University of Hull EmblemFaculty of Education PhD Scholarship

Freedom to Learn: alternative systems of education and social inequality

To celebrate the University's research successes, the University of Hull is offering one full- time UK/EU PhD Scholarship or International Fees Bursary for candidates applying for this project in the Faculty of Education.

Closing date: 3rdFebruary 2014.

Studentships will start on 29thSeptember 2014


Dr Max Hope email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

tel. 01482 466878

Dr Catherine Montgomery email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

tel. 01482 466187

Centre for Educational Studies

The Centre for Educational Studies invites applications for a PhD studentship that will explore alternative educational institutions which strive to develop autonomy and ‘freedom to learn’, considering whether these institutions have a positive impact on students (including the potential development of social, cultural and emotional capital) and as a consequence, on reducing inequalities in education and society.

Formal education is widely acknowledged as a crucial means of enabling socio-economic mobility, not simply as the route to better employment but for its role in broadening opportunities for individuals in society and thus enabling social change (Rao, 2010). Nonetheless, educational theorists and government appear to concur that schools and universities are failing to have an impact on the gap in educational and social ‘achievement’ between low and high income families. Reay (2011) notes that current systems of schools and universities simply exacerbate social inequality, and Michael Gove, the Secretary for Education bluntly pointed out in 2010 that ‘rich, thick kids do better educationally than poor clever children... despite the best efforts of our society, the situation is getting worse’(Shepherd, 2010, no page). Further to this, the current government education secretary Michael Gove noted that ‘other countries are moving faster ahead’ (ibid) in this respect. This is apparent through the most recent PISA statistics (2012) in which countries such as Australia, Canada, Estonia, Finland, Hong Kong-China, Japan and Korea combine higher levels of performance with equity in education opportunities than the UK.

The studentship will be open to developing an individual focus in this area but the overall study will concentrate broadly on educational systems which address social inequalities by valuing collaboration and autonomy, emphasising democratic values and offering an alternative to the dominant model (Fielding and Moss, 2011). Elements that may surface include the role of assessment systems which can provide a context for inequality in both education and society; the importance of interpersonal relationships in the learning environment; or the conflict between neo-liberal agendas in society at large and the development of open student-led learning in autonomous learning environments.

These suggested areas are intended as examples rather than an exhaustive list as the student appointed will be free to explore in areas of his or her interest within the parameters outlined above. Candidates interested in exploring the international dimensions relevant to this area will be particularly welcomed.

Reference list

Fielding, M. & Moss, P. (2011).Radical Education and the Common School: A Democratic Alternative. Oxon: Routledge.

Rao, N. (2010) Migration, education and socio-economic mobility. Compare: a journal of comparative education. 40: 2, 137-145.

Reay, D. (2011) Schooling for democracy: a common school and a common university? Democracy and Education. 19: 1, 1-4.

Shepherd, J (2010) Rich, thick kids achieve much more than poor clever ones, Gove says. Guardian Newspaper, Education Section. 28 July. Last accessed 21 May 2013.



Additional Information

This scholarship is for a PhD student in the Faculty of Education in the University of Hull. This student will undertake their own original piece of independent doctoral research but, importantly, we are not seeing this as a stand-alone piece of work. Rather, we hope that this student will see themselves as part of a team of researchers who are all working on projects related to inclusion, democracy, participation, equalities and ‘freedom to learn’ within education.

Dr Max Hope ( and Dr Catherine Montgomery are the supervisors for this PhD student. Dr Max Hope is the leader of the Inclusion Research Group within the Faculty and Dr Catherine Montgomery is the co-leader of the Higher Education Research Group. Together, they are working together to develop new research about the concept of ‘freedom to learn’, and in particular, how ‘alternative’ and ‘counter-hegemonic’ educational organisations can work to improve social and educational outcomes and reduce social inequalities.


Frequently Asked Questions

Is the scholarship full-time or part-time?

This scholarship is for one full-time student to undertake a PhD over three years (subject to satisfactory progress).

What does the scholarship fund?

All of the information about the financial aspects of the scholarship is available on the University of Hull’s website: ( ). Do get in touch with the Graduate School with specific questions.

Do I have to be based in Hull?

Undertaking a PhD in Hull entails completing some modules on research methods which does mean that this student will need to be able to be in Hull on a frequent basis during the first year. In addition, we want this student to contribute as part of a research team, and as such, it is a great advantage to be in Hull on a regular basis throughout the duration of the scholarship. The Faculty offers many opportunities for PhD students to meet together with staff and with other students, including being part of the Research Groups. We are happy to discuss this further with individuals regarding their circumstances.


What types of research can I undertake?

We are not prescriptive about the type of research you are to undertake (qualitative, quantitative, mixed methods etc). We are not going to specify which type of educational organisation you will conduct your research in (higher education, schools, adult learning, informal settings). We are not specifying which location or which country as there are different arguments for choosing particular locations. We are, however, going to specify that research should take place in educational settings which are not selective or fee-paying (with the exception of universities) on the grounds that these are more likely to be able to address issues of inequality.

What is the application process?

There is an online application (  – click Apply). This is fairly self-explanatory in terms of needing personal details, educational and employment background, research experience, references. The section which needs the most work is the research proposal. In this, we expect to see a strong outline of the research that you would like to undertake and the proposed methodology. Please note that this needs to be very clearly aligned with the research brief of ‘freedom to learn’ in terms of undertaking research about educational systems which address social inequalities by valuing collaboration and autonomy, emphasising democratic values and offering an alternative to the dominant model.

Once all of the applications have been received (closing date 3rd February 2014), we will review them and create a short-list of applicants for interview.


If you require any more information or would like to discuss this further please do not hesitate to contact us directly.

Dr Max Hope, Lecturer in Education & Social Inclusion.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Dr Catherine Montgomery, Graduate Research Director.

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Please see departmental website for further information:




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