Ethical approval of research projects - the Research Ethics Committee

Research projects are increasingly subject to requirements for ethical approval by the university. This requirement stems mainly from the EU’s framework programmes and international journals, and relates specifically to projects that collect empirical data and are not covered by the Committees Act on regional scientific ethical committees, which only applies to research projects in the field of health sciences.

Aarhus University (AU) projects are approved by the Research Ethics Committee. The Committee’s responsibility is to ensure a consistent and responsible framework for project approval and make it easier for AU researchers to obtain grants and publish.

The Committee acts as an Institutional Review Board (IRB) in cases where researchers are required to demonstrate that the university has approved the ethical aspects of your research.

How do I apply for approval?

  • You must complete and submit a form with appendices. The Committee will then assess your application with a view to granting research ethical approval.
  • You must attach a project protocol using the template (max 5 pages).
  • Please apply early to ensure that you have obtained approval before starting your research project.
  • Your data collection must begin only when the Committee has approved your application.
  • It is recommended that the final design of a study, including local requirements for the use of equipment, laboratory facilities, etc. be clarified before the application to the Committee.
  • Participant information, any questionnaires and a declaration of consent must be drawn up in a language in which the participants have in-depth knowledge, usually their native language or English.
  • Participant information must be clear and easily understandable.
  • It is sufficient to attach a Danish-language version of this information for the Committee.
  • Please note that data protection (GDPR) assessment is outside the Committee’s area and that research ethical requirements are a supplement to the requirements in the data protection rules (GDPR). 

What type of projects can be assessed?

  • The Committee exclusively assesses projects requiring ethical approval which fall outside of the existing research ethics committee system, and which are headed by researchers employed at AU.
  • The Committee only approves empirical projects that collect data from volunteer study participants, including observation studies and questionnaire-based studies that involve the collection of data from individuals.

The Committee distinguishes between a ‘research project’ and a ‘study’. Only empirical studies can be processed by the Committee. The object of assessment is the research design and the treatment of the people and environments involved in the studies. It is therefore only possible to apply for ethical approval of an empirical study and not for ethical approval of a research project. Obtaining ethical approval of an empirical study involves accounting for ethical considerations in the planned research procedures. For this reason, such considerations must be addressed. This means, for example, that it is not sufficient to simply note that a given study contains no ethical challenges. The rationale and explanation for the planned procedures must be described. In certain cases, the application may be returned to the applicant with a request for further explication of the ethical implications of parts of the study. The opportunity to apply for research ethical approval is new for most AU researchers. The Committee strives to clearly establish what this approval requires and entails, and it operates on the principle that the treatment of the people and environments affected by the research should be in focus.

Requirements for consent

Informed participation consent: The study subjects’ participation in research projects must take place on the background of informed consent. The informed consent should include the following information:

  • The name of the primary investigator
  • The purpose of the research project
  • The research project’s funding sources
  • The process for recruiting study participants
  • The methodology/methodologies of the research project
  • Expected risks/inconveniences
  • Who will benefit from the results of the research project
  • How the project results will be communicated (including participant feedback)
  • How personal data will be protected
  • Opportunities for leaving the study
  • Opportunities to view and, if applicable, comment on transcriptions of interviews and quotes, if relevant
  • Debriefing opportunities, if relevant

Informed participation consent
In principle, clear, active and informed consent must always be obtained from those participating in a scientific study (see more below in ‘Deception and debriefing’). In electronic questionnaires, informed consent can be given by selecting a given field or similar. If informed consent has not been obtained, this lack of consent must be justified in a satisfactory manner.

Please note that the requirement for informed consent is based on research ethical reasons that supplement, but are not identical to, the requirements for participant information and informed consent according to GDPR rules.

Informed consent regarding children and adolescents
If the participants are children/adolescents younger than 18 years old, informed consent must be provided from both the participants and their parents. Participant information must be targeted towards the relevant age groups. For younger children, verbal consent may be obtained and described in the protocol or a separate document, and, for very young children, informed consent from the parents is sufficient.

Deception and debriefing
Participant information, informed consent and subsequent debriefing (when relevant) are fundamental research ethical requirements. For study designs that employ ‘deception’, a subsequent debriefing with the possibility to withdraw from the study is often an essential requirement.

Voluntariness
It is entirely voluntary for participants to participate in a study. This should be stated clearly in the participant information, for example: “Your participation in this questionnaire survey is entirely voluntary. It is your choice whether or not to participate. You can withdraw your consent and leave the study at any time.


Methods for the anonymisation of data and publication of results must be outlined in the project description.

Important regarding data

External panels and recruitment bureaus
The person(s) listed as responsible for the study must guarantee the legal and research-ethical handling of data collected by the recruitment platform.

Methods for the anonymisation of data and publication of results must be outlined in the project description.

Collection of data in other countries
The Committee requires that approval for the study is also sought in other participating countries in which such approval is relevant or required. This is in order to ensure that the study and collection of personal data also meets the relevant national/local research ethical requirements and standards in these countries.

Information form, protocol and guidelines

Fill out the information form with all appendices (in PDF format). Find the form here.

If you have any questions regarding the form, please send an email to legal@au.dk.

Please fill out this protocol template. The protocol is compulsory and must be max. 5 pages.

What appendices do I need to submit?

Submit the appendices relevant to your study. In addition to the protocol (max. five pages in a compulsory template), the following material is usually required:

  • Participant information
  • Declaration of consent
  • Recruitment material
  • Project manager’s CV (max. one page)

Participant information, possible questionnaires and the declaration of consent must be written in a language that the participants have an in-depth knowledge of, which is usually their native language. For Danish-language participants, it is only necessary to enclose the Danish-language version of the documents. There is no need to enclose published material, e.g. articles.

Description of purpose and risks: The purpose declaration must demonstrate that the benefit of the project is balanced against the human resources involved in the project and the risks/inconveniences that they may be exposed to in connection with recruitment, study and reporting. The declaration must also demonstrate that the social group represented by the study participants will benefit from the outcome of the project.

Equal processing

All participants in a study must be treated equally. If participants receive compensation, it should be the same for everyone.

Subsequent changes

The Committee’s approval is based on the specific documents in the application. If any significant changes are made subsequently, a new application must be sent to the Committee. The application for amendments of applications or individual documents must be sent to legal@au.dk.

The application for changes must include a short description of the change, and the changes in updated documents must be clearly indicated.