PhD in Higher Education: Research, Evaluation and Enhancement

This distinctive PhD in Higher Education: Research, Evaluation and Enhancement (by thesis and coursework) is a part-time structured PhD programme that is undertaken entirely online, over 4 years.

Academics providing modules and supervision on this programme are all internationally renowned researchers based in one of the best Education Departments in the UK. The Department has an established and excellent reputation for research and evaluation in Higher Education and in Doctoral programme provision, which has been running since 1995. The specialists in higher education research who contribute to this programme belong to the Centre for Higher Education Research and Evaluation.

Key information


  • Overview

    This programme is delivered entirely online, enabling you to study from home or your office at times to suit you. The annual cohort is restricted to around 30 people, and you will be invited to work with smaller groups within that from time to time. The philosophy that underpins the programme involves collaborative learning, so modules are designed with that in mind. Videos of lectures, resource-based activities as well as video conferencing (with recordings if you are unable to attend at the time) and individual support are offered throughout the programme. Full use is made of the rich online resources that are available in the field of researching higher education. The accumulated learning from previous cohorts is available to new ones, taking full advantage of the online environment.

    Most of our participants enjoy working with others on areas of common interest, but for those who prefer to work individually, this is also possible. The three core modules in the first two years each involve a period of structured activities followed by time for individual research, supported by the module leader, leading to an assignment equivalent to a journal article. We encourage participants to publish from this work, and very many do so. This 'publish-as-you-go' model is one of the great strengths of this programme for professionals who are working in higher education and wish to raise their profile.

    Early application is advised to join Cohort 8 in October 2020.

  • Who is this programme for?

    The programme provides a well-defined and supported route to a PhD for professionals working in higher education institutions around the world.

    Participants can study entirely at a distance from Lancaster and whilst in full or part-time employment in a higher education (post-school) environment. This programme is exclusively designed for higher education professionals of whatever sort, for example: academics; managers; administrators; educational developers; student learning specialists.

    This 4 year part-time PhD programme is designed for both the needs of universities and national higher education systems and HE professionals around the world insofar as it:

    • Qualifies university staff to PhD level;
    • Develops them as skilled researchers;
    • Supports them in publishing in high status journals;
    • Identifies desirable practices in learning, teaching, administration and management, in addition to research, and helps staff achieve them;
    • Equips staff to be effective and valuable change agents in their universities;
    • Is oriented to improving academic practices across universities and university systems.

    Participating in the programme will enable participants to enhance practices of different sorts within their higher education institutions by giving them the research and evaluative skills to do so effectively. The programme builds a mutually supportive spirit among participants who all have overlapping professional and academic interests. This means that participants benefit from studying within a cohort of students who act as critical friends and an informal support network during the programme, and a continued network throughout their careers.

  • Which Higher Education PhD programme should I choose?

    Can’t 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.

  • Contact us

    If you have any questions, or would like further information about this programme, please contact the Programme Co-ordinator, Kathryn Doherty.

    Tel: +44 (0) 1524 593572


Introduction to the PhD in Higher Education: Research, Evaluation and Enhancement (HEREE)

Paul Trowler gives a 4 minute introduction to the HEREE PhD

What our students say


  • Cohort 3 Participant (UK)

    "Although I don't see myself pursuing change management as a research area, I engage in a lot of change management in my current job (and, given my career trajectory, I am likely to continue to do so into the future) and so from a professional development perspective the module and materials have been extremely useful in giving me a toolkit to analyse the cultural environment prior to embarking on whatever project it is I am managing/undertaking."

  • Cohort 3 Participant (Trinidad and Tobago)

    "I am gaining psychological income; not to mention the growth I… have experienced just from reading and commenting on the various articles and the feedback being received from my fellow classmates and the professors."

  • Cohort 1 Participant (Ireland)

    "This process has taken me far beyond my comfort zone, has caused me to challenge a lot of what I do and why I do it.  It is making my head hurt and I love it.  My students are loving it; I have spoken to undergrads about Third Space Professionals, introduced them to the ideas of Basil Bernstein, and encouraged them to challenge the status quo more. ….[Y]our enthusiasm has rippled over them!

