Expression of interest: Fully-funded PhD Scholarships for Higher Education Research

Expression of interest: Fully-funded PhD Scholarships for Higher Education Research

A consortium of universities has successfully obtained grant funding from the partnership between the South African Department of Higher Education and Training and the British Council, to implement Phase 2 of the University Staff Doctoral Programme (USDP).

This programme supports the Department of Higher Education and Training’s University Capacity Development Programme (UCDP) to achieve the goal of “Transforming teaching, learning, researching and leading towards enhanced quality, success and equity in universities”.

Eligibility: Permanent staff members at Walter Sisulu University and Stellenbosch University (South Africa) and Coventry University (UK), with the necessary entry requirements. Eligible applicants from other South African and United Kingdom universities may also be considered, should there not be enough qualifying candidates from Walter Sisulu, Stellenbosch and, Coventry University.

Funding: Tuition fees; relevant travel, accommodation and subsistence costs for mobile sabbaticals, subject to terms and conditions.

Duration: Designed to be completed in four years fixed-term (with the option to extend to six years, self-funded).

Partners: Coventry University's Centre for Global Learning: Education and Attainment (UK), Stellenbosch University's Centre for Higher and Adult Education, Faculty of Education (South Africa) and Walter Sisulu University (South Africa).

Deadline for expressions of interest: 31 August 2020

Interview date: To be confirmed to shortlisted candidates

Start date: September 2020 enrolments in pre-doctoral programme with PhD registration January 2021 for suitable candidates

Please send all Expressions of Interest forms to

For further details contact: Professor Katherine Wimpenny, Professor Liezel Frick, and Professor Elphina Cishe.

Programme overview

Together with Stellenbosch University and Walter Sisulu University, we are inviting expressions of interest from suitably qualified university staff to undertake a 3-month pre-doctoral course starting in September 2020, leading to fourteen fully-funded PhD scholarships for research into higher education for selected candidates commencing January 2021.

The partners have collaboratively designed a transnational, structured PhD programme approved and administered by Stellenbosch University and Coventry University.

Both the pre-doctoral course and the PhD programme are designed to be studied online with the whole cohort meeting face-to-face once a year in South Africa or the UK for ‘mobile sabbaticals’ from Year 1.

Participants will be taught and supervised by staff from Coventry University, Stellenbosch University, and Walter Sisulu University. By engaging in research in both the United Kingdom and South Africa, this scheme offers researchers the opportunity to advance their knowledge and expertise in the field of higher education studies, whilst developing their intercultural skills, international networks and collaborations.

This programme of research will lead to a Coventry University and Stellenbosch University award of a PhD in Higher Education, resulting in the issuance of two certificates by the respective institutions. Students must successfully defend their thesis (a single defence, jointly examined) according to each institution’s regulations.

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Register your interest

To register your interest in the Pre-Doctoral course, please complete and submit an Expression of Interest form.

Submit an Expression of Interest by 31 August 2020

Programme details

The overall focus is on curriculum enhancement in national and international contexts, and the transformation imperatives in the respective educational context. This concerns the broad area of higher education research and, specifically, equality, diversity, inclusion, transnationalisation, and developing creativity in teaching and learning.

Each doctoral project will contribute to the publication of at least one journal article and one policy paper. The research programme will address complex challenges in contemporary higher education in South Africa and the UK including:

  • Equality, diversity, inclusion and well-being
  • Transnationalisation, decolonisation and transformation of the curriculum 
  • Developing creative spaces in higher education curricula.

As part of the structured study, supervisors across all three institutions will assist candidates in selecting and scoping their particular area of interest. Therefore, rather than look for fully developed research proposals at the outset, candidates will be asked to prepare a review presentation on specific articles, or the current state of affairs within the field of study.

In our assessment of applications, we will look for interest and motivation to undertake doctoral study in novel ways within a diversity of academic environments. The selection process will consider candidates’ ability to plan and organise a research project, their openness to feedback and input from others, as well as their ability to collaborate, negotiate and influence others.

The successful candidates will progress through the programme together as a cohort.

Individuals will be allocated to Coventry University or Stellenbosch University as their home institution for administrative purposes, while remaining registered with both institutions for the duration of their studies. The planned 4+-year pattern of attendance is shown below although plans for each student would be developed in response to their research design and with the mutual agreement of the supervision team. The pre-doctoral support package will familiarize candidates with doctoral study and what it entails.

The write-up period will occur, by agreement, in the most appropriate venue (Walter Sisulu University; Coventry University; Stellenbosch University).

Progression to the next year will be determined by an annual progress review.

  Main activities Pedagogies
Year 0 (September 2020) Pre-doctoral preparatory course Online workshops and access to resources 
Application to doctoral study to Coventry University and Stellenbosch University
Year 1 (January 2021) Propsal development; Literature review and theoretical framing; Ethics application 5-day sabbatical at Walter Sisulu University; 5-day sabbatical at Stellenbosch University; Online workshops and supervisions 
Year 2 Study design (Methodology / Methods); Data collection / fieldwork 5-day sabbatical at Stellenbosch University; Online workshops and supervisions 
Year 3 Analysis and interpretation; Discussion   8-week sabbatical at Coventry University; Online workshops and supervisions, group webinars
Year 4 Write up of thesis;
Work on research publication;
Thesis submission and Viva
3-day colloquium at Walter Sisulu University; Online supervisions, group webinars


Throughout the programme, students will be supervised by a team of academic experts from across all three universities.


  • Department for Higher Education and Training (South Africa)
  • British Council (UK)
  • Coventry University
  • Stellenbosch University
  • Walter Sisulu University

Funding details:

  • Full tuition fees covered at the home institution and fee waivers at the partner institution.
  • Set accommodation, travel and subsistence costs for mobile sabbaticals, subject to terms and conditions.

The successful candidates will receive comprehensive research training including technical, personal and professional skills at the Doctoral College and Centre for Research Capability and Development at Coventry University. At Stellenbosch University, they will be able to benefit from support provided by the Postgraduate Office and participate in the institutional Postgraduate Skills Development programme.

The programme team offers a proven track record in successful doctoral supervision and expertise in the thematic areas identified.

The enrolment of 14 doctoral candidates (10 from Walter Sisulu, and two each from Stellenbosch and Coventry University) offers potential for excellent peer support throughout the programme. 

Successful candidates will be registered with both Coventry and Stellenbosch throughout their studies.

This scheme is for professional and academic staff working in South African or UK higher education as part of an initiative to promote doctoral education amongst under-represented groups employed in the partnering universities. Ten funded places are available to suitably qualified applicants from Walter Sisulu University, two are available at Coventry University, and a further two are available at Stellenbosch University.

Non-permanent Walter Sisulu University, Stellenbosch University and Coventry University staff and applicants from other South African and UK Universities may also be considered, should there not be enough qualifying candidates from the aforementioned universities.

Successful applicants will be required to agree to repay PhD fees should they withdraw before completion or leave their current employer within one year of completion.

Entry requirements:

A Master’s Degree in a relevant subject area. The Master’s must have been attained with minimum overall marks at merit level (65%). The dissertation or equivalent element in the Master’s must also have been attained with a minimum mark of merit level (65%).

English language requirements:
  • If you are not from the UK or a majority English speaking country, a minimum English language proficiency 7.0 in the IELTS Academic Test with a minimum of 6.5 in each component, or equivalent accepted qualifications.
  • UK degree-level standard qualifications in the medium of English in the UK or in a majority English speaking country undertaken within the last two years can be considered.
  • Alternatively, the Coventry University and Stellenbosch University teams will assess candidates’ background, professional experience and qualifications in English to determine suitability.


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