Ethical and Safety Aspects of Student Class Experiments and Practical Exercises Utilised Within the Teaching Program of The University of Newcastle Policy

Document Number000110
Date Approved17 August 1999

In the past concerns have been raised about the involvement of students and others (patients, volunteers, etc) as subjects in class or individual educational experiences which, due to direct class activity, might place them in physical or psychological hazard beyond the normal risks of everyday or professional life. Specific examples include:

  • a student class in which ingesting a therapeutic substance is part of a practical experiment;
  • demonstration interviews with patients in front of a class;
  • the viewing of a post-mortem examination on the part of a class or a section of a class - again as part of an educational experience; and
  • experiments involving animals where the student is a conscientious objector.

It is clear that within the educational activities of the University of Newcastle there are specific learning occasions where potential hazards can be clearly identified. As a result it was deemed necessary in February 1997 to establish guiding principles relating to student involvement in this sort of activity. It is now proposed to extend the principles to include other participants, eg patients, volunteers, etc.

General guidelines only are provided by the document Universities and Their Students: Expectations and Responsibilities: Generic Guidelines (1999) (document AcS 99:80) from the Australian Vice- Chancellor’s Committee and the later paper from the Academic Senate of the University of Newcastle (document AcS 99:101) The University and its Students: Responsibilities and Expectations. With these documents as background, guiding principles have been devised to govern some of the ethical and safety aspects of student class experiments and practical exercises within this University Principles governing the ethical and safe conduct of class experiments and practical exercises within the University of Newcastle.

  • Any activity which is perceived to carry potential hazard should be scrutinised to ensure that it is a good and necessary educational strategy and to ensure that it be conducted in a way which minimises hazard. All academic members of staff should be able to justify on sound educational grounds the use of teaching activities which might present hazard to students, to staff or to others such as patients, clients or volunteers engaged in role plays or demonstrations.
  • Academic staff have a duty of total disclosure of any potential hazard to students and others involved. While this may be done as part of the introduction to a whole course or semester, a timely written information sheet outlining the nature of the activity and potential hazards should be given to students or others prior to the class activity.
  • At no time should students or others be coerced to participate in educational activities which fall outside the normal educational regime. No sanctions should apply to students who feel unable to participate in such activities.
  • Students or others agreeing to participate in what are recognised as potentially hazardous experiences must give informed written consent.
  • Some activities will require the provision of opportunities for “de-briefing”. This would apply particularly to activities which have the potential to cause psychological trauma yet which are deemed to be a necessary part of an educational experience.
Approval AuthorityAcademic Senate
Date Approved17 August 1999
Policy SponsorDeputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic)
Policy OwnerDirector, Centre for Teaching and Learning
Policy ContactDirector, Centre for Teaching and Learning
Amendment History

Minor amendment - Change of Policy Sponsor to Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) to reflect structural changes from 1 January 2013, The Secretariat, 9 May 2013.