    The process is time consuming (but it should be), at times I feel like I am aimlessly treading water (but I should feel like that), I have to read some materials again and again before its relevance becomes clearer (but it should be like that too).  I have taken…your names in vain more than once (sorry for that) but I am loving this.  Simply, I am very pleased with my progress and with the support so far from the University."

How to Apply

Please apply using the online system.

The next start date is 1st October, 2020.

The cohort size is typically 30 or fewer.

Initial Closing date for applications: 31st August 2020.

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.  As this is a PhD by coursework and thesis we do not require a research proposal at this stage, however we do require a personal statement and writing sample  (see next tab for further information).

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

Personal statement

Because this is a doctoral programme, 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 (this must be a higher education institution)
  • A statement of reasons for applying for this programme in particular;
  • Any evidence of achieving goals and meeting deadlines in a comparable area in the past;
  • Any evidence to indicate of successful engagement in collaborative tasks (as this is an aspect of the programme's approach);
  • Any evidence of the ability to think and write analytically. 

Applicants should normally have at least three years' experience of teaching, research or administration in a university, further education college, or comparable institution.

Writing sample

As part of your application we ask you to upload 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.

For admission to this PhD 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 must be employed (in any capacity) in a higher education institution, or in an organisation directly and mainly associated with higher education.

Preference will be given to applicants who have degrees in cognate areas (normally social science/humanities). In judging applications, special attention is given to previous performance in qualifications or projects that have involved doing research and writing it up in a timely and effective fashion. 

Close attention is paid to the comments made by referees. Asking someone 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. Having an academic referee is therefore very important.

The aim of the admissions process is to build a well-functioning cohort of people who, like you, are able to benefit from and thrive in a strong academic environment. You will be able to apply your experience, intelligence and previous learning to the task of getting to grips with research into higher education, producing a strong draft of a publishable article in the area within 6 months of starting the programme.

Applicants should note that the workload on any PhD can at times be challenging, particularly when combined with a full- or part-time professional role. This programme aims to integrate your research studies with your professional role, thus helping to mitigate this challenge to some extent. The words "research, evaluation and enhancement" in the title of the programme capture this professional/research integration. We provide a focussed programme aimed at producing publishable research very quickly within a highly structured framework of resources and optional activities. While some deadlines for producing drafts of assignments for formative feedback, and some assignments themselves, are flexible, there is no flexibility in the end-of-module summative assessment. This is because the programme is sequential: one module must be successfully completed before commencement of the next. The course is organised this way to ensure students stay on track to complete all modules within the necessary timeframe.

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.

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

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 & 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 has a modular structure with three core modules and three support modules. All modules are compulsory and they are assessed along with the thesis proposal and the final thesis. Progression between core modules is conditional on successful completion of the previous module, meaning that deadlines of the three final assignments in Part 1 are not moveable.

  • Part One (years 1 and 2) consists of 3 core modules and two support modules that offer participants guided study in key areas of Higher Education Research, Evaluation and Enhancement.
  • Part Two (years 3 and 4) - participants carry out an original piece of research under the supervision of a member of staff and produce a thesis (45,000 words) with the benefit of a non-assessed resource module.

This programme is undertaken entirely online. On successful completion you will be awarded a PhD degree certificate confirming your status as "Doctor of Philosophy in Higher Education: Research, Evaluation and Enhancement" from Lancaster University. The mode of study is irrelevant to the final award.

Online and Distance learning

The Educational Research Department has considerable experience of supporting online and distance learners and we aim to make all our students feel that they are full members of the Department and part of the postgraduate community.  Wherever possible we facilitate online participation at events and seminars organised by the Department.

All students have access to Moodle which is our Virtual Learning Environment. Many resources, for example, journal articles, required for postgraduate study will be available online through the OneSearch facility offered by the Library.  Additionally the Library provides extra services for Distance Learners.

Some tutors organise synchronous online meetings during their modules. These are not compulsory, as we understand time differences and software restrictions can impact on students' attendance. We will always do everything we can to accommodate students unable to attend. Visit our Computer requirements for distance learners page for further information.

Rebecca Marsden is the Online Learning Support Officer for the Department of Educational Research and she can be contacted with queries about online learning. 

The Learning skills webpages provide a wide range of online study opportunities across a range of topics.  These include digital skills, referencing, research training and critical thinking.

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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