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School of Applied Social and Policy Sciences is a world-leading centre of excellence for applied research that examines complex policy and public service dilemmas facing modern societies.


The School of Applied Social and Policy Sciences (ASPS) is a substantial multi-disciplinary, cross campus centre of research with members working on a wide range of cutting edge methodological, theoretical, empirical and policy related issues. It is distinguished by its applied, interdisciplinary research that draws on national and international comparative methods, to develop innovative and significant impact-centred work which pushes the disciplinary boundaries and promotes important changes within society.

ASPS has developed an international reputation for:

  • Pioneering theoretical ideas that change the way in which policy, governance, criminology and social work are conceptualised.
  • Developing cutting-edge research methodologies which produce unique, internationally significant data-sets.
  • Designing a range of innovative analytical tools that help reform and guide social practice.
  • Disseminating research outputs to a range of stakeholder groups in order to strengthen, and critically reflect upon, policy and practice.

ASPS welcomes applicants interested in researching social policy, criminology and justice, public policy and government, social work, and youth and community studies.

Applicants are encouraged to apply directly via the University’s Doctoral College, which includes details about both funded and self-funded PhDs available at ASPS. We also encourage applicants to consider making an application for funding that targets directly the PhD scholarships available with the Northern Ireland North-East Doctoral Training Partnership.


The strength and rigour of ASPS’ research has been registered in successive research assessment exercises. In the most recent research assessment exercise, ‘REF 2014’, seventy percent of ASPS’ research has been graded world-leading or internationally excellent, with a 160% increase in world-leading research since the 2008 assessment exercise. ASPS ranks 12th in the UK for outstanding research impact (4*) and 20th for world-leading research (4*).

ASPS distinguishes itself through a long-standing commitment to researching and shaping governance, policy, and practice in divided societies dealing with the legacies of violence and conflict. This focus is being expanded and enriched through strategic diversification into new applied research streams that inquire into, and confront, challenges presented by racism, inequality, economic marginalisation, institutional reform and the crimes of the powerful. Furthermore, the school aims to address blind-spots and lacunas in governance, policy and service delivery which conflict and transition can create, in areas such as gender, disability, ageing, health, criminal justice, and ethnic minorities. These streams are enhanced through transnational research that draws on growing international linkages to better understand how regional and global distributions of power, wealth, infrastructure, resources, and knowledge, impact on governance, policy, and practice on a variety of scales.

The school’s research priorities are supported by a vibrant, aspirational culture that supports scholars to develop and pioneer innovative methodologies, analytical tools, and theoretical concepts that can sensitively and rigorously build evidence based, conceptually rich understandings of the complex processes that shape reform, accountability and service delivery. We embrace interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research that harnesses diverse tools and approaches to enhance our response to field-specific challenges.

The school aims to formulate and execute our research collaboratively, and share our findings through innovative mechanisms that cater to the precise needs of diverse user-group. ASPS has also demonstrated a preparedness, when needed, to confront injustice and significant failures in policy and governance in a robust manner, often with significant effect.


  • Social Policy

    Within this research cluster there is a focus on achieving a better understanding of some of the most difficult social problems we face and contributing to new knowledge in a range of areas including social theory, poverty and disadvantage, health and social care, disability, race and migration and the governance and delivery of welfare. The causes and policy response to social welfare issues is often contested and is linked to contrasting perspectives on the relationship between the state, families and individuals, and voluntary action. Work in this research cluster focuses on issues central to these debates. We also aim to make our research influential in bringing about change, and therefore to communicate findings effectively to a range of audiences and engage actively with policy makers and practitioners.

    Research themes include:

    • Policies for addressing poverty and disadvantage
    • Analysis of social policy making under devolution in the UK
    • The development of adult social care policy in Northern Ireland – including the social care workforce
    • The role of civil society actors in social policy and the policymaking process.
    • Victorian social theory
    • The relationship between the vulnerable in society and the state
    • Disability, work and poverty
    • Health and social care structures and impact on delivery of care
    • Migration, race and social policy
    • Abortion policy and the legal reform of abortion in Northern Ireland
    • Populism and social policy
  • Criminology and Justice

    The administration of justice is an evolving and highly sensitive process. How states inquire into and prosecute crime takes place through a complex bureaucratic apparatus, which is shaped by a range of contested policies and political agendas. Contestation takes place through changing social constellations inclusive of civil society, government and the private sector, which leads to a range of policy and practice challenges for the criminal justice system.

