Meeting future global engineering challenges: Investigating how engineering skills and values can enable effective engagement with global responsibility and the UN Sustainable Development Goals


​Engineering Education needs to transform quickly in order to deliver graduates with the knowledge, skills, and values required to meet national, global and societal imperatives to 2030 (climate emissions targets, UN SDGs), and beyond! There is an urgent need for the identification and development of the requisite skills, knowledge and values to achieve the transition and promote globally responsible engineering. Global trends in engineering education and the clear commitments of governments, professional accreditation bodies and NGOs all point to a need to “radically transform the culture of engineering” (EWB-UK 2021) to address these challenges. This culture change requires explicit sustainability oriented values, skills and competences embedded within the curriculum, and not treated as an add-on to the technical skills as currently typically pertains.

The values of engineers relating to social responsibility have been shown to change in response to specific initiatives (Murzi et al 2019) but also to degrade over time (Cech 2014), and these values can vary between disciplines (Carney and Bielefeldt 2015). The required sustainability related skills and competences may include developing critical thinking and reflection; learning to question current belief systems and recognise assumptions underlying knowledge, perspectives and opinions; developing systemic/complex thinking; building partnerships through teamwork, communication and dialogue; and recognising professional & ethical responsibilities in decision making.

This project aims to investigate four core research questions:

1. What range of knowledge, skills and values are required by engineering graduates to effectively address the challenges posed by the SDGs and global responsibility?

2. How do engineers’ values change and progress through their educational programmes and their careers?

3. What effects do the teaching of sustainability, UN SDGs and ethics have on student knowledge, skills and and values?

4. To what extent do students’ engineering disciplines, gender, ethnicity, backgrounds and worldviews influence their knowledge, skills and values?

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.

  • Sound understanding of subject area as evidenced by a comprehensive research proposal

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 65%
  • Work experience relevant to the proposed project
  • Publications - peer-reviewed

Funding and eligibility

The University offers the following levels of support:

Department for the Economy (DFE)

The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £18,000 (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

Recommended reading

​Bielefeldt, A.R. and Canney, N.E., 2016. Changes in the social responsibility attitudes of engineering students over time. Science and engineering ethics, 22(5), pp.1535-1551.

Canney, N.E. and Bielefeldt, A.R., 2015. Differences in engineering students’ views of social responsibility between disciplines. Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education and Practice, 141(4), p.04015004.

Cech, E.A., 2014. Culture of disengagement in engineering education?. Science, Technology, & Human Values, 39(1), pp.42-72.

Engineering Council., 2020, The Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes (AHEP) Fourth Edition,

Engineers Without Borders, 2021. Reaching the tipping point for globally responsible engineering,

Murzi, H., Mazzurco, A., Pikaar, I. and Gibbes, B., 2019. Measuring development of environmental awareness and moral reasoning: A case-study of a civil engineering course. European Journal of Engineering Education, 44(6), pp.954-968.

Raworth, K., 2017. Doughnut economics: seven ways to think like a 21st-century economist. Chelsea Green Publishing.

Royal Academy of Engineering., 2022, Engineering Ethics: Maintaining society’s trust in the engineering profession,

United Nations., 2015, 17 Sustainable Development Goals,

The Doctoral College at Ulster University

Key dates

Submission deadline
Monday 27 February 2023

Interview Date
March 2023

Preferred student start date
18 September 2023


Apply Online  

Contact supervisor

Dr Alan Brown

Other supervisors

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