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Research Ethics Review Committee - FGW

In the Netherlands, the ethical review of medical scientific research with human participants has formally been laid down in law.

Much of the research conducted within the humanities, however, does not fall under the definition used for medical scientific research and is therefore not subject to assessment by the medical ethics committees supervised by the Central Committee on Research Involving Human Subjects (CCMO). Nonetheless, certain forms of research in humanities are increasingly expected to undergo a formal ethics assessment as well. 

Since May 2018 the legal formalization of protecting personal data in scientific research has also been tightened (General Data Protection Regulation). Following the example of other universities, the Faculty of Humanities at VU Amsterdam set up an Research Ethics Review Committee (EtCO) some years ago. This Committee offers solicited advice as to whether research within the faculty meets the faculty’s ethical guidelines. All researchers within the faculty are expected to apply these ethical guidelines as described in the Research Ethics Review Protocol

If there are any concerns on ethical matters in ongoing or future research or at the request of an external party, the Research Ethics Review Committee may assess the study or planned study against the Research Ethics Review Protocol. Research conducted within the faculty that falls under medical scientific research will still always have to be approved by the Medical Ethics Review Committee (MERC) of VU Amsterdam.

Primary objective of the Research Ethics Review Committee (EtCO)

The primary objective of the Research Ethics Review Committee (EtCO) of the Faculty of Humanities at VU Amsterdam is to conduct an ethical review of research at the faculty that involves people, before that research is started. This concerns both research conducted within the faculty buildings itself and research conducted on behalf of the faculty (for example at a school, company or institution). Research by visiting researchers must first be reviewed by their own institution before it may be submitted to the EtCO of the Faculty of Humanities at VU Amsterdam.

Composition of the Research Ethics Review Committee 

The EtCO consists of a chairperson, a secretary and a number of members who have such a range of expertise as to cover the different types of research conducted within the research institutes working in the Faculty of Humanities, i.e. the Network Institute and CLUE+ , as well as an expert in the field of Ethics (from the Department of Philosophy). The Faculty Office of the Faculty of Humanities provides the Committee’s secretary. 

Committee members

  • Prof. Martine Coene (Chairperson EtCO; Department of Language, Literature and Communication)
  • Prof. Jan Paul Crielaard (Department of Art and Culture, History, Antiquity)
  • Prof. Reinier Munk (Department of Philosophy)
  • Dr. Sam Heijnen (EtCO secretary)
  • Dr. Liesbeth Geudeke (Research Privacy Officer, Faculty of Humanities)

Assessment procedure

All applications must be submitted at least one month before the start of the research study or subproject

The EtCO strives to streamline the assessment procedure as much as possible. Research that falls partly or wholly outside the usual frameworks and procedures is discussed by the EtCO. The registration form must be filled in and the project proposal, information document and consent form belonging to the research must also be submitted. This is supplemented with details about where the research differs from standard research and all further information the EtCO needs to formulate its decision on approval. In highly exceptional cases, one or more of the EtCO members may fast-track the application while consulting with the other members in writing.

In all other cases, if the research study hardly differs from previously conducted research - in other words, standard research studies as have been conducted within the Faculty of Humanities for many years now - it is only assessed in broad outlines. Examples are studies where the stimuli material, type of questionnaire or type of experiment are not fundamentally different from previous research studies approved by the EtCO.

For that reason, the EtCO uses descriptions of standard studies, which are supplied by the individual sections and/or Principal Investigators groups. Project leaders who indicate on their application that their research falls within the description of this kind of standard research study subsequently follow an abridged application procedure. The descriptions of standard research studies are regularly updated, for example in the context of evaluation and self-evaluation or quality inspections or when this is required in the view of the chair-holders or Principal Investigators.

In the case of a standard research study, it is sufficient if the project leader submits the research with the EtCO by filling out the registration form (see below) and submitting the project proposal, the information document and the consent form pertaining to the research study. The EtCO checks the information and if applicable give an advise (positive/ negative). At the subsequent EtCO meeting, the list of positive/negative advised projects is then dealt with as an agenda item by way of notification.


Useful links:

Contact information:

Secretary of the Research Ethics Review Committee: Dr. Sam Heijnen