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Social Policy Criminology Public Policy & Social Work - Research


SCPS is a world-leading centre of excellence for applied research that examines complex policy and service dilemmas facing post-conflict societies.


Social Policy, Criminology, Public Policy and Social Work (SCPS), is a substantial multi-disciplinary, cross campus research unit with members working on a range of methodological, theoretical, empirical and policy related issues. It is distinguished by its applied, interdisciplinary research that draws on national and international comparative methods, to develop innovative and significant impact centred work which pushes the disciplinary boundaries and promotes important changes within society.

SCPS has developed an international reputation for:
Pioneering theoretical ideas that change the way in which policy, governance, criminology and social work are conceptualised.

Developing cutting-edge research methodologies which produce unique, internationally significant data-sets.

Designing a range of innovative analytical tools that help reform and guide social practice.

Disseminating research outputs to a range of stakeholder groups in order to strengthen, and critically reflect upon, policy and practice.

The University welcomes applicants interested in researching social policy, criminology and justice, policing, prisons, public policy, social work, poverty, disadvantage, migration and welfare.


The strength and rigour of SCPS’ research has been registered in successive research assessment exercises. In the most recent research assessment exercise, ‘REF 2014’, seventy percent of SCPS’ research has been graded world-leading or internationally excellent, with a 160% increase in world-leading research since the 2008 assessment exercise. SCPS ranks 12th in the UK for outstanding research impact (4*) and 20th for world-leading research (4*).

SCPS distinguishes itself through a long-standing commitment to researching and shaping governance, policy, and practice in divided societies dealing with the legacies of violence and conflict. This focus is being expanded and enriched through strategic diversification into new applied research streams that inquire into, and confront, challenges presented by racism, inequality, economic marginalisation, institutional reform and the crimes of the powerful. Furthermore, the unit aims to address blind-spots and lacunas in governance, policy and service delivery which conflict and transition can create, in areas such as gender, disability, ageing, health, criminal justice, and ethnic minorities. These streams are enhanced through transnational research that draws on growing international linkages to better understand how regional and global distributions of power, wealth, infrastructure, resources, and knowledge, impact on governance, policy, and practice on a variety of scales.

The unit’s research priorities are supported by a vibrant, aspirational culture that supports scholars to develop and pioneer innovative methodologies, analytical tools, and theoretical concepts that can sensitively and rigorously build evidence based, conceptually rich understandings of the complex processes that shape reform, accountability and service delivery. We embrace interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research that harnesses diverse tools and approaches to enhance our response to field-specific challenges.

The unit aims to formulate and execute our research collaboratively, and share our findings through innovative mechanisms that cater to the precise needs of diverse user-group. SCPS has also demonstrated a preparedness, when needed, to confront injustice and significant failures in policy and governance in a robust manner, often with significant effect. This distinctive research agenda is operationalised through four research groups: criminology and justice, social policy, public policy, and social work.

Entry requirements

Entry conditions

We recognise a range of qualifications for admission to our courses. In addition to the specific entry conditions for this course you must also meet the University’s General Entrance Requirements. For general entrance requirements go to:

Entry Requirements

You will need to hold a First of Upper Second Class Honours degree (or equivalent) in an area relevant to your chosen project to be able to apply.

If you have obtained an undergraduate degree from a non-UK institution, we can advise you on how it compares to the UK system.

English Language Requirements

English language requirements for international applicants

The minimum requirement for research degree programmes is Academic IELTS 6.0 with no band score less than 5.5. This is the only acceptable certificate for those requiring to obtain a Tier 4 visa.

Ulster recognises a number of other English language tests and comparable IELTS equivalent scores


As a full time student, the expectation is that you will work on your project on a daily basis, either on or off campus as agreed with your supervisor. You will be entitled to 40 days holiday per annum.

Part time students are expected to meet with their supervisors on a regular basis, most usually this would be monthly but this is dependent on the project area.

Careers or further progression

Career options

Although academia is considered to be the most obvious path for any PhD holder, with around two thirds of our graduates remaining in the Higher Education or Research sectors, the degree also paves way for a career in industries centred on research and innovation.

PhD graduates are recognised by employers to hold valuable transferrable skills, as the nature of the degree trains candidates in creativity, critical inquiry, problem solving, negotiation skills, professionalism and confidence.

The most recent Ulster survey of PhD graduates found that 92% had secured employment within the first year since graduation (HESA Destination of Leavers Survey 2015).

Further enquiries

General enquiries: Dr Kristian Lasslett (

Social Policy: Dr Ann-Marie Gray (

Criminology: Dr John Topping (

Public Policy: Dr Gordon Marnoch (gj.marnoch@ulster.

Social Work: Prof Brian Taylor (

Research areas

Research facilities and groups

It is increasingly recognized that a thriving community of postgraduate students contribute to the overall research culture and assist in social regeneration initiatives. SCPS aims to enrich the postgraduate experience by strengthening research training, enhancing the research environment and promoting interaction between post-graduate researchers and staff across the disciplines. Our work is guided by a commitment to developing a supportive and collaborative environment where postgraduate students are involved in all aspects of the unit’s life, including academic events, public engagement, publishing and training.

In pursuit of this objective SCPS has developed, in collaboration with other units and the Research Graduate School, a range of initiatives designed to enhance the student experience. They include:

A methodological master-class series led by senior researchers from the Faculty of Social Sciences.

Postgraduate writing workshops, seminar series, and conferences.

Student led reading groups that examine key theoretical frameworks and policy debates.

A postgraduate student events committee which organises a range of research and social events.

Interdisciplinary supervision teams that employ a group-supervision approach.

Research student away-days that cover a range of theoretical, methodological and analytical themes.

Supporting students to attend relevant conferences, seminars and workshops.

Encouraging collaborations between students and staff that produce outstanding research and/or impact.

Supporting mentorship between research students at different stages of progression.

In addition to unit level support, research students have access to a range of facilities and services provided by the Faculty Research Graduate School (RGS). All full time research students in the Faculty of Social Sciences are provided with access to a desk, storage and IT facilities (hardware, software and technical support) in shared office space on their home campus. On admission, in addition to the University induction, students receive face to face induction into the Faculty RGS by the Head of RGS, and are introduced to the RGS secretary.

Throughout their period of study the RGS:
acts as a hub for information,

financially administers Research Training Support Grant funds for students with funding,

provides advice, organisation and general support for research students and supervisors, and

organises regular social events.

At induction, research students are advised to meet individually with subject librarians who provide ongoing support throughout the period of study, in addition to excellent online researcher support.

Students are expected to participate in the University Research Development programme (informed by the Vitae Research Development Framework), which offers generic and research skills training; students may also participate in the University's Doctoral Innovation Programme. The latter includes an opportunity for those who successfully complete the required assessment to receive certification from the Institute of Leadership and Management of a Level 5 unit in Project Management. Teaching opportunities are available to research students and are supported by the Research Development Programme's courses for Postgraduate Tutors and Demonstrators, Introduction to Teaching and Learning and First Steps to Supporting Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.

Part time students are inducted in the same way and may request access to a desk and IT facilities on a shared or temporary basis. They are also invited to avail of all other training and support available to full time students.

Enrolment and start dates

Start Date: September 2017

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