Postgraduate research opportunities

Childhood Education and Skill Development: Evaluating the Effects of Policy and School Environments

A three-year Economics PhD scholarship for candidates who wish to evaluate the effects of Universal Credit on the educational outcomes of disadvantaged children in the UK and to assess how features of the school environment in developing countries impact skill development.

Number of places



Home fee, Stipend


6 January 2021


30 April 2021


36 months


Candidates must meet the following eligibility criteria:

  • A good first degree (at least 2:1), preferably with an Economics or similar quantitative component (e.g., Statistics and Computer Science are highly relevant)
  • A Master’s degree (or equivalent) in Economics, with the expected completion date no later than September 2021
  • An interest in education/skill development inequalities, in assessing causal treatment effects, and a willingness to conduct advanced data analysis to approach research questions
  • A willingness to engage both with rigorous academic work and with realising the impact of research findings beyond the confines of academia.
  • Candidates who are not native English speakers will be required to provide evidence for their English skills (such as by IELTS or similar tests that are approved by UKVI, or a degree completed in an English-speaking country).

Project Details

There exists a broad array of channels whereby children’s development in education and behaviour are affected. Two key sources of interest relevant to stakeholders across government, schools, families, and more are (i) policy changes that impact family resources and (ii) features of the school environment. Moreover, to build equality in education, it is important to understand how such channels help, or hinder, children in low-income circumstances.

This project will (i) evaluate the effect of a recent policy shift in the UK– the shift to Universal Credit (UC) – on children’s academic and behavioural outcomes, and (ii) evaluate the effect of a salient feature within school environments – teacher-student gender matches – on student performance and academic self-concept in the developing world. 

Universal Credit rolled six “legacy” benefits into one monthly payment, implemented stricter conditions, and reductions in payments for some claimant groups. This could have unintended consequences for children’s education if it negatively impacts resources in already deprived households. The student will focus on evaluating these consequences using data from the National Pupil Database (NPD), which is rich in academic and behavioural outcomes on children in English schools.

Teacher-student relationships form an important part of the school environment. Teachers may serve as role models and gendered norms may particularly discourage girls. Thus, this part of the project will evaluate the effect of teacher-student gender matches on student performance and academic self-concept using the Young Lives Longitudinal Survey school components in Ethiopia, which provides unique information on students and their teachers across schools.  

Funding Details

Fully funded scholarship for 3 years covers all university tuition fees (at UK/EU level) and an annual tax-free stipend. The stipend is set at £15,667 for the academic year 2020/21 and rises each year.  

International students are also eligible to apply, but they will need to find other funding sources to cover the difference between the home and international tuition fees. Exceptional international candidates may be provided funding for this difference.

How to apply

We require applicants to upload documents in two different places:

1. We require you to apply for PhD student using the standard University application system. You can access this here. Candidates applying for this scholarship should ensure that they include the scholarship reference REA 2360.

2. We need you to upload your application documentation to this site which will allow us to undertake the required recruitment process for the scholarship. Once you have accessed the folder please upload the following:

  • cover letter indicating the candidate's relevant skills/experience and how they can contribute to this research
  • CV
  • transcripts and certificates of all degrees
  • proof of English language proficiency if English isn't your first language – IELTS minimum overall band score of 6.5 (no individual test score below 5.5)
  • two references (please refer to guidance on references here)

When sending the above documents please use the following file-naming convention: fullname_typeofdocument

  • Johnsmith_coverletter
  • Johnsmith_CV
  • Johnsmith_transcript1
  • Johnsmith_transcript2
  • Johnsmith_certificate1
  • Johnsmith_certificate2
  • Johnsmith_IELTS
  • Johnsmith_reference1
  • Johnsmith_reference2