The School of Applied Social and Policy Sciences has a vibrant and multi-disciplinary research environment, which is home to a wide range of research projects that tackle important questions in the social sciences. We have an excellent international reputation for producing high quality research which has global impact. Our work is centred around three key themes: persistent and emerging socio-economic challenges, policy and practice in divided societies, and national global social justice.

If you are interested in pursuing doctoral research in Social Policy at Ulster University, you’ll be joining a community of academics who focus on documenting, illuminating and theorising some of the most difficult social problems we face. Our research contributes to new knowledge across a range of policy areas. It highlights the relationship between structures of government, policy making approaches and their impact on public services and users.


Social Policy at Ulster University

The causes of and policy responses to social welfare issues are often contested and work in the cluster has often emerged in response to politically charged debates, for example in the area of reproductive rights, migration and equality and discrimination. Our research is also influential in bringing about change, and our extensive collaborations with NGOs, policy stakeholders, public sector bodies and users are critical to our research and impact.  Our research centre, ARK provides further opportunity for work on large scale survey data sets and opportunities for inter-disciplinary and inter-sectoral collaboration.

Research themes include:

  • Reform of adult social care policy in Northern Ireland, including the social care workforce (Dr Alexander Chapman and Professor Ann Marie Gray)
  • Addressing poverty and disadvantage; disability, work and poverty (Goretti Horgan)
  • Analysis of social policy making under devolution in the UK, including gender budgeting (Ann Marie Gray)
  • Conceptualising and developing childcare policy (Dr Alexander Chapman)
  • Victorian social theory (John Offer)
  • Health and social care structures and impact on delivery of care (Professor Deirdre Heenan)
  • Migration, race and social policy (Dr Johanne Devlin Trew)
  • Education policy, including international perspectives (Dr Christine Ellison)
  • Migrant workers; excluded and vulnerable populations (Dr Jennifer Hamilton)
  • Abortion policy and the legal reform of abortion in Northern Ireland  (Fiona Bloomer)

We welcome interest from prospective PhD candidates in any of these areas.

For more information on the research interests of each staff member in Social Work, please visit the Social Policy page on the website of the Doctoral College. For more information on how to prepare an application, including how to draft a research proposal, please visit our School’s webpage that describes the variety of PhD Opportunities.

Entry requirements

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.

English language requirements

In order to be admitted to research study at Ulster, you will need to provide evidence of your English language proficiency as part of your application.

Get full details on the requirements for both home and overseas applicants can be found on our English language requirements page.

Careers and opportunities

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), and while two thirds end up in the Higher Education or Research sectors, the range of skills acquired equips the remainder for employment in a wide range of contexts.

Fees and funding

Tuition fees

Details of tuition fees can be found under the fees schedule for the academic year of entry.

To work out for which fees you would be eligible and to find out more information about potential sources of funding, please view the Fees and Funding pages on the Doctoral College website.


We are delighted that you are considering Ulster University for your research studies.

Get full details on the application process and further guidance on how to apply, and what you will need to upload as part of your application.

Once you have identified supervisors, discussed a research proposal and are ready to make an application, please apply using the online application system.

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.