PhD in Educational Research - Higher Education

Join our doctorate programme in Educational Research - Higher Education, one of the oldest of its kind in the world. We have been delivering this course successfully for more than 27 years and it continues to evolve as we carry out regular reviews, listen to students’ feedback and react to changes in practice.

This programme has been designed for those currently working in higher education who wish to advance their career and increase their research skills.

You will study with us part-time as you deepen your insight into professional practices and concerns. You will learn how to design research projects, collecting and analysing appropriate data, as well as making an original contribution to knowledge in your chosen area.

Quick overview

What makes this course different?

This is one of the oldest doctorate programmes of its kind in the world, running at Lancaster University for over 27 years. The academics providing modules and supervision on this programme are internationally renowned researchers who also belong to Lancaster’s Centre for Higher Education Research and Evaluation.

You will study with us for a minimum of four years and become part of our vibrant community of researchers and academics. As a department, we are ranked 6th in the UK by the Times Higher Education world subject rankings table for education 2024.

Support for your research

This course is for anyone working in the higher education sector, including higher education institutions, national agencies, ministries and NGOs. As you conduct your research, you will have ongoing support from our academics as you push deeper into your chosen area of expertise.

You will be able to begin your research right away as you navigate core modules and hone your skills in academic writing. While some of this course is held online, the cohort of students on this programme is kept to a small size to maintain a closer relationship between students and faculty.


While much of this programme is distance and online research there are four compulsory residential segments for each of the two years of Part One. During these times you will discuss research issues with other programme participants and the Department’s specialists in higher education.

The cohort of students come from diverse backgrounds spanning different continents. You will gain an insight into real issues affecting the sector, and discover new ideas that can affect and help your research.

Key information


How to Apply

Please apply using the My Applications online system.

The next programme start date is January 2024.

The cohort size does not normally exceed 20.

The initial closing date for applications is 30th November 2023. Applications received after this date will be considered with a final deadline of 11th December.

Please apply using the My Applications online system.

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 LANCASTERLA1 4YL

Telephone: +44 (0)1524 510880 Fax: +44 (0)1524 510857 E-mail:

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 a 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 of 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 Master's dissertation) or 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.

Many students have published journal articles arising from their module assignments and theses.

Publications from DPER programme

Recent Alumni Annette Van Rooij and Tony Burke talk about DPER Programme.

View a list of some of the PhD theses from the DPER programme.

PhD theses from DPER programme

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:

  • 24/25 is £5,410 per academic year, for four years minimum, for UK students and £9,670 per academic year, for four years minimum, for international students.

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

PhD in Educational Research - Higher Education graduates

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.

For general enquiries please contact Alison Sedgwick.