The Business School is in the top quartile of UK universities for research.


The Ulster University Business School provides opportunities for PhD study on a full-time and part-time basis in a range of topic areas linked to the Faculty’s research strategy. Studying for a PhD offers students the opportunity to research in depth a range of business and management topics at an advanced level. Completion of a PhD typically takes three years on a full-time basis and six years on a part-time basis. The Business School offers a number of Department of Employment and Learning and VCRS grants to students wishing to carry out research on a full-time basis. Over 50 full time and part time research students are currently registered for PhD programmes in the Business School.

Before submitting an application, prospective applicants are asked to note the research areas available for PhD study highlighted here and to make contact with the named staff who may be able to provide supervision in their area of expertise. All applications must include a detailed research proposal.

The University welcomes applicants interested in researching accounting and finance, SME marketing, digital marketing, food marketing, entrepreneurship, SME internationalisation, tourism, retailing, supply chain management, innovation, human resource management, and operations.

About this course

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In the 2014 UK Research Excellence Framework (REF), Ulster University Business School had 98% of its research recognised as international in terms of originality, significance and rigour. This placed the Business School in the top quartile of UK universities for research. The Business School gained +3 recognition from the Economic and Social Research Council in 2007. The ESRC is the UK's leading research funding and training agency in the area of the social sciences. It is concerned with ensuring high quality research output on issues of importance to business, the public sector and government. ESRC recognition means that the agency recognises not only the high quality of the PhD programmes offered by the Business School but also that the support and training offered to research students by the Faculty and the University is highly effective.

Another indicator of the satisfaction of our current PhD students is reflected in the latest results from the 2017 Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES) where our students highlighted very high satisfaction levels. The average mean of 4.28 is the highest recorded for the University and is in line with the previous PRES results in 2015. This indicates a consistent level of achievement and student satisfaction. This recognition shows that our facilities, procedures and practices for research students are up to the high standards that they expect.


As a full time student, the expectation is that you will work on your project on a daily basis, either on or off campus as agreed with your supervisor. You will be entitled to 40 days holiday per annum.

Part time students are expected to meet with their supervisors on a regular basis, most usually this would be monthly but this is dependent on the project area.

How to apply

Entry conditions

We recognise a range of qualifications for admission to our courses. In addition to the specific entry conditions for this course you must also meet the University’s General Entrance Requirements.

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Entry Requirements

You will need to hold a First of Upper Second Class Honours degree (or equivalent) in an area relevant to your chosen project to be able to apply.

If you have obtained an undergraduate degree from a non-UK institution, we can advise you on how it compares to the UK system.

English Language Requirements

English language requirements for international applicants

The minimum requirement for research degree programmes is Academic IELTS 6.0 with no band score less than 5.5. This is the only acceptable certificate for those requiring to obtain a Tier 4 visa.

Ulster recognises a number of other English language tests and comparable IELTS equivalent scores.

Careers & opportunities

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Career options

Although academia is considered to be the most obvious path for any PhD holder, with around two thirds of our graduates remaining in the Higher Education or Research sectors, the degree also paves way for a career in industries centred on research and innovation.

PhD graduates are recognised by employers to hold valuable transferrable skills, as the nature of the degree trains candidates in creativity, critical inquiry, problem solving, negotiation skills, professionalism and confidence.

The most recent Ulster survey of PhD graduates found that 92% had secured employment within the first year since graduation (HESA Destination of Leavers Survey 2015).


How to apply

Ulster University welcomes applications from all sections of the community and from persons with disabilities. It is University policy to assess all applications using academic criteria and on the basis of equality of opportunity and you should be assured that reasonable adjustments will be made should you require them.

Once you have selected your chosen project from the lists available on the Faculty pages, you are advised to make contact with the named supervisor on the project as they will be able to guide you in writing your research proposal.

You should then apply using our online application system: ulster.ac.uk/applyonline

Fees and funding

A number of funded scholarships are available across the University each year for PhD projects. Applications for studentships will be considered on a competitive basis with regard to the candidate's qualifications, skills, experience and interests.

Sources of funding

Fees (per annum)

Full Time:

Home and EU £4260

Overseas £14210

Part Time:

Home and EU £1540

Home and EU (with External Sponsor paying fees) £2200

Overseas £8100

Distance Research Study (Home and EU) £6600

Research facilities and groups

Full-time funded students (Department for the Economy and VCRS grants) have access to training funds to support the development of the PhD. All full-time PhD students are provided with a desk in a shared space and computing and printing equipment.

PhD supervision is available within the research groups listed below.

Accounting and Finance

Within accounting and finance the group focuses on efficiency and performance measurement and the analysis of structural change in the financial sector. Current areas of research include: public sector accounting; charity accounting; performance measurement in NFPOs; banks and credit unions.


