Project code



School of Education and Sociology

Start dates

February and October

Closing date

Applications accepted all year round

This 3-year, self-funded PhD will be based in the School of Education and Sociology in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, and will be supervised by Dr Yuwei Xu, Dr Jovana Radulovic and Dr Jane Creaton.

The work will include:

  • Identifying best practices in the recruitment of underrepresented students into engineering at HE level
  • Understanding the student experiences of underrepresented students in engineering
  • Evaluating the impact of innovative educational practices in engineering on recruitment, retention, and outcomes of underrepresented students

This PhD offers an exciting opportunity to design and develop a programme of research that evaluates the effectiveness of strategies aimed at recruiting and retaining female students and other underrepresented groups on Engineering degree programmes.

There is a considerable body of research demonstrating the underrepresentation of female students in STEM subjects in higher education, in both OECD and developing countries. In the UK, despite noticeable efforts to attract more females into STEM subjects, the proportion of women studying engineering and physics in HE has remained virtually static since 2012.

This PhD will further understanding of the reasons underlying such trends and help identify possible solutions to them. As part of the project, you will engage in particular with the Innovation Engineering (BEng [Hons]/MEng) course offered at the University of Portsmouth, which has been designed specifically to attract greater numbers of female students. A non-traditional engineering course, Innovation Engineering asks students to work collaboratively with each other and with industry partners to complete commercial (often environmentally based) projects, and offers bursaries in order to widen participation.

This PhD provides an excellent opportunity to work across traditional subject disciplines, bringing pedagogical and social science approaches to bear on STEM subjects. While it's envisaged that you will adopt a mixed-methods approach in your evaluation of innovative educational practice, this is not set in stone and you will have considerable flexibility in your research design. You’ll also receive research methods training in order to develop your skills as part of the degree programme.

Fees and Funding

Funding Availability: Self-funded PhD students only

PhD full-time and part-time courses are eligible for the UK Government Doctoral Loan (UK and EU students only).

2019/2020 entry

Home/EU full-time students: £4,327 p/a*

Home/EU part-time students: £2,164 p/a*

International full-time students: £15,900 p/a*

International part-time students: £7,950 p/a*

*Fees are subject to annual increase

By Publication Fees 2019/2020

Members of staff: £1,610 p/a*

External candidates: £4,327 p/a*

*Fees are subject to annual increase

Entry Requirements

  • You must be a UK or EU resident and hold a good honours degree (2:1 or above) from a recognised higher education institution.
  • English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.


  • You should have an upper second class honours degree in Education, Sociology or Engineering
  • For those applying from an Engineering background, you’ll be expected to have some understanding of qualitative research methods or be willing to explore mixed qualitative and quantitative methodologies in Engineering Education


  • A Master’s degree in a related subject would be an advantage

How to apply

Please contact Dr Yuwei Xu ( to discuss your interest before you apply, quoting both the project code and the project title.

When you are ready to apply, you can use our online application form and select ‘Education and Sociology’ as the subject area. Make sure you submit a personal statement, proof of your degrees and grades, details of two referees, proof of your English language proficiency and an up-to-date CV.  

Please also submit a research proposal (up to 1000 words), detailing how you would develop this project:

  • What research questions would you pose?
  • How would you design the project?
  • What research methods would you use?
  • How would you engage with/ build on existing research?

Our ‘How to Apply’ page offers further guidance on the PhD application process. 

Please note, to be considered for this self-funded PhD opportunity you must quote project code EDSO4380219 when applying.