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PhD opportunities within education

Ulster University is an established centre for educational research with a focused research agenda based around the following three core themes: teacher education and pedagogical practice, education and conflict, educating for inclusion: children, youth and adults.

UoA education.

The list of titles provided below reflect a range of current research interests within the education research unit.

Successful applicants will be joining a rich and vibrant unit that places a great emphasis on collaborative work and the sharing and development of ideas through regular research seminars, conferences and other events. They will particularly benefit from being able to learn from and share ideas with a range of other research students and academics working in related areas.

In the application form, applicants will be expected to illustrate clearly how they intend to interpret their chosen topic in terms of a clear set of aims and objectives and an appropriate research methodology. Potential applicants are strongly encouraged to contact their supervisor for an informal discussion about their ideas before completing the application form.

Applicants should be also be aware of the competitive nature of the funding competition, which attracts a high number of good quality applications each year for a limited number of awards.

Applications should be in the region of 2,000 words and should address relevant literature, research aims and/or objectives, proposed methodology and expected outcomes.


PhD Opportunities

Teacher education in Northern Ireland

This study will examine thinking, policy and practice related to teacher education in Northern Ireland and might, for example, focus on entrants to the profession, teacher professionalism, partnerships for initial teacher education or teacher status.

Contact: Prof Linda Clarke


An investigation into the role of history teaching in peace-building in a societies emerging from conflict

Dealing with the recent past is currently an issue of debate in Northern Ireland, and elsewhere. That debate tends to be dominated by those interested in reconciliation, transitional justice and the needs and welfare of victims. Historians and history educators have been conspicuous by their absence despite the obvious centrality of studying the past in their work. This project would seek to clarify the distinctive role that history teaching might play in dealing with the recent past, possibly through examining the work of existing projects. It might also involve direct interventions through the history curriculum in schools at key stage three, including the use of oral history to gain greater understanding of people’s experiences of the Troubles. A comparative study with history teaching in another post-conflict society might be part of the study. Applicants should be prepared to contribute to the design of interventions and to monitor, evaluate and research their impact and outcomes. Those with a background in history, peace and conflict studies and / or education may be particularly well prepared for the work.

Contact: Dr Alan McCully


An analysis of the profile of pupils for whom English is an Additional Language (EAL) in Northern Ireland

To date there has been limited research on pupils for whom EAL, particularly in relation to the following areas:

  • Demographic/socio-economic characteristics of EAL learners
  • EAL learners' attitudes towards studying in primary and post primary contexts in NI (acculturation, academic attainment)
  • Challenges faced by teachers/teaching assistants who support EAL learners
  • EAL training needs of student teachers
  • EAL pedagogy and assessment processes

This research aims to address a core research gap and in so doing to add to the knowledge base of a significant pupil population. The findings from this research will offer a valuable information source both about educational and developmental outcomes for pupils with EAL, and the more general socio-demographic and socio-economic characteristics of their lives. This should have both immediate educational significance and a wider social relevance - with the potential to inform governmental policy and planning.

Contact: Dr Barbara Skinner or Dr Helen Hou


Innovative approaches through the use of social media/technologies to support TESOL

To date there has been limited research on the how social media/technologies (Twitter, Facebook, online gaming, apps, LinkedIn, Pinterest etc) influences TESOL in informal educational settings in the following areas:

  • social media/technologies to support TESOL teacher education
  • opportunities and challenges faced by teachers and learners using social media/technologies for language learning
  • theorization of effective pedagogic practice for use of social media/technologies in support of language learning

This research aims to add to the theoretical and pedagogical understanding of the implementation of social media/technologies use for language teaching in informal settings, particularly TESOL. The findings will shed light on successful implementation of social media and technologies in enriching language learning and teaching experience. This should have significance for teachers, learners, curriculum designers, course book authors, policy makers and social media developers.

Contact: Dr Barbara Skinner or Dr Helen Hou


An investigation into the impact of GIS in education

Geographic Information Systems are technologies just beginning to appear on Examination Specifications for schools around the world. There is much written about the difficulties of embedding this technology but it would seem to offer much for teachers and learners. This study aims to document the increase in use of GIS in schools, perhaps as a result of its inclusion in local Examination Specifications, and to research its impact in a range of schools.

Contact: Dr Stephen Roulston 


Children’s personal geographies in Northern Ireland communities

Everybody’s personal geography is unique to them, but it is possible to investigate aggregate geographies of young people which reflect shared and divided spaces in our landscape. In the context of a divided society, the personal geographies of some groups may be very different. This study will seek to explore such geographies and to suggest reasons for and impacts of any differences which are found. The geographies may be examined in multiple ways, but will include the use of GPS tracking devices carried by the children and young people.

Contact: Dr Stephen Roulston 


The web as a language teaching tool

This project will examine how web-based and internet technologies are currently being used in the field of foreign language teaching. It will evaluate the success of these approaches and consider how these technologies may be used in the future.

Contact: Dr David Barr


Socio-constructivism in the 21st century language classroom

This project will consider current pedagogical approaches in language teaching. In particular, it will study the evolution of constructivism in light of changes in learning styles and methods, most notably the integration of ICT in language learning.

Contact: Dr David Barr


Effective pedagogies in grammar teaching

This study will evaluate contemporary practices in teaching grammar and will examine student attitudes to the process. It will consider how changes in curriculum, learning styles and resources have affected and are likely to affect grammar instruction.

