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Concerns about the testing of ethics in education partly resolved

The student groups Groep-één|ESR and DAS are less worried about the consequences of 'ethical testing' in TU/e's education than they used to be. Their greatest concern was that students' work be delayed as they sought Ethical Review Board approval time and again before being allowed to use data taken from test subjects involved in research or projects. TU/e is busy making policy in this area. At this week's University Council meeting questions on this subject were still being asked - touching upon, among other things, the likely workload involved.

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When the Ethical Review Board, recently established at TU/e, communicated that the ethics of research studies must be tested, this raised questions among students. As of next year, the ethics of proposals for TU/e research involving test subjects or recognizable data taken from individuals must be tested. Previously this requirement applied only to medical research.

At Industrial Design, where they work with short cycles and projects, students were especially worried. Acting also on behalf of the other student faction, student faction DAS felt prompted by concerns at ID to ask questions at October's University Council. The short answer was this: the procedures have now been written to suit research and the committee is currently examining whether they can be applied to education. It is already clear, however, that lecturers will be the first point of contact for this testing of ethics within education, not the individual student. 

Representatives of the Ethical Review Board had already attended a separate informal meeting with University Council members and in response to the October questions another separate meeting was planned with three students: Charlot Felderhof (DAS member and Industrial Design student), Laura van der Woerd (Sustainable Innovation, Groep-één|ESR) and Arthur Nijdam (Biomedical Engineering, Groep-één|ESR). Work involving test subjects is carried out mostly at their departments.

Learning more about ethical conduct

According to Felderhof, at that meeting the previously held concerns were largely resolved. “We now know that the earlier information doesn't apply directly to education. But we do feel that the situation should be clarified for students and we have made this known. It would be good if students were to learn more about ethical conduct early on in their studies. Now, for example, we are seeing students sharing data taken from test subjects on Google Drive. We realize that they do not know the right way to handle this data.”

The students drew attention to the limited amount of education offered in the field of practical ethics and expressed their concerns about the feasibility of applying the present procedures to the testing of ethics in education. They then also helped considered alternative procedures that would be appropriate in education. During this week's University Council meeting, questions were asked about the possibility of subjecting lecturers to peak workloads.

Work pressure

According to Jolanda Habraken, secretary of the Ethical Review Board, change is indeed on the way for students and lecturers, but it is not the Board's intention to increase work pressure. “We do not want to impose an administrative burden. We are currently thinking of working with ‘umbrella submissions’ wherever possible. By this we mean that a lecturer can submit an application for multiple student projects at one time. It is equally important that we tap into the lecturers' intrinsic motivation and create a sense of responsibility, which they in turn convey to their students.”  
In close cooperation with the departments, the Ethical Review Board will draw up and implement policy in this area. The extent to which and how the ethical committee will monitor whether the policy is being followed is not yet known. “We won't play the policeman,” says Habraken, “but the Executive Board has said that the advice is binding. We are looking at ways of using spot checks in future.”

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