PhD in Educational Research - Higher Education

The PhD in Educational Research - Higher Education has been designed for those currently working in higher education who wish to advance their career and increase their research skills. It is a well-established and successful route to a PhD, having been delivered successfully for over 25 years.

This is a part-time structured programme that is undertaken through directed distance study and residential-based learning over 4 years. Participants focus on their final research thesis from the third year onwards.

You will be joining our vibrant community of researchers and academics in a department that is ranked 7th in the UK by the Times Higher Education world subject rankings table for education 2020.

Academics providing modules and supervision on this programme are all internationally renowned researchers who belong to the Centre for Higher Education Research and Evaluation.

Key information


  • Overview

    The programme supports you in undertaking and completing a PhD in a way which employs these key advantages:

    •  You study within a cohort of fellow participants who act as critical friends and an informal support network during the programme and, if you wish, a continued network throughout your career;
    • You are supported at regular Residentials which enable your cohort to meet and socialise, engage in one-to-one tutorials and participate in workshops;
    •  This support is provided by a world leading group of researchers/practitioners which gives you structured access to the culture of contemporary research;
    •  Participants regularly publish papers from their assignments, allowing you to 'publish-as-you-go' on the programme;
    •  Module tutors give you detailed formative feedback on your work before formal submission, as happens when submitting a journal article. This formative feedback helps you to improve your academic writing very   quickly;
    •  There is ongoing research training which supports your work on your assignments and thesis;
    •  You gain a PhD, rather than an EdD, from completing the programme;
    •  When you come to campus you have the opportunity to participate in person in our extensive programme of research events.
  • Who is this programme for?

    To be accepted onto the programme you must have a current role in a higher education context. The higher education sector is broadly conceived and includes higher education institutions, national agencies responsible higher education (such as quality assurance agencies), ministries responsible for higher education or research, non-governmental organisations working in higher education, networks and associations in higher education, and other institutions. Please also check that you meet the entry requirements.

    You will also enjoy this programme if you want to be involved in residentials at Lancaster four times a year, meeting and discussing research issues in person with other programme participants and with the Department’s specialists in higher education. Departmental research events are frequently timed to coincide with these residentials and so you will more easily be able to attend these in person.

    Current programme participants and alumni are from a range of higher contexts and roles from all the world’s continents. You will find that the participants’ mix of backgrounds, experiences and perspectives adds to your own understanding of the sector and gives you a rich resource of ideas for your own research.

    Please visit our:

    Alumni of the programme have gone on to occupy influential positions in the community of higher education researchers, managers, practitioners and policy makers.  For the 20th anniversary of the programme we collected profiles of some Doctoral Programme alumni and current students.

  • Course aims

    The aim of the programme is to provide an opportunity for higher education professionals to become autonomous researchers and to gain deeper and more critical insight into their own and others' professional practices and concerns.

    The programme's objectives are to enable you to:

    • design research projects, and collect and analyse appropriate data;
    • make an original contribution to knowledge in your chosen area/s;
    • produce written work suitable for publication in academic journals;
    • engage others with the outcomes of your research in order to maximise its impact;
    • deploy appropriate theory in a sophisticated way;
    • evaluate dispassionately the work of organisations in the higher education field, and the work of other researchers;
    • demonstrate research-informed leadership for sustained improvement in the higher education field.
  • Residentials

    On this programme there are four Residentials per year of up to one week.  Attendance at the residentials is mandatory, and between residentials you are offered resources and advice so that you can continue your research and study in a structured way. We have considerable experience of e-learning in the Department and the Doctoral Programme is also well-resourced in this regard.

  • Which Higher Education PhD programme should I choose?

    Cannot decide between the two higher education programmes offered by Lancaster University’s Department of Educational Research? Use the comparison table on our Which Higher Education PhD programme should I choose? webpage to inform your decision.

How to Apply

Please apply using the My Applications online system.

The next programme start date is January, 2022.

The cohort size does not normally exceed 30.