Contact: Dr David Barr


Analysis of the educational profile of pupils with SEN in Northern Ireland, using secondary data

Recent data for Northern Ireland reveals that approximately 22% of the school pupil population has some form of special educational needs (SEN), of whom 5% have a statutory statement of SEN. This represents a gradual but steady rise in pupil numbers over the past 5 years. The majority of pupils with SEN are now educated in a mainstream setting which has implications for education policy and provision.

The proposed project will link, exploit and explore secondary data from the Department of Education and other relevant data to generate an educational profile of pupils with SEN in Northern Ireland.

The applicant will be expected to have a good understanding of quantitative research methods, including knowledge of software packages and statistical analysis techniques. The student will be required to develop further quantitative research skills through training courses in the application of multi-level modelling techniques and use of further statistical software packages such as Stata.

Contact: Dr Una O’Connor-Bones


The role and contribution of classroom assistants in Northern Ireland

This project will explore the role of the Classroom Assistants in Northern Ireland. In particular, it will examine the contribution of classroom assistants in the provision of support for pupils with special educational needs (SEN). It is envisaged that the research will include a review of the current profile and deployment of classroom assistants, investigation of how this workforce contributes to inclusion in schools and critical consideration of the professional prospects for this workforce.

Contact: Dr Una O’Connor-Bones


Education, conflict and peace-building as part of international development

Internationally almost half of all children out of school are in conflict-affected situations. This research theme welcomes research proposals in thematic areas such as the relationship between conflict and education inequalities; analysis of education policies such as decentralisation, privatisation from a peacebuilding perspective; the role of language of education policies in peacebuilding; civic and citizenship education; analysis of political control and governance of education; the role of education in reconciliation and transitional justice.

Applications are welcomed from well-qualified candidates with high quality research proposals relevant to increasing our knowledge and understanding of the links between education, conflict and peacebuilding in conflict-affected environments.

Contact: Prof Alan Smith


Critical analysis of education policies for integrated and shared education in Northern Ireland

The Education Reform (NI) Order, 1989 includes a responsibility on government to ‘facilitate and support’ integrated education in Northern Ireland. Despite this statutory duty over the past 25 years, 93% of children still attend separate schools based largely on religious affiliation, and the programme for government plan is for capital spending on ‘shared campuses’ and a £25m ‘shared education’ project to fund contact between pupils in separate schools. These represent two distinct policy directions which have become the focus for wider public debate.

This three-year studentship will be based within the UNESCO Centre at Ulster University and applications are welcomed from well-qualified candidates with high quality research proposals related to this education policy debate. Further information can be found at the UNESCO Centre website http://www.unescocentre.ulster.ac.uk

Contact: Prof Alan Smith


Library and information research in Northern Ireland

Applications are sought for full time research students to undertake research in aspects of the above area. Library and information PhD proposals that are also in line with the broad research priorities identified by the School of Education (which are: Children, Young People and Inclusion; Teacher Education and Classroom Practice (including the use of ICT); Education and Conflict: Higher Education and Lifelong Learning) are particularly welcome.

Applicants should have a Master’s qualification, experience of appropriate research design and methodology and some knowledge of the topic which they are proposing.

Applications should be in the region of 2,000 words and should address relevant literature, research aims and/or objectives, proposed methodology and expected outcomes.

Contact: Dr Jessica Bates


Adult literacy in Northern Ireland: Pedagogical comparisons of essential skills providers

The Essential Skills for Living Strategy was introduced in Northern Ireland in 2002 in response to the International Adult Literacy Survey (1996) which indicated that 24% of the adult population were operating at the lowest level of adult literacy. Using a qualitative methodological framework, it is envisaged that this study will analyse the pedagogical models used by a range of providers from the perspective of learner, teacher and manager, making recommendations for future development in this area.

Contact: Dr Tracy Irwin


Lifelong learning or lifelong earning? An Analysis of the transition from learning to employment in Northern Ireland for adults with literacy difficulties.

One of the central tensions pervading contemporary literature on lifelong learning is the close relationship posited between learning and the economy. Using a qualitative framework, this study aims to document the learning biographies of adult learners who have been attending literacy programmes as they negotiate their way into or through the labour market. Adults and young people of working age, from a range of backgrounds and at various stages of their working careers, should be recruited for this study.

Applications should be in the region of 2,000 words and should address relevant literature, research aims and/or objectives, proposed methodology and expected outcomes.

Contact: Dr Tracy Irwin


An evaluation of the effectiveness of the Confucius Classroom Hub scheme in Northern Ireland


Confucius Classrooms are local hubs, based in Northern Irish schools or colleges, which stimulate and support innovative teaching and learning of Chinese language and culture to foster Chinese language teaching and education about China.  The Confucius Institute has funded 22 Chinese teachers, who provide lessons in Mandarin Chinese and cultural awareness from eight Hub schools across local communities and partner networks. The Education research group welcomes proposals which focus on evaluating the effectiveness of the Northern Irish Confucius Classroom Hub scheme through exploration of thematic areas such as:

  • pedagogical approaches to foreign language teaching methodology
  • education of teachers to teach Chinese
  • Impact on language education policy in Northern Ireland
  • development of intercultural awareness

    Contact: Dr Barbara Skinner, Dr David Barr