Summary

​The issue of Sustainability has moved up the agenda for all firms and nowadays small-to-medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are forced to redesign and rethink their business practices in a more sustainable way.  Indeed, in recent years, the need for businesses to pursue a more holistic view of social and environmental concerns has emerged from the development of the concept of the triple bottom line (1997), through to the adoption of Agenda 2030 and the related list of SDGs (2015). This also links closely to Porter and Kramers’s (2011) work around the concept of Shared Value, the central premise of which is that societal and economic progress must go hand in hand and not at the expense of the other.

To date, most of the research around firm sustainability has focused on larger corporations and there is relatively little consideration of the concept from an SME perspective. Further, the concept of sustainability is subject to competing definitions and its application to small firms is, by no means, agreed on.  Of the relatively limited research that has explored the phenomenon of sustainability in small businesses, much has focused narrowly on environmental strategy and practices only (Cantele and Zardini, 2020).  As such, there has been limited consideration of the wider economic and social dimensions of sustainability (Vallance et al., 2011; Cloquet et al., 2018). Indeed, the ‘social’ dimension has been integrated late into the sustainable development debate, therefore there is still a lack of theoretical and empirical studies regarding social sustainability. The focus for this proposed project is on SMEs as they are not merely “little big firms” (Fitjar, 2011; Tilley, 2000), and they do not behave in the same way as large corporations.

This project would focus on the role of sustainability in SMEs and what drives these organisations towards sustainability. Set in the context detailed above, there is a gap in terms of examining the concept of sustainability in SMEs to consider issues such as: what the concept of sustainability means to SMEs; what drives SMEs to become more sustainable; what opportunities are there for small firms to become sustainable; what are the barriers or limitations to fully implementing sustainability; and what are the benefits of embedding sustainability into a small business’s strategy. While the primary focus is on examining the issue from a small firm perspective, there may be scope to address the topic from a particular management or functional perspective, such as a marketing perspective.

The project will involve garnering perspectives of SMEs – the owner-managers and/or other stakeholders – and may be amenable to qualitative and/or quantitative investigation.


Essential criteria

Applicants should hold, or expect to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class Honours Degree in a subject relevant to the proposed area of study.

We may also consider applications from those who hold equivalent qualifications, for example, a Lower Second Class Honours Degree plus a Master’s Degree with Distinction.

In exceptional circumstances, the University may consider a portfolio of evidence from applicants who have appropriate professional experience which is equivalent to the learning outcomes of an Honours degree in lieu of academic qualifications.

  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement
  • Research proposal of 2000 words detailing aims, objectives, milestones and methodology of the project

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • First Class Honours (1st) Degree
  • Masters at 70%

Funding and eligibility

The University offers the following levels of support:

Vice Chancellors Research Studentship (VCRS)

Full award (full-time PhD fees + DfE level of maintenance grant + RTSG for 3 years).

This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees and provide the recipient with £15,840 (tbc) maintenance grant per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

Applicants who already hold a doctoral degree or who have been registered on a programme of research leading to the award of a doctoral degree on a full-time basis for more than one year (or part-time equivalent) are NOT eligible to apply for an award.

Vice-Chancellor’s Research Bursary (VCRB)

Part award (full-time PhD fees + 50% DfE level of maintenance grant + RTSG for 3 years).

This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees and provide the recipient with £8,000 maintenance grant per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

Applicants who already hold a doctoral degree or who have been registered on a programme of research leading to the award of a doctoral degree on a full-time basis for more than one year (or part-time equivalent) are NOT eligible to apply for an award.

Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fees Bursary (VCRFB)

Fees only award (PhD fees + RTSG for 3 years).

This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

Applicants who already hold a doctoral degree or who have been registered on a programme of research leading to the award of a doctoral degree on a full-time basis for more than one year (or part-time equivalent) are NOT eligible to apply for an award.

