The Multilingual Public Administration

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While government may claim it practices benign neglect with respect to religion, it cannot practice it in regard to languages. Public authorities at any level must decide on a language in which they conduct their business: a fully a-linguistic state simply does not and cannot exist. The choice of the state as to which language(s) should be used for official purposes is challenging because it influences the extent to which language-related publicly-provided goods and services are accessible to people speaking different languages. Official forms, legal texts, websites containing information on the rights and the duties of citizens, procurements procedures, job announcements, tenders, phone calls managed by public call centres, oral communication at the tax office are necessarily provided in or held in at least one language.

Depending on the set of official languages and on the distribution of skills in the population, the language policy can entail real or perceived political disenfranchisement, unfair treatment of citizens wishing to apply for jobs in the public administration, and in extreme cases also violations of certain rights. Public administration, nevertheless, must have multilingual staff and language mediation services to be able to provide goods in several languages.

The lack of such requirements can become a public issue and therefore the object of public policy. This project examines, in a comparative perspective, selected aspects of the language policy targeting public administrations in multilingual countries or regions (in particular, Wales, Scotland and in Northern Ireland, Friuli and South Tirol in Italy, two bilingual regions in Slovenia, and the federal administration of Canada and Switzerland). In the public administrations of some of these regions/countries, bilingual public servants receive a wage premium called “bilingualism bonus” if they learn and use the minority language(s) in addition to the official one. This policy instrument is a form of “performance-related pay”.

In general, the literature on performance-related pay shows that this instrument is not effective in promoting performance improvements in the public sector. The intrinsic motivation of staff civil servants better explains variation in performance. Under certain circumstances, performance-related pay can entail counterproductive effects. Surprisingly, there is no evaluation of the effectiveness of this instrument in language policy, although the resources invested for its implementation are far from negligible (in the two bilingual regions of Slovenia, for example, the government invests €4 million a year for the bilingualism bonus policy).

The project investigates the evolution of the bilingualism bonus in some of the countries/regions in which it has been adopted. It clarifies the micro-economic incentives built in it. It collects and systematises evidence on its effectiveness, and it critically compares the bilingualism bonus with other policy instruments adopted in bilingual public administrations.

The project seeks to understand the persistence of the bilingualism bonus programmes. Is performance-related pay effective in language policy (contrary to evidence collected in other areas of public intervention) or has it become a simple entitlement for employees and the unions?

The methods of research are interdisciplinary, and they should ideally include one of the following areas: policy evaluation, policy analysis, microeconomic theory, and quantitative methods.

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.

  • 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.

  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement

Equal Opportunities

The University is an equal opportunities employer and welcomes applicants from all sections of the community, particularly from those with disabilities.

Appointment will be made on merit.

Funding and eligibility

The University offers the following levels of support:

Vice Chancellors Research Studentship (VCRS)

The following scholarship options are available to applicants worldwide:

  • Full Award: (full-time tuition fees + £19,000 (tbc))
  • Part Award: (full-time tuition fees + £9,500)
  • Fees Only Award: (full-time tuition fees)

These scholarships will cover full-time PhD tuition fees for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance) and will provide a £900 per annum research training support grant (RTSG) 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.

Please note: you will automatically be entered into the competition for the Full Award, unless you state otherwise in your application.

Department for the Economy (DFE)

The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £19,237 (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

Key dates

Submission deadline
Monday 18 February 2019

Interview Date
25 to 27 March 2019

Preferred student start date
September 2019


Apply Online  

Contact supervisor

Dr Michele Gazzola