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BL Hawkes: Evaluating the impact of student employability and engagement initiative at university

Faculty: Business and Law

Supervisors: Prof Denise Hawkes; Dr Xiaoxuan Jia; Neale Daniel

Location: Chelmsford

The interview for this project is expected to take place on Wednesday 17 April.

This project is also open to international applicants.

Apply online by 3 March 2024

There has been growing interest from scholars and policymakers in analysing and addressing social and economic inequalities.

The UK Government Levelling Up White Paper is developed to resolve regional economic disparities, and it identifies universities as important anchor institutions for facilitating knowledge sharing and collaboration between public and private sectors, providing equal opportunities to students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and improving regional growth (Gov.UK, 2022).

This move in policy is nationwide and a big step up to the access and participation plan introduced by the Office for Students (OfS) in 2018.

Thanks to funding from Research England and OfS, Students at the Heart of Knowledge Exchange (SHoKE) was launched at ARU in February 2021, with the aim of improving student access to resources and opportunities. It features a unique aspect of helping students develop their social capital and a sense of belonging in society.

In 2022, SHoKE became a strategic ARU initiative, working with over 20 external partners including Cambridgeshire County Council, Essex County Council, police forces, the NHS, and major charities including Diabetes UK.

The initiative delivers three student-centred schemes: Student Consult, Spotlight on, and Impact 24. Postgraduate students can participate in month-long Student Consult projects, where they are trained and supported by professional staff at ARU.

All students can participate in Spotlight on, which are four-month projects where they are asked to submit creative ideas on a major challenge to our external partners. Our partners then select the most promising ideas and commission Student Consult teams to provide an in-depth analysis and propose implementation strategies.

Impact 24 comprises 24-hour challenge events that involve multidisciplinary student teams from all levels coming together to identify potential solutions to partners’ societal challenges. The projects typically focus upon organisational challenges relating to social value initiatives and sustainability.

This research will evaluate the impact of SHoKE on students’ academic performances and subsequent degree attainment gap and graduate outcomes. Our contribution is twofold.

Firstly, following OfS’s call to monitor the effectiveness of access and participation plans, and to ensure the long-term sustainability and growth of SHoKE, it is imperative that we implement a robust monitoring and evaluation process, especially now that the initiative has passed its challenging start-up period since the pandemic.

Second, we will contribute to the literature by utilising a difference-in-difference estimator with synthetic twins to determine the causal relationship between post-entry intervention initiative SHoKE and the degree attainment gap, and to what extent such initiatives 'work'. This follows OfS’s drive to have evidence-based approaches when developing institutional access and participation plans

Key objectives of the project:

  1. Streamlining the data sources and building the database needed for evaluation and monitoring.
  2. Assessing the impact of SHoKE on academic performance, degree attainment gap and employment outcome after graduation.

This project will be embedded within the Centre for Inclusive Societies and Economies within the School of Economics, Finance and Law. It will be supported by two supervisors from within the school, both education economists, and the SHoKE Lead.

The successful candidate will receive the training required for research design, research philosophy and methodology via our internal PGR research method training programme, and have the opportunity to develop other skills needed through the University’s Researcher Development Programme.

The faculty also offers access to a variety of specialised qualitative and quantitative analysis software, as well as a dedicated and fully-equipped PhD student office where the candidate can undertake training and work on this project. The faculty has two dedicated subject librarians to help source, acquire and update the literature references for the project.

The candidate will also receive full membership of the Royal Economic Society and support to engage with the doctoral training and other events offered through RES.

We are looking for a scholar with an interest in learning economic evaluation methods and applying these to evaluate contemporary social issues. A passion for inclusive access to higher education and the transformative power of education would be a real asset in undertaking this PhD.

We are particularly interested in candidates who have experience of working on access, success and progression in higher education. Your professional knowledge and lived experiences of working to make higher education inclusive will be an asset to the project.

If you would like to discuss this research project, please contact Denise Hawkes: [email protected]

Apply online by 3 March 2024

Funding notes

The successful applicant for this project will receive a Vice Chancellor’s PhD Scholarship which covers the tuition fees and provides a UKRI equivalent minimum annual stipend for three years. For 2023/4 this was £18,622 per year. The award is subject to the successful candidate meeting the scholarship terms and conditions. Please note that the University asserts the right to claim any intellectual property generated by research it funds.

Download the full terms and conditions.