Department for the Economy (DFE)

The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £15,840 (tbc) per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

  • Candidates with pre-settled or settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme, who also satisfy a three year residency requirement in the UK prior to the start of the course for which a Studentship is held MAY receive a Studentship covering fees and maintenance.
  • Republic of Ireland (ROI) nationals who satisfy three years’ residency in the UK prior to the start of the course MAY receive a Studentship covering fees and maintenance (ROI nationals don’t need to have pre-settled or settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme to qualify).
  • Other non-ROI EU applicants are ‘International’ are not eligible for this source of funding.
  • Applicants who already hold a doctoral degree or who have been registered on a programme of research leading to the award of a doctoral degree on a full-time basis for more than one year (or part-time equivalent) are NOT eligible to apply for an award.

Due consideration should be given to financing your studies. Further information on cost of living


The Doctoral College at Ulster University


Reviews

My sincere thanks to Prof Pauric McGowan and Dr Alison Hampton for walking alongside me on my PhD journey.  The path was at times rocky; at times full of twists and turns; at other times offered some steep learning moments - but with a clear runway to the end and together we crossed the finishing line!  Their supervision was top class and will be for me true role model supervisors.

Breda O'Dwyer - PhD in Business and Management

I completed by BSc in International Travel and Tourism Management at Ulster which inspired me to go on and begin my PhD after 2 years in industry. My supervisors, Professor Stephen Boyd and Dr Peter Bolan have been fantastic throughout my PhD journey. My time at Ulster, in particular Coleraine campus, has been amazing through undergrad and PhD.I am most proud to have finished my PhD and survived the rollercoaster ride of many ups and downs especially during the past year and a half. I could never have got through it all without my office bestfriend, Natasha McClelland. We both started and finished PhD together. We've been on holidays, shopping trips and spa days. We've laughed (a lot), ranted and cried. Our sweetie jar was the best addition to the office! My advice for future PhD researchers would be to get yourselves a PhD bestie and just keep telling each other "You can do this!".

Nicola Allen - PhD in Business and Management

I'm just delighted to be sitting here as a PhD graduate - what a process and for anyone who completed their PhD part-time, an extra tip of the hat. I would never have gotten through this without the support and guidance from my supervisors - Martin, Judith and Alison, thank you! You are a crack team and I was fortunate to be supervised by you. Also massive thank you to my family! Your love and support meant the world and would not have been able to get through without your support and sacrifice, especially my wife Rebekah and kids, Isaac, Theo and Abigail. My proudest moment was my Viva - it was tough, fair but really enjoyable at the same time! If I could speak to myself at the start of my PhD, the best piece of advice I would give myself would be keep going and embrace the journey! Surround yourself with good people - you will need them along the way! Finally, congratulations to my fellow graduating colleagues - well done.

Ian Smyth - PhD in Business and Management

My journey in Northern Ireland began 11 years ago when I started my BSc in International Travel and Tourism Management at Ulster University and graduated with a first-class honours in 2015. During my first year as an undergrad, the professor who stood by me throughout all the years, mentioned the possibility of a PhD. At that time, it felt like a very distant and unlikely dream. He was also the one who inspired my research subject which combined two passions of mine, film and heritage, and became my main supervisor, Dr Peter Bolan. I also have to mention Dr Clare Carruthers and Prof Audrey Gilmore who completed my supervisory team and provided incredible support and encouragement throughout.My happiest moment during the PhD was when I discovered I was pregnant with my beautiful girl, Isabella! She did come as a bit of a shock and surprise and journeyed with me through my data collection. At seven months old, I am sure she must have been the youngest participant observer in the field.

Mihaela Ghisoiu - PhD in Business and Management

I completed my BSc Consumer Studies at Ulster University and graduated with a first-class honours in 2017. It was here that I found my passion, desire and academic support to undertake my PhD. My time at Ulster University has been amazing and I couldn’t have got through this experience without my supervisors - The Dream Team. I am deeply grateful for their guidance, invaluable advice, support, encouragement and for ensuring that my supervisor meetings were never dull. Ulster University has provided me with so many learning and training experiences and the opportunity to attend regional, national and international conferences, in addition to many external networking events. I was always encouraged and supported to progress my personal and professional development. Along the way I had the pleasure of meeting Professor Paul Dion, who helped me to understand statistics and has always remained in contact checking in every so often. In exchange I taught him some very valuable Northern

Natasha McClelland - PhD in Business and Management