The Research and Postgraduate Support Directorate at the Durban University of Technology (DUT) hosted a Research Ethics Workshop for postgraduate students on Microsoft Teams, on Friday, 30 July 2021.
The programme director was Dr Ncumisa Mpongwana, Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Chemical Engineering Department at DUT. Dr Mpongwana gave a warm welcome to all the guests. She highlighted that the aim of the workshop was to assist participants to better understand principles of research ethics. Dr Mpongwana further introduced the guest speaker, Mr Siyanda Manqele, Ethics Coordinator at the Rhodes University, responsible for both research ethics committees (RECs) in Animal Use and Human subjects.
Manqele has 10 years of experience in research management and administration in the institution of Higher Education, having worked at the University of Zululand (UniZulu) on research ethics/integrity and the University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZN) dealing with research outputs/publications. He is a member of the Research Ethics Committee Association of Southern Africa (REASA), Southern Africa Research & Innovation Management Association (SARIMA), and The International Emergency Management Society (TIEMS). He is also a member of the Rhodes University both Human and Animal Ethics Committees. He has been involved in successful National Health Research Ethics Council (NHREC) audits, research ethics policy development and standard operating procedures (SoPs) on human participants/animal use over the years.
His presentation was based on the following topics: Why Research Ethics Is Important? Laws Governing Research Ethics in South Africa (NHREC), Research Ethics process and What the Post Graduate Students Need to Look Out for, What Research Ethics Committees (RECs) Look for When Reviewing Applications and Ways to Improve Research Ethics Management at Institutions of Higher Education.
Giving a brief history of research ethics, Manqele said the intensive development of research ethics requirements can be traced back to the Twentieth Century – a period, which witnessed a sudden surge in the amount of human research being conducted globally.
“Without an understanding of the historical context, it is very difficult for one to understand the sense and need for research ethics, more so its development over the past decades to become one of the formal requirements for research,” said Manqele.
Discussing the laws governing research ethics in South Africa, Manqele said there is a National Health Research Ethics Council (NHREC) which is a statutory body established under the National Health Act No 61 of 2003. He said the Act mandates the Minister of Health to establish the Council and it sets out NHREC’s functions, which in short involves giving direction on ethical issues relating to health and to develop guidelines for the conduct of research involving humans and animals.
“The National Health Research Ethics Council (NHREC) is tasked to oversee all 26 University Research Ethics Committees and other organisations conducting research. They must all be audited and registered with council in order to be able to review applications and give approval. The NHREC uses the 2015 Guidelines for auditing. Based on the latest stats from the NHREC website there are 46 Human RECs and 18 Animal RECs registered with the council which makes a total of 64 RECs in South Africa. The number is still growing as more universities are coming on board,” explained Manqele.
He further unpacked the research ethics processes, stating what researchers should do to get their applications accepted. He advised that they should familiarise themselves with basic research ethics knowledge, have strong relationship with their supervisors, must have knowledge of the university policies and standard operating procedures, they should get more involved in their research and attend research ethics training or seminars.
According to Manqele some of the things that the Research Ethics Committee looks into, consists of the study design (alignment of research topic, research questions, aim, objectives, methodology and research instruments), risk and benefits, equitable/ unbiased selection of research participants, identification of research participants and ensuring confidentiality, all research Instruments (Interview schedule, questionnaire, informed consent process and etc), qualifications of the researcher and a clear description of what, who, where and why.
In conclusion, Manqele said for institutions of higher education to improve research ethics management at their institutions, they should provide training for all researchers in ethics and research integrity and mechanisms to ensure that they are aware of the relevant codes and policies.
The workshop ended with a fruitful discussion during the question-and-answer session. Dr Mpongwana thanked Manqele for his thought-provoking presentation and all the guests for their contribution in making the workshop a huge success.
Pictured: Mr Siyanda Manqele