Initial closing date for applications is 30th November, 2021.  Applications received after this date will be considered, on a first-come-first served basis, until the Programme is full.


Please apply using the online system My Applications . 

As this is a PhD by coursework and thesis we do not require a research proposal at this stage: however, we do request a personal statement and writing sample. 

Alternatively, application forms can be obtained from:

Postgraduate Admissions
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Lancaster University

Telephone: +44 (0)1524 510880
Fax: +44 (0)1524 510857

For admission to this version of the programme applicants should normally have:

  • a good honours degree from a British university or CNAA, and a good Master's degree; or
  • qualifications of a comparable standard from a university or recognised degree awarding body in another country.

Applicants should normally have at least three years' experience of teaching, research, staff development, management, administration or related function in the higher education sector. The higher education sector is broadly conceived and includes higher education institutions, national agencies responsible higher education (such as quality assurance agencies), ministries responsible for higher education or research, non-governmental organisations working in higher education, networks and associations in higher education, and other institutions.

In judging applications, special attention is paid to the comments made by referees. Although your referees may be from a professional context, having an academic referee who can comment on your capacity for independent research and study as well as your ability to complete tasks to a deadline is extremely helpful.

Please see the section on ‘what to include’ for more information on the evidence that is required for admission to this programme.

Language proficiency

Applicants will need to have an acceptable fluency in written and spoken English.

For students whose first language is not English, an English Language Test Certificate will be required, that is, IELTS Academic with an overall score of 6.5 with at least 6.0 for reading and writing.

Further information can be found at: English Language Requirements.

Personal statement

Because this is a doctoral programme by coursework and thesis, we do not require a research proposal from applicants. However, the personal statement should contain the following:

  • A statement of where you are currently employed, and in what capacity;
  • An explanation of how you fulfil the criteria of having at least three years’ experience in the higher education sector;
  • A statement of reasons for applying for this programme in particular;
  • A statement of how you will benefit from this programme;
  • Any evidence or examples of achieving goals and meeting deadlines in a comparable area in the past;
  • Any evidence or examples to indicate successful engagement in collaborative tasks (as this is an aspect of the programme's approach);
  • Any evidence or examples of the ability to think and write analytically.


Writing sample

Please provide a piece of writing, in English, that you have produced in the past and which best demonstrates the following characteristics:

  • The ability to respond in a focused way to a specific question, remit or task;
  • The ability to express ideas in an accessible way;
  • The ability to structure a document in a clear and logical manner.

The document must have been produced by you alone. It may be something academic (perhaps for a prior qualification such as a Masters dissertation) or could be a policy document, a guidance document or some other form (perhaps produced in your professional role) which demonstrates the three characteristics above. If the document is accessible online, you may also provide us with a link to it.

Fees and funding

The fee for each cohort is set annually by the University and represents the part-time fee for that academic year.  Once a student is on the programme the fee will be increased in line with inflation for each subsequent year of the course.

The course fee for:

  • 20/21 is £4,340 per academic year, for four years minimum, for UK/EU and £7,760 per academic year, for four years minimum, for overseas nationals.

Fees are subject to a small increase each academic year.

To help finance your postgraduate study at Lancaster, you can apply for funding from charities and other funders: further details are available on the Fees and Funding webpage.

Applicants from the European Union can read more information about Research Fees (from Lancaster University) following the 2016 Referendum.

When you apply you will need to indicate your likely source of funding for your fees. If you are not self-funding you should investigate possible sources of finance as soon as you can for the full period of your study. Many students have been supported by their employing institutions.

Find out what our graduates say about studying on our PhD programmes

Structure and modules

The programme is divided into two parts and has a modular structure. Each of the six modules as well as the final thesis is assessed.

Programme staff

The staff who teach and supervise programmes and modules can vary due to staff changes including research and other types of leave.

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Contact us

Programme Director

Dr Janja Komljenovic

Programme Co-ordinator

Alison Sedgwick
Tel: +44 (0) 1524 592685