Research interests fall into two main areas:
(i) SMEs with particular emphasis on the marketing/entrepreneurship interface; and
(ii) the ‘front’ end of the marketing channel, the point of contact between retailer and consumer. Current areas of research include small firms’ marketing theory and practice; SME internationalization; marketing communications; services marketing; SME marketing; qualitative research methodology; factors influencing the performance of SMEs; innovation; knowledge management; strategic marketing; decision- making in entrepreneurial firms; networking as a marketing competency; the role of the Internet in entrepreneurial firms’ marketing; strategy and international business; financial services marketing; internet marketing; direct marketing; public sector marketing; bank marketing; customer marketing; internet banking; motivation for foreign direct investment; customer value and competitive value.


This group has consolidated its work in the development and application of quantitative and systems based ideas and models. A major interest for members of the group has developed around the implications for a range of organisations of the total quality management philosophy. This is reflected in research work that is focused on supply management and business process improvement. Current areas of research include: electronic commerce and the role of intermediaries, the outsourcing decision-making process, supplier development strategies, early supplier involvement in the design process, supply chain dynamics, public sector procurement and knowledge/innovation management assessment tools.

The research of this group also covers a wide spectrum of issues impinging on the management of human resources within the private and public sectors. The areas researched include NI trade unionism and labour history, labour economics, gender and equality issues, employee relations and employee involvement and participation.

Staff research areas

Accounting and Finance

Professor Joan Ballantine:

Capital Investment Appraisal in private sector/SMEs; Performance measurement and management in the public sector; The simultaneous implementation of performance improvement initiatives and their impact on organisational change; Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Systems and the role of the management accountant; Strategic Enterprise Management Systems and performance measurement and management. Gender diversity in the public sector; Pedagogical issues in accounting education; Apprenticeships: applications and relevance in Northern Ireland.

Professor Ann Marie Ward:

Earnings management/earnings manipulation in credit unions; Intrinsic/extrinsic motivation of volunteers within credit unions; Disclosures within credit union financial statements; Corporate governance within credit unions; Revaluations within UK plcs; Derivative accounting within UK plcs; Lease accounting within UK plcs.


Dr Peter Bolan:

Golf Tourism (marketing & leveraging economic impact); Digital Tourism (harnessing social media, mobile apps, wifi connectivity, big data for destinations and events): Film/Screen Tourism (levering fanbases, improving tourism impact); Food Tourism (touristic quest for authenticity).

Professor Stephen Boyd:

Tourism development; Event-based tourism; Sustainable tourism planning and management; Food tourism; Rural tourism, trails and routes.

Dr Laura Bradley:

Corporate and consumer use of social media; Marketing within the Social Economy; Mobile Banking; Innovation and marketing within the retail financial services sector; Pedagogical research investigating student engagement and employability.

Professor Stephen Brown:

The art of branding.

Dr Amy Burns:

Sensory evaluation; Innovative food development; Food and consumer issues (health, economics issues and contemporary trends); Developments in the food industry.

Dr Adrian Devine:

Event planning/management; Event tourism; Sports tourism; Social media and events; Tourism planning and development.

Professor Mark Durkin:

Marketing/technology interface; use of social media in customer relationship management; use of technology-enabled delivery in retail banking; marketing education; exploring an alternate pedagogy for marketing education in the digital environment; SME-Bank relationships; enhancing relational effectiveness between SMEs and Banks.

Dr Sinéad Furey:

Food and consumer policy and legislation; food poverty; food security; social exclusion; food retail promotions; food waste and sustainability.

Dr Damian Gallagher:

The role of social relationships in relationship marketing; The marketing of SMEs; Entrepreneurship/marketing in small sports clubs.

Dr Alison Hampton:

Entrepreneurship (gender, minority, ethnic and family business); SME Business Growth and Development/Strategy; Networks and Networking in Entrepreneurial Firms; Entrepreneurial Learning (within the entrepreneurial contexts noted above).

Dr Lynsey Hollywood:

Food marketing; Digital marketing; Food choice/consumer behaviour; agri-food tourism; Agri-food supply chain and food security.

Dr Karise Hutchinson:

Retail Internationalisation; International branding issues for retailers; SME/small business management; Retail branding; Retail supplier relationships and rural retailing.

Dr Pat Ibbotson:

E-Supply chain management; E-CRM in SMEs; online consumer behaviour; digital marketing and social networks; mobile and location based e-business; the role of ICTs in SME internationalisation; MIS development in SMEs; mobile and apps development in small firms.