    Equally states themselves are perpetrators of crimes, which are often exposed and censured through national and international networks of civil society, and by official agencies of accountability.

    ASPS research into crime and punishment is distinguished by its critical approach to the administration of justice, and its recognition that states themselves can be perpetrators of significant deviant conduct.

    Key research themes include:

    • Prisons and Northern Ireland
    • Children and women’s rights within the criminal justice system
    • Policing, human rights and accountability in a national and transnational context
    • Truth recovery and the past
    • International state crime and human rights
    • Resistance and justice-making from below
    • Terrorism, security and intelligence handling
    • Crime mapping
    • Environmental criminology
    • Cyber-crime
  • Public Policy and Government

    Governance amounts to a system of social coordination established through rule setting and rule observation by policy actors. Public services are delivered in complex governance spaces which frequently involve multiple organisations. In the current era of austerity greater significance has fallen on the use of performance management as a tool for disciplining the actions public services professionals. Professional judgement competes with managerialism in the shaping and delivery of services. The emergence of a ‘compliance’ culture is characterising professional working life in key public services. A tension exists between performance measured by internal organisational concepts of efficiency and external recognition of social impact.

    Key research areas of interest include:

    • Governance and performance in health services
    • Control of professionals including doctors
    • Governance and performance in social services
    • Governance, performance and oversight over the police
    • Language policy
    • Political parties and democracy
    • Conflict resolution
    • Government in conflict and post-conflict situations
    • Trauma and peace building
    • Policy implementation
    • Understanding institutions in the contemporary delivery of public services
  • Social Work

    Social work research seeks to provide a knowledge base to support the social work profession in its roles of protecting and supporting the most vulnerable in society. Research applications are welcomed in relation to either of the social work research themes. Mental health problems and positive mental health are key issues in contemporary society. How individuals seek help and the pathways they follow through services is a primary research focus for this cluster. Past research has included social media and the mental wellbeing of young men; statutory mental health social work; community integration of former long-stay hospital patients; loneliness amongst older people; and the mental ill health effects of the Northern Ireland Troubles. Another primary strand within this cluster is on resilience. Past studies have included resilience of child protection social workers and of clergy (in relation to Emotional Intelligence); current studies include resilience of family carers and the development of resilience amongst social work students.

    This research cluster undertakes research, teaching and organisation development to support social work and allied human service professions in:

    • Professional judgement and shared decision making;
    • Assessment processes and tools to inform decisions;
    • Risk assessment and management in practice and organisations; and
    • Creating and using evidence to inform practice and policy.

    Research includes studies of professional judgement in child protection, protection of vulnerable adults and the justice sector; developing the Northern Ireland Single Assessment Tool for the health and social care of older people; older people’s conceptualisation of elder abuse and neglect; risk communication in dementia and in physical disability services; change processes in intimate partner violence programmes; and supporting the development of the Social Care Governance Workbook, the North-South Child Protection Hub and the Safeguarding Adults at Risk Information Hub.

  • Youth and Community Studies

    The research group has a focus on supporting the youth work profession; community development; restorative practice and work within prisons. Embedded in communities, the research takes place in the distinctive context of a contested and transforming society. A significant body of knowledge exists about the philosophy of education and community development on which practice builds. Drawing upon real experiences, the group develops theoretical frameworks and evidence-based models. In collaboration with young people and communities, the group moves to create developmental, associative, democratic, social education practice.

    Key research themes include:

    • Grassroots experience of post-conflict transition and transitional justice studies
    • Gender studies in conflict and Youth Work
    • The impact of disadvantage and widening participation
    • Adult education transforming individuals and communities
    • Community Relations and peace building with young people
    • Suicidology and young people’s mental health
    • Professional development in community youth work and community Development
    • Prison officer development in Northern Ireland
    • Community and statutory restorative justice
    • Informal Education and Youth Work processes and outcomes
Title Closing Date Actions
Sociology Research Programmes N/A View 
Criminology and Criminal Justice Research Programmes N/A View 
Social Work Research Programmes N/A View 
Politics and Public Policy Research Programmes N/A View 
Social Policy Research Programmes N/A View 
Youth and Community Studies Research Programmes N/A View