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Education has an established tradition of innovative development and research and offers supervision within a diverse range of research areas.


The research strategy of the School of Education focusses on Education in Society.


To undertake quality research in education that contributes to, and has an impact on, scholarly knowledge, professional practice, and society, at local, national, and international levels.


To facilitate social change and improve educational practice in a range of contexts and settings.

The PhD programme is an important part of the overall research environment within the School and we welcome applications to the PhD programme from interested individuals. Successful applicants will be joining a rich and vibrant unit that places a great emphasis on collaborative work and the sharing and development of ideas through regular research seminars, conferences and other events. They will particularly benefit from being able to learn from and share ideas with a range of other research students and academics working in related areas. In the application, applicants will be expected to illustrate clearly how they intend to interpret their chosen topic in terms of a clear set of aims and objectives and an appropriate research methodology.

Our research agenda is based around the following three core themes:

  • Education and Conflict
  • Children, Young People and Adults: Educating for Inclusion
  • Teacher Education and Pedagogical Practice

About this course

In this section


Potential applicants are strongly encouraged to contact the appropriate person listed for an informal discussion about their ideas before submitting the online application.


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.

In this section

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

In this section

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:

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

Education and Conflict

Education and Conflict is long standing research theme within the School. It is led by the UNESCO Chair, Professor Alan Smith, though his involvement with a number of international organisations, including UNESCO, UNICEF, the World Bank and DFID. Research work related to building greater social cohesion through education in the Northern Ireland context features strongly with researchers working in the fields of history education, the promotion of good relations through informal education, the use of ICT to foster inter-cultural learning, and using GIS systems to monitor young people’s social movements beyond their own immediate environs, in the context of divided communities. Proposals which examine the Northern Ireland educational experience in this field are welcomed but so, too, are in-depth or comparative studies based on work in conflicted situations in Europe, Asia and Africa.

Children, Young People and Adults: Educating for Inclusion

Improving outcomes for children, youth and adults has been a research focus in the School over an extended period of time, with an emphasis on Special Educational Needs, inclusive education and social marginalisation. This work has generated a strong inter-disciplinary profile and strong partnerships have been established across health, welfare, social policy and youth justice domains inside and outside the University. Research proposals in the fields of SEN; all aspects children’s welfare; and access to information, information literacy and inclusion are particularly encouraged.

Teacher Education and Pedagogical Practice

The Teacher Education and Pedagogical Practice strand focuses on learning and teaching issues which both emanate from, and inform, the School’s teacher education programmes, its TESOL programme, its work in continuing education and its Library and Information Management (LIM) activities. The School has had a long commitment to researching the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in teaching and learning, encouraging the seamless application of ICT innovation to curriculum and practice. Research in this area includes the creation of learning communities linked through technology at primary, second, and tertiary levels, on-line learning and the creation of e-portfolios to enhance teacher creativity and reflection and the investigation of the potential use of iPad technology in Teacher Education. Research proposals in the fields of teacher education and pedagogical practice; TESOL; and LIM are particularly encouraged.

Staff research areas

Dr David Barr

Dr Barr wrote his PhD on the role of computer technology in language learning and teaching, which has since been published as a research monograph. As part of this project, he carried out work at the Universities of Cambridge and Toronto. He is also a leading expert in computer-assisted language learning, serving as associate editor for two leading international journals in the area, and is a member of the WorldCALL steering committee: a seven- person advisory group with representatives from all over the world to support the development and direction of computer-assisted language learning internationally. His research interests for PhD supervision include:

  • The Web as a teaching tool. This project will examine how web-based and internet technologies are currently being used in the field of teaching and, in particular, in the area of language teaching. It will evaluate the success of these approaches and consider how these technologies may be used in the future.
  • Socio-constructivism in the 21st century language classroom. This project will consider current pedagogical approaches in language teaching. In particular, it will study the evolution of constructivism in light of changes in learning styles and methods, most notably the integration of ICT in learning.
  • Effective pedagogies in grammar teaching. This study will evaluate contemporary practices in teaching foreign language grammar and will examine student attitudes to the process. It will consider how changes in curriculum, learning styles and resources have affected and are likely to affect grammar instruction.

Dr Jessica Bates

Dr Jessica Bates has teaching and research expertise in Library and Information Management. Her research interests relate to information and social inclusion, information-seeking behaviours in a range of contexts and settings, school and academic libraries, and improving library and information services.

Professor Linda Clarke

Professor Linda Clarke’s key research interests, which lie in teacher education are built around her teaching and leadership in Ulster and also her leadership and support roles in some of the key education bodies: The Standing Conference on Teacher Education North and South (for which she is the Northern Chair, the UK Teacher Education Group (new book, Teacher Education in Times of Change, and the British Education Research Association (SIG Convenor for BERA Teacher Education and Development ( Her professional expertise has also involved research and development work on Local and Global Citizenship, the use of ICT to enhance teaching and learning including the use of tablet computers, and teaching science in primary and post primary schools.

