Research course

Higher Education

University of Surrey · Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Entry requirements

Applicants are expected to hold a good honours degree in an appropriate discipline.

Months of entry

January, April, July

Course content

At Surrey, our aim is to produce the next generation of researchers, ready to address the complex problems in higher education, and help shape higher education policy and practice at local, national and international levels.

Our Department of Higher Education is one of the largest departments in the UK dedicated to multidisciplinary research solely in higher education, investigating academic identity and development, assessment and feedback, and learning and teaching in the disciplinary context.

We’ve secured research grants from a variety of funders, including the British Academy, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), the Leverhulme Trust, the Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA) and the Society for Research into Higher Education (SRHE).

You’ll benefit from our vibrant research culture and you’ll work alongside leading academics who’re at the forefront of their respective fields, giving you access to expertise in a range of areas of higher education.

Our PhD is research-based, so you’ll spend most of your time developing a research question, conducting original research, analysing your results and writing up your research findings, all under the guidance of your project supervisors. We’ll also give you tailored research methods training through online and face-to-face tutorials.

Current students are researching topics including:

  • Pedagogical content knowledge of English as a second or foreign language teachers: effects of teacher education and expertise.
  • Promoting English foreign language students’ willingness to communicate through teacher classroom behaviour and strategies in the Saudi context.
  • Re-imagining students’ becomings: new approaches to thinking and doing transition.
  • Role of self-perception in the reconstruction of teacher’s identity: exploring the impact on foreign trained English teachers in higher education institutions.

We’ll equip you with the skills and knowledge needed to shape professional practice and policy, allowing you to pursue highly a fulfilling career in academic, research and learning development positions within the higher education sector. Graduates also take up roles as researchers for government think-tanks, as well as policy research advisers.


You’ll have a confirmation assessment to formally review your project. If you're a full-time student, this will take place around 12-15 months into your studies or 24-30 months if you’re studying part-time. You’ll be required to submit a written report and successfully complete an oral examination.

Your final assessment will be based on the presentation of your research in a written thesis, which you will be discussed in a viva examination with at least two examiners.

Progress reviews

In addition to the confirmation process you’ll have six-monthly progress reviews with your supervisors. These meetings are an opportunity to reflect on your progress, discuss successes and challenges and set targets for the next six months. These reviews will be monitored by postgraduate research directors and recorded on your student record.

You’ll also have one formal meeting with your supervisors every month and can expect to have more frequent meetings between these. The regularity of these will depend on the nature and stage of your project.

Professional development

You’ll be invited to engage in regular departmental activities within the Department of Higher Education, giving you a breadth of tangible experience and real-world insight into a higher education institution.

Research support

The professional development of postgraduate researchers is supported by the Doctoral College, which provides training in essential skills through its Researcher Development Programme of workshops, mentoring and coaching. A dedicated postgraduate Careers and Employability team will help you prepare for a successful career after the completion of your PhD.

Qualification, course duration and attendance options

  • PhD
    full time
    48 months
    • Campus-based learningis available for this qualification
    part time
    96 months
    • Campus-based learningis available for this qualification

Course contact details

+44 (0)1483 682 222