FREE Virtual Study Fair | 1 - 2 March | REGISTER NOW FREE Virtual Study Fair | 1 - 2 March | REGISTER NOW

A mixed methods study to explore under-representation in undergraduate dental education and the barriers to access to dental schools in the UK

   Institute of Dentistry

This project is no longer listed on and may not be available.

Click here to search for PhD studentship opportunities
  Dr Vanessa Muirhead, Dr Arunthathi Mahendran, Dr Patricia Neville  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

There is a scarcity of research examining how under-representation is specifically produced in UK dental schools, despite the well-established body of research exploring barriers to access to higher education (1). Little is known about how race/ethnicity, sex and socioeconomic disadvantage could interact to conflate barriers to certain groups encapsulated in the concept of intersectionality (2). The UK Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) centralised data received 14,135 applications for dentistry in 2021 to attend 16 UK HEIs and processed 2,340 offers (3). No research has examined UCAS applications, offers and acceptance rates to study undergraduate dentistry in the UK using an intersectionality framework that combines race/ethnicity, sex, and socioeconomic status or social class.

Widening participation (WP) is one of the remedial actions aimed at addressing inequalities in access to higher education for excluded groups (4). WP covers a range of strategies including university visits, mentoring, application support, online study skills development, research experience and, practical workshop and preparation for university courses (4). Despite most UK dental schools having WP programmes, the paucity of evidence exposes two key research gaps: (i) what WP strategies and outcomes have been used to assess successful approaches in dentistry? and (ii) what is the evidence that WP improves the recruitment and experiences of dentistry applicants who experience intersectional disadvantage? WP spans across the student lifecycle before and after university entry involving secondary schools (5). Emerging research has highlighted the need to not only address barriers at the university entry point but also to engage in earlier interventions targeting pupils’ achievements, aspirations, and career choices in secondary schools (6). Existing research has failed to consider the impact of early experiences in the educational journey that could create barriers for under-represented groups aspiring to study dentistry.


The three studies in this mixed methods PhD research project aim to:

  1. Use an intersectionality framework and a secondary data analysis of UCAS data to explore underrepresented groups applying, receiving offers, and accepting places at UK dental schools
  2. Carry out a systematic review of the evidence on the effectiveness of WP interventions in dentistry
  3. Conduct a qualitative study to explore the barriers to access to dentistry perceived by secondary school pupils from underrepresented groups

Applications are invited from clinically trained dentists who are registered with the General Dental Council.

Funding Notes:

The Trustees of The Medical College of Saint Bartholomew’s Hospital Trust (MCSBHT) have offered funding for a research studentship, for a clinically qualified candidate to commence in October 2023, leading to a PhD degree from The QMUL Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry.

This studentship will fund a student with a clinical qualification and GMC / GDC registration at any career stage below consultant. The Studentship will cover the successful candidate’s current clinical salary and will include PhD fees (at home fee rate) with up to £6000 pa for consumables. Further consumables / funding for travel may be available on application. 

Notice on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: 

Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry aims to promote an organisational culture that is respectful and inclusive irrespective of age, disability, gender reassignment, ethnicity, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, sex and religion or belief. Moreover, it seeks to ensure that intersectionality is recognised, with explicit acknowledgement of the interconnected nature of social identities including race, class and sex, where these facets can create overlapping levels of discrimination or disadvantage.

Privacy Statement – sharing personal data with HARP

When you apply to the Trust for PhD support, or at any time afterwards, where you also apply to the Health Advances in Underrepresented Populations and Diseases PhD programme (“HARP”), the Trust will share your personal information with the Directors of HARP and with the other organisations involved in that programme, namely Queen Mary University of London, City University of London, Barts Charity, Barts Health NHS Trust and East London Foundation Trust. This may involve sharing your completed application forms, including equality monitoring information, as well as your name and contact details, your CV, details of your skills, education and experience, your proposed areas of study, and other information supporting your application. Your personal data will be shared for the purposes of evaluating your application and, if your application is successful, to administer your participation in the HARP doctoral training programme.


1) Wilson M, Donnelly S, Stainer J. Barriers to participation and progression in education. Y. In. Belfast: Youth Training Statistics and Research Board; 2018.
2) Muirhead VE, Milner A, Freeman R, Doughty J, Macdonald ME. What is intersectionality and why is it important in oral health research? Community Dent Oral Epidemiol 2020; 48 (6): 464-470
3) University Colleges, Admissions Service (UCAS). 2021 UCAS Undergraduate sector-level end of cycle data resources. 2022.
4) Williams M, Mