts can be seen to be public statements and consent to quote/research them may not be necessary. However, there are still many ethical and practical considerations to bear in mind. Some of these are outlined below.

  • Does the blog have any statement anywhere that aims to protect posts or restrict use of content? Even if not legally enforceable, this would raise ethical issues. You may need to check the blog host's Terms and Conditions, e.g. Google Blogger or Wordpress for any restrictions of use.
  • Does the blog aim to be widely read by a public audience - does it advertise or cross-post to increase traffic etc.? Is this a niche topic - What is the writer's expectation of privacy? Do you need to consider this? Does the researcher have to join/ login to site to access? Even when posting ‘publically’, research shows many writers aim their posts at a select few of their friend group and do not consider the invisible audience. Often people write for 'people like me' and won't have had the general public or researchers in mind.
  • What identifiers need to be masked – name, profile pictures, photos used (all searchable)?
  • When researching forums - how will you anonymise the data? How much data will you share? Online personas and networks are “like fingerprints” and can be identified. The more individualised data shared, the more potential for identification. Data can be linked and tracked back. Direct quotes are traceable – you can consider rewording but will this keep the original intent of the post? Perhaps multiple pseudonyms per individual could be used to mask identities? Can you truly promise anonymity? Is the forum dedicated to addressing a sensitive issue? If so, you ask permission from the forum participants to use their data.
  • Is the research likely to increase the visibility of posts and increase risk for participants? Participants may have posted publically originally, but may have only conceived a particular audience and not considered the risk of a wider exposure.
  • Is there any discussion/pictures/details of people from the writer's life (e.g. family, especially children) that may be impacted? The use of pictures by people who have not consented to be part of a research project is highly risky and should be avoided if at all possible. If a writer does not consider ethics, should researchers compound this?
  • Check if anyone can post or is the site for approved authors only? In which case what Terms and Conditions do they operate under as authors?

Essentially, it is important that researchers understand some of the 'unspoken' rules and norms of sites to ethically research and use data, or have someone who does (like the blog owner) to 'interpret'. The researcher could find it useful to contact the blog owner and ask for permission to use posts in their research. If authors have to be approved by the blog owner then they will possibly have communicated guidelines for posting. Forums are different, and will depend on how the site is set up, but again, ideally permission is sought for the data to be used for research. This could be done by posting a statement on the forum board giving an email address (remember to space it out and use 'dot' for ' . ' so the spambots don't pick up the address!) to opt out of having posts considered; and this also gives people a chance to look at their posts with a researcher/non-community member in mind.


For all enquiries concerning:

  • Principles and guidelines
  • Scope of HEC process
  • Exemption from application
  • Filling out application forms (including low risk and full applications)
  • HEC training programme
  • Complaints
  • Presentations to students and/or staff regarding the ethical process

Contact the chair, Professor Jane Maidment, ext 94518

For all enquiries concerning:

  • General enquiries
  • Circulation of applications
  • Progress of applications
  • Letters of approval

Contact the secretary, Rebecca Robinson, +64 3 369 4588 ext: 94588. Hours: Monday 2.30pm-5pm, Tuesday 8.30am-11am, Wednesday 8.30am-5pm, Thursday 2.30pm-5pm, Friday 8.30am-5pm.