Conducting large multi-site research within universities highlights inconsistencies between universities in approaches, requirements and responses of research ethics committees. Within the context of a social science research study, we attempted to obtain ethical approval from 101 universities across England to recruit students for a short online survey. We received varied responses from research ethics committees of different universities with the steps to obtaining ethics approval ranging from those that only required proof of approval from our home institution, to universities that facilitated fast-track applications to those that required a full ethics review. Some universities also completely refused. After contacting all 101 universities in England, 60 universities gave clearance to our study. In this article, we present the different approaches universities adopted in response to our application to sample from students in their institution. We consider a number of conceptual and ethical issues pertinent to considering ethics approval for researchers from other universities in England and critically discuss three possible models of ethics governance that would cover all universities in England.