Project code



School of Area Studies, History, Politics, and Literature

Start dates

October 2023

Closing date

6 April 2023

Applications are invited for a fees-only PhD bursary to commence in October 2023. 

This project provides an exciting opportunity to study the lives and experiences of students in an under-researched part of the Higher Education sector in the UK – the Polytechnics. Polytechnics existed between the late 1960s and 1992 when many of them became Universities. During their existence, Polytechnics were the fastest growing area of the Higher Education sector and taught a diverse range of students. Yet, very little has been published which has explored the role and importance of Polytechnics or, more importantly, the experiences of students in and beyond these institutions. 

The PhD will be based in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, and will be supervised by Dr Jodi Burkett, Dr Melanie Bassett and Ms Anna Delaney. 

Candidates applying for this project may be eligible to compete for one of a small number of bursaries available. Successful applicants will receive a bursary to cover tuition fees for three years (full time) or six years (part time) and a contribution of £2,000 towards consumables, conference, project or training costs.

Your work on this project could involve:


  • Conducting Oral History interviews with former students at the Polytechnic of North London (London Metropolitan University) and Portsmouth Polytechnic (University of Portsmouth)
  • Exploring the experiences of students at Polytechnics, particularly those from ‘non-traditional’ and/or global majority backgrounds
  • Examining the role of students within their local community and how they interacted with members of the communities in which they lived
  • Working with local and University archives collections on a wide range of sources and thinking about ways to present your research to non-academic audiences

There is a growing trend among universities to undertake Oral History projects that seek to fill gaps in the archival record. This project would contribute to this aim, but radically expand our current understanding by focusing not on elite institutions, but on Polytechnics. In particular, this project seeks to add to our understanding of the experiences of global majority students at UK Higher Education institutions outside of Universities. 

This project will explore the two largest Polytechnics based in London and Portsmouth respectively. These two institutions were important sites of political activism in this period with students at both institutions actively engaged in national student politics through the National Union of Students. Students at Portsmouth Polytechnic campaigned for the anti-Apartheid movement and opposed the imposition of higher fees for overseas (international) students, amongst other things. Students at the Polytechnic of North London were on the front-line of disputes about the place of political extremists on campuses, and ongoing concerns about free speech and ‘No Platform’, when prominent National Front member Patrick Harrington enrolled as a student there in the mid-1980s.  

By exploring the existing archival record, as well as undertaking a significant oral history project interviewing former students, you will be able to explore how students at the time understood and made sense of these political debates. You will be able to examine why students chose to study at a Polytechnic rather than a University, the background of those who studied at Polytechnics, what their studies were like, what they did in their spare time, where they lived and how they interacted with their local community, and many other issues. 

In undertaking this project you will join a vibrant inter-disciplinary school of researchers and post-graduate students. You will be embedded within the research groups of the Centre for European and International Studies Research and the Culture and Heritage Hub. You will also work closely with the University of Portsmouth’s Archivist (Anna Delaney) and the Portsmouth History centre and have opportunities to present your research to a range of audiences within and beyond the University. 

Entry requirements

You'll need a good first degree from an internationally recognised university (minimum upper second class or equivalent, depending on your chosen course) or a Master’s degree in an appropriate subject. In exceptional cases, we may consider equivalent professional experience and/or qualifications. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.

A background in twentieth century history and an understanding of the methodology of oral history are desirable but not essential. You will need to be willing to undertake some travel to London and Portsmouth to undertake archival research and potentially travel to interview participants in other parts of the country.

How to apply

We’d encourage you to contact Dr Jodi Burkett ( to discuss your interest before you apply, quoting the project code.

When you are ready to apply, you can use our online application form. Make sure you submit a personal statement (including some discussion of how you would approach the project), proof of your degrees and grades, details of two referees, proof of your English language proficiency and an up-to-date CV.  Our ‘How to Apply’ page offers further guidance on the PhD application process.

If you want to be considered for this funded PhD opportunity you must quote project code SASH8160423 when applying.