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Postgraduate Research Ethics

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  • Objectives
    The MA in Research Ethics aims to help equip students with knowledge and skills that will enable them to: • Understand the nature of ethical argument and its relevance to the practice of the research • Engage in an informed and reasoned way in the current debates relating to research ethics • Deal appropriately with the ethical problems that they may face in their day-to-day professional work • Pursue further study in applied or professional ethics If you successfully complete the MA and wish to continue your studies in this area, you may wish to proceed to a Professional Doctorate in Medical Ethics (DMedEth), which combines taught modules with the production of a doctorate level thesis. Supervision is also available on a full-time basis on an MRes, MPhil or PhD.
  • Entry requirements
    Applicants should have either a degree in a relevant subject or appropriate professional qualifications and/or experience. Applications are welcome from people with a professional or other serious interest in research ethics, such as research ethics committee members, research governance administrators, researchers and research participants.
  • Academic Title
    Postgraduate Certificate/Postgraduate Diploma/MA Research Ethics
  • Course description
    Part-Time study


    This web-based course provides an opportunity to explore the ethical issues arising from a variety of different research methodologies and types of research – including clinical trials, student research, qualitative research and research in higher education institutions. The course is designed with the needs of members of Research Ethics Committees in mind, although all are welcome to make an application. Students attend an induction day at Keele and then use a virtual learning environment to interact with each other and with their tutors, and to access course materials, exercises, discussions and assessments.

    The academic staff at Keele have many years’ experience of teaching on postgraduate ethics courses. We are therefore well aware of the special problems and challenges which sometimes face those combining study with full-time work, and do our utmost to offer a supportive and stimulating environment for learning. Each student is assigned a personal supervisor from the teaching team who they can contact for help or advice at any time during the course. A recent report from the Quality Assurance Agency awarded the Centre for Professional Ethics the highest possible mark of 2 for its teaching programmes.

    Course Structure and Content

    To be awarded a Postgraduate Certificate students must obtain 60 credits by completing either module one or module two, and one other module. To obtain the Postgraduate Diploma students must obtain 120 credits by completing all four taught modules. If you successfully complete the four taught modules you may progress to the MA year, which involves researching and writing a dissertation of 15,000-20,000 words on an approved topic, worth 60 credits.

    Course Modules

    Module One: Introduction to Ethical Theory and Research Ethics

    This module provides the groundwork for the rest of the course. It will introduce key ethical theories such as consequentialism, deontology, virtue theory, and relativism. It will also introduce key concepts and background issues that are directly related to the context of research ethics. Such issues are likely to include the nature of research, codes of research ethics, scandals and the role and legitimacy of research ethics committees.

    Module Two: Autonomy, Consent and Research

    This module introduces and explores the central concepts of autonomy, consent and confidentiality and examines them in the context of research. This module has a clear theory and application split consistent with the aims of deepening the theoretical understanding of these key concepts but in the context of research and the concrete issues it raises.

    Module Three: Ethics in Research Trials

    The focus of this module will be the ethical issues that arise in the context of clinical trials. Attention will be given to the working of this kind of research and to the speciific ethical issues that arise within it. The key concepts discussed in the module are not limited to clinical trials however. Equipoise, harm, risk and justice are important theoretical issues whose relevance is broader than the clinical trial context.

    Module Four: Ethics and Different Research Methodologies

    There are many other forms of research besides clinical trials. The module will examine the particular ethical issues that arise in a range of different research methodologies and research contexts. It will include, but not necessarily be limited to, consideration of the ethical scrutiny of research in higher education institutions, public health research, qualitative methodologies and research conducted by students.

    MA Year

    The dissertation will be on a topic chosen by the students, but related to the overall course aims and must be approved by the student’s supervisor.


    As the course is completed via distance learning, students will be assessed partially by online participation and comprehension tasks with the remainder of the marks coming from essays of between 2,000 and 4,000 words. The ration of online work to essays will differ for each of the four modules. In addition the dissertation will be 15,000-20,000 words.

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