R230075 – PhD Studentship (3 years): Using a Theory of Change approach to evaluate Aston University’s Access and Participation Plan

Aston University

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College of Business & Social Sciences – Studentships
Aston University Main Campus
Full Time
Closing Date:  23.59 hours BST on Friday 14 April 2023
Reference:  R230075
Release Date:  Thursday 16 March 2023

Supervisors: Helen Higson, Liz Thomas and Uche Ogwude 

Project Reference: ABS_Theory_of_Change

Applications are invited for a three-year Postgraduate studentship, supported by the College of Business and Social Sciences, to be undertaken within the Aston Business School at Aston University. The successful applicant will be part of a small team responsible for the promotion and monitoring of widening participation in the University.

The position is available to start in October 2023.

Financial Support

This studentship includes a fee bursary to cover the home fees rate, plus a maintenance allowance. The maintenance allowance for the academic year 2023/4 are yet to be confirmed, but for reference, in 2022/3 this was £17,668 per year. 

Overseas Applicants 

Overseas applicants may apply for this studentship but will need to pay the difference between the ‘Home’ and the ‘Overseas’ tuition fees. Currently the difference between ‘Home’ and the ‘Overseas’ tuition fees is £10,504 in 2022/3.  As part of the application, you will be required to confirm that you have applied for, or secured, this additional funding.

Background to the Project

Aston University is looking to appoint a PhD candidate, who will work with a team of experienced supervisors and sector-leaders in the field of widening participation, to review and evaluate the University’s Access and Participation Plan (APP), and develop an area of evaluation research as a PhD research project. 

About the role

The successful candidate will work with Professor Helen Higson, Professor Liz Thomas and Dr Uche Ogwude to review the APP plan, make recommendations for the future, and to identify an area of evaluation research to focus on for the PhD thesis.  The candidate will be able to select the specific focus, informed by the first year of work, and personal interests etc, and with guidance from the supervisory team. For example, the thesis may focus on a specific lifecycle stage or activity, or use evaluation to improve practice, promote equity, or inform organisational change. This will however be an applied study, that will draw on evaluation theory, and other relevant theoretical frameworks (e.g. from education, sociology, psychology, organisational change, social policy); the learning from the research will be utilised within the University, and the candidate will be encouraged and supported to disseminate the findings more widely in the HE sector.

The role is likely to include the following activities, in the broad time periods indicated:

Year 1

•    Develop understanding about a theory of change approach to evaluation, and how it can be applied in the context of widening participation and higher education.

•    Review the APP and work with APP teams (practitioners, senior managers, students and other stakeholders) to consider the extent to which the interventions are evidence informed and have an evaluation plan.

•    Collect and review internal and external data, evaluate and research the evidence-base underpinning APP interventions at Aston University and in the sector.

•    Work with APP teams to develop a theory of change for selected interventions.

•    Make recommendations for the development of a new APP plan and evaluation plan.

•    Identify a gap in the evidence at Aston University and in the wider literature that can be filled using a theory of change approach to evaluation.

Year 2

•    Develop a suitable evaluation research methodology (this is likely to be a mixed methods study).

•    Gain ethical approval.

•    Undertake the research and evaluate the identified area. Use the findings for a PhD thesis and to inform the work of the University. 

Year 3

•    Write up the findings from across the whole project for PhD thesis.

•    Continue to advise the University about its approach to widening access, student success and progression, and about evaluation.

•    Undertake external dissemination.

About the supervisors

Professor Helen Higson is a Professor of Higher Education Learning and Management, and Associate Dean, Accreditations in Aston Business School.

Professor Liz Thomas is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Education at the University of York, and Visiting Professor in the Business School at Aston University.

Dr Uche Ogwude is a Senior Teaching Fellow in the Department of Marketing and Strategy in Aston Business School.   

Initial reading

Anderson, A. (2005). The community builder’s approach to theory of change: A practical guide to theory development. Retrieved from Aspen Institute Roundtable on Community Change website: http://www.theoryofchange. org/pdf/TOC_fac_guide.pdf.

Aston University’s Access and Participation Plan 2020/21 – 2024/25, available from https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/the-register/search-for-access-and-participation-plans/#/AccessPlans/

Thomas, L. (2020). Using logic chain and theory of change tools to evaluate widening participation: Learning from the What works? Student retention and success programme. Widening Participation and Lifelong Learning, 22(2), pp. 67-82. DOI: 10.5456/WPLL.22.2.67

Thomas, L. et al (forthcoming) Addressing the challenges of evaluating curriculum enhancement and learning development: An institutional case study using programme theory evaluation. Available from [email protected]

Person Specification

The successful applicant should hold the equivalent of a UK First or Upper Second Class Honours undergraduate degree from an approved university or higher education institution. They should also hold, or expect to achieve, a Masters degree with an overall weighted average of 65% in a relevant subject. Preferred skill requirements include knowledge/experience of qualitative research and applications in social sciences or related areas. 

The successful candidate will demonstrate:

  • An interest in and commitment to student diversity and success in higher education and social justice.
  • Experience of designing, undertaking and managing a research project (e.g. a dissertation project).
  • Ability to critically review and evaluate literature.
  • Excellent written skills to communicate with different audiences.
  • Excellent communication and facilitation skills, including working with senior and experienced colleagues.
  • Ability to work independently and as part of teams.

Contact information

For formal enquiries about this project please contact:

Helen Higson – [email protected]

Liz Thomas – [email protected]

Uche Ogwude – [email protected]

Submitting an application

As part of the application, you will need to supply:

  • A copy of your current CV
  • Copies of your academic qualifications for your Bachelor degree, and Masters degree; this should include both certificates and transcripts, and must be translated in to English.
  • A research proposal statement*
  • A personal statement
  • Two academic references
  • Proof of your English Language proficiency

Details of how to submit your application, and the necessary supporting documents can be found here . 

Please select “Aston Business School Research Degree Programme” from the application form options.

*The application must be accompanied by a “research proposal” statement. An original proposal is not required as the initial scope of the project has been defined, candidates should take this opportunity to detail how their knowledge and experience will benefit the project and should also be accompanied by a brief review of relevant research literature.

Please include the supervisor’s name, project title and project reference in your Personal Statement.

If you require further information about the application process, please contact the Postgraduate Admissions team at [email protected]  

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