Dr Sharon Loane:

SME internationalisation; International entrepreneurship; Issues in entrepreneurship (cross-national studies); The internationalization of SMEs in the creative industries; The role of founding entrepreneur(s) in the internationalization of SMEs; The effect of team entry and exits in the international SME.

Dr Aodheen McCartan:

The creative process in advertising; advertising media in a digital age; effective advertising in a not-for-profit context; advertising agencies and their clients; the impact of digital mediation on marketing communications; exploring the interface between in-house and agency roles in digital marketing; the impact of digital technologies on small firm marketing.

Professor Pauric McGowan:

Entrepreneurship and business development within a small to medium sized enterprise context, whether it be social or commercial, considering issues with respect to minority entrepreneurship, issues on gender, technology entrepreneurship, entrepreneurial marketing, entrepreneurial renaissance and education and practitioner learning.

Dr Kristel Miller:

University-industry collaboration, open innovation, business model innovation, knowledge transfer and management systems in organisations, university technology commercialisation, developing innovation ecosystems, entrepreneurship (gender, academics, SMEs, social enterprises), developing SME innovation capabilities (family and non-family).

Dr Richard Mitchell:

SME branding; Retail branding; Entrepreneurial branding; SME marketing, particularly in small sports clubs.

Dr Sharon Ponsonby-McCabe:

Cultural brands and branding (e.g. what underpins the perpetual popularity of cult/iconic/heritage/ historic/retro branded entities); Marketplace cultures (e.g. the nature and practices of various kinds of consumer culture groupings including tribes/communities/subcultures of consumption).

Professor Barry Quinn:

SME internationalisation, including the impact of institutional and cultural contexts for entry into emerging markets, and building relationships and networks in export markets with key stakeholders. Agri-food innovation and marketing, including trust formation in agri-food networks, the meaning of regional food or place/country of origin brands at the firm level, and new business models for agri-food SMEs.

Professor Elaine Ramsey:

Impact of culture on online shopping behaviour; Entrepreneurship and innovation; E-CRM in SMEs; Online gambling and consumer behaviour; Public sector innovation; Business sustainability and change management; Digital marketing management.


Dr Michael Brennan:

Strategic development in technology intensive organisations and healthcare; Business model innovation in new technology-based firms; Corporate entrepreneurship and academic entrepreneurship; Trans-discipline Research Methodologies.

Dr Trevor Cadden:

Outsourcing and Supply Chain Management.

Professor Paul Humphreys:

Outsourcing and Supply Chain Management.

Professor Rodney McAdam:

Performance measurement and business process improvement; the role of Lean and/or Six Sigma in private, public or SME organisations; The impact of knowledge management, transfer and exchange on innovation; Total Quality Management in private, public and small organisations; Innovation management processes in organisations; Management and innovation in technology transfer and university science park incubators.

Dr Martin McCracken:

Exploring strategic human resource development; the evolving role of HR professionals; understanding organisational change; Human Capital measurement in Organisations; Precarious Work.

Professor Ronan McIvor:

Outsourcing and Supply Chain Management.

Dr Judith McKnight:

Innovation; Networks and Networking in SMEs; Social Network Analysis; Horizontal Collaboration.

Dr Sandra Moffett:

Knowledge and Innovation Management; Business Process Improvement; Rich Internet Applications: The systematic development of Management Information Systems; Performance Measurement and Metrics; Business Intelligence.


Dr Martin McCracken

Research Director, Ulster University Business School

Tel: +44 (0)2890368346

Email: m.mccracken@ulster.ac.uk

For more information visit

Ulster University Business School


“Completing a PhD in the Ulster University Business School has been a fantastic experience - the opportunities and support offered are particularly excellent. I would highly recommend it to anyone contemplating a PhD in business.”

Matthew Kearney (part-time, final year)

“I can honestly say that doing a PhD at Ulster University has been a thoroughly rewarding and enjoyable learning experience. I’ve learned so much about myself whilst developing my skills as a researcher and it’s opened up so many other additional opportunities and new networks. As a practitioner for many years it’s refreshing to have an opportunity to get involved in a piece of work which offers the potential to make a contribution to both theory and practice. It’s a lot of hard work but so worth the rewards. I’d recommend it to anyone prepared to commit to it.”

Bernadette Best (full-time, final year)

“After completing my undergraduate degree and a master’s degree it was a clear choice to continue my academic journey with Ulster University.

The University and the doctorate programme enable me to develop my knowledge theoretically and practically along with the opportunity to excel in my research field. The PhD process has taught me vital skills and confidence to pursue an academic career in the future. Personally I would describe the PhD experience with Ulster as challenging, enriching and rewarding, with a high level of support and guidance from my supervisors, faculty staff and other PhD students”.

Stella So (full-time, final year)