Dr Helen Hou

Dr Helen Hou’s research interests include online communities of practice and student teachers’ learning, ELT methodology, e-pedagogy and teacher education, educational technologies in the language classroom, Chinese learners, and qualitative research methodology and design.

Dr Aideen Hunter

Dr Aideen Hunter has teaching and research expertise in the teaching of Geography and Religious Education, integrated education and shared education. She is also interested in the main concepts and concerns of contemporary educational theory and practice in both Northern Ireland, the UK and internationally.

Dr Tracy Irwin

Dr Tracy Irwin has worked with a range of adult learners, including disaffected youth, women returners, the long- term unemployed as well as with male and female prison inmates. Her research interests reflect this range and she has published articles relating to prison learning. She is also interested in all aspects of educational disaffection, social exclusion and educational inequalities. Her teaching focuses on initial teacher training for lecturers and trainers working in Further Education (FE) and the adult learning sector.

Dr Jackie Lambe

Dr Jackie Lambe has teaching and research expertise in Art and Design. Her interests include ICT for teaching and learning; special education; distance learning as well as art and design education.

Dr John Milliken

Dr John Milliken’s teaching and research interests include: strategic aspects of education; leadership and managing change in post-primary education; pedagogy and curriculum in post-primary education; organisational issues in integrated education; and use of ICT in education.

Dr Alan McCully

Dr Alan McCully’s research interests are in the fields of History Education, Citizenship and the teaching of controversial issues, particularly as these relate to educational responses to conflict and peace building. He is currently investigating themes relating to education and peace building, namely the integration of peace building into education (and vice versa) including the role of teachers in peace building in Uganda.

Dr Sam McGuinness

Dr Sam McGuinness’s research interests lie in the areas of educational leadership and educational policy generally. He has published on policy issues in Northern Ireland associated with the effects of the accountability agenda on schools and their leaders, and the growth and development of area learning communities. His current work involves the effects of distributing leadership in a faith school, and also on leadership development programmes north and south of the border.

Dr Una O’Connor

Dr Una O’Connor’s research interests lie in the areas of special education and inclusion, citizenship, and the wider role of education in children’s lives. She has researched and published on various aspects of special education, combining pupil, teacher and parental perspectives. She has been involved in evaluations of citizenship in formal and non-formal settings. Her current work involves an inter- disciplinary approach to explore education through social, cultural, health and political perspectives.

Dr Jacqueline Reilly

Dr Jacqueline Reilly’s research interests lie broadly within the area of education for social justice. She has researched and published on various aspects of this, including education for local and global citizenship, human rights education and training, and peace education, particularly with a focus on issues of identity and divided societies. Current interests include the potential application of psychological theories of social cognition to the teaching of history in divided societies.

Dr Stephen Roulston

Dr Stephen Roulston is interested in the use of technologies to support learning and teaching. He has written on the innovative use of VLEs in schools, and has undertaken research on the use of mobile devices such as GPS trackers and their value in educational settings. He is involved in developing the use of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) in classrooms, and has investigated their value in enhancing learning, as well as the barriers to implementation of those and other technologies in schools.

Dr Barbara Skinner

Dr Barbara Skinner has particular research interests on TESOL teacher education, TESOL classroom practices and pedagogy, teacher talk and classroom interaction, and threshold concepts in teacher education.

Professor Alan Smith

Professor Alan Smith is holder of the UNESCO Chair in Education at Ulster University. His work includes research on education and the conflict in Northern Ireland, young people’s understanding of human rights and the development of social, civic and political education, alongside research on the role of education in peace building in conflict affected societies around the world, education and social cohesion, the role of education in reconciliation and analysis of aid to education in fragile and conflict affected situations.


Dr Jessica Bates

Research Coordinator, School of Education


For more information visit

Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences


Having studied elsewhere for my Undergraduate and Master’s degrees, I was a total new-comer to Ulster University at PhD level. Upon starting here I was (as every new PhD student is) anxious about what lay ahead. However, within the first few days I realised I was in a very supportive and creative learning environment. I have had an academically stimulating experience so far with invaluable and consistent support from my supervisors, other academic staff and my fellow students. I would definitely recommend doing a PhD in Education at Ulster University.

Sarah Hodgett

After completing my MSc in Library and Information Management at UIster University I was keen to continue studying here. I am now in the final year of my PhD and I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I have had a fantastic team of dedicated supervisors who have guided me throughout my study, and I have also felt supported by the other academic staff and students in the school. The training opportunities have been great and I have been able to share my work and network with others at many events and conferences. I have gained and developed a wide range of skills and this will help me progress in my career in the future. Based on my experiences, I would highly recommend a PhD in Education at Ulster University.

Christine McKeever