Studentship opportunity

Work-based learning environments (WBLE) for fostering industry-relevant skills and optimal economic performance

This studentship is funded by the ESRC and Skills Development Scotland through the Scottish Graduate School of the Social Sciences

Edinburgh Napier University
Science, Technology and Innovation Studies and Information and Communication Studies
Mode of study

Full time / Part time

Application deadline
7th May 2019

Project details

The aim of the proposed studentship project is to develop new knowledge and practical methods for evaluating the impact of work-based learning (WBL) on industry performance. It addresses a need for outcome-based measures to assess long-term benefits of WBL.

The research will survey the extent of current provision and impact of WBL in Scottish industry and analyse the attributes of WBL that contribute to improved productivity and performance.  A novel approach to measuring the impact of WBL on firm performance will be explored. Rather than take a purely skills perspective (i.e. mapping skills and outputs), the focus will be on measuring maturity of ‘expansive’ work-based learning environments (WBLE) that include educational providers and sectoral bodies and that demonstrate ‘Industry 4.0’ characteristics in their use of real-time data and context-sensitive information to create an optimal learning experience which leads to increased productivity.

The research will adopt a mixed methods approach to the empirical work. A nation-wide survey will be conducted to gather quantitative data on the current provision and perceived impact of WBL in industry. A sample of 3-5 firms, representing different sizes and sectors, will be selected from the survey participants who have indicated willingness to take part in further in-depth research. A qualitative study of the sample of firms will be undertaken using multi-methods including direct observation, interviews and focus groups.

The main research questions to be addressed in a study of Scottish enterprises are:

  1. What is the extent of current provision and impact of WBL?
  2. What are the critical success and limiting factors indicative of different levels of WBL maturity and performance success?
  3. How can the WBL environment be measured/evaluated/assessed as an indicator of ‘maturity’, and what is the potential value (and burden) of this for educational providers, employers, learners and communities?

The studentship project will benefit from the combined research expertise and experience of the supervisory team and the research environment in the Centre for Social Informatics at Edinburgh Napier University. The proposed project is achievable in collaboration with Skills Development Scotland and with the supervisory team’s direct connections with industry and employers.

The outcomes of the studentship will underpin policy development in work-based learning and support the work of SDS by identifying and providing evidence of good practice; and developing new approaches in work-based learning with a particular focus on work-based learning environments.

About the institution

The Centre for Social Informatics (CSI) is situated within the School of Computing at Edinburgh Napier University. The research undertaken by the staff and research students within CSI provides critical perspectives on sociotechnical interactions across a range of subject areas. These include democratic digital engagement, e-government, information policy, information seeking behaviour and use, knowledge management, the Information Society, online communities, and open data and open government. Currently CSI research students are conducting doctoral research on topics such as the social impact of youth digital engagement, meta-skills for future work, workplace learning and innovative work behaviour, the value of the census to policy making, and the role of public libraries in the development of citizenship. CSI has a track record of supervising SDS collaborative studentships with one completion to date, and another in 2019. Both of these candidates secured employment by the end of their funding period: one in the NHS, and the other with the Scottish Government.


We are interested in receiving applications for the studentship on a full-time or a part-time basis. Your eligibility to apply will depend on your current level of degree qualification, prior training in advanced research methods, and your ability to meet the additional criteria for the studentship award. If you hold, or are nearing successful completion of, a Masters degree in a social science subject which includes 60 credits of research training, you may be eligible to apply for the fully-funded PhD programme: 3 year full-time; 5 year part-time. If you do not hold a Masters qualification and are not currently working towards one (or the Masters degree that you hold/are working towards does not include 60 credits of research methods training), you will be required to undertake an approved Masters-level research training programme for one year before transferring to this PhD programme. This route is also fully funded, i.e. you will be funded for the approved Masters-level research training programme and for the PhD. In addition to the above, you must meet the following eligibility criteria:
  1. Hold a good first degree (2.1 or first class).
  2. Demonstrate in interest in, and knowledge of, the broad theme of the studentship as described above.
  3. Have a good grounding in social research, including both qualitative and quantitative methods, with a keen desire to develop this further.
  4. Demonstrate an excellent level of spoken and written English.
We are particularly interested in receiving applications from those with qualifications in subjects such as: Careers; Education; Information Management; Information Science; Information Systems; Knowledge Management; Management; Organisational Studies; Psychology; Science, Technology and Innovation Studies, Social Research; and Sociology. However, this is not a requirement: if you have a qualification in another social science subject and meet the criteria listed above, we would still be keen to hear from you.

Students must meet ESRC eligibility criteria. ESRC eligibility information can be found here.

Award details

The scholarship is available as a +3 or a 1+3 programme depending on prior research training.  This will be assessed as part of the recruitment process.  The programme will commence in October 2019.  It includes
  • an annual maintenance grant at the RCUK rate (2019/20 rate £15,009 full-time)
  • fees at the standard Home rate
  • students can also draw on a pooled Research Training Support Grant, usually up to a maximum of £750 per year

Other information

For further information about the Centre for Social Informatics, please see For further information about this studentship, please contact Dr Laura Muir at

How to apply

  1. Please register on GradHub at and complete the equal opportunities data (as a requirement of the application process)
  2. Please complete and upload the prescribed list of required documentation to include:
  • Your completed application form (link to download is above)
  • Your academic transcripts
  • References
  • Your CV
  1. Please submit your application through GradHub (using the button below)

Selection process

Applications will be ranked by a selection panel and applicants will be notified if they have been shortlisted for interview by Friday, 17th May 2019. Interviews will take place on Wednesday, 5th June 2019. All scholarship awards are subject to candidates successfully securing admission to a PhD programme within Edinburgh Napier University. Successful scholarship applicants will be invited to apply for admission to the relevant PhD programme after they are selected for funding.

Supervisor/Contact details

Dr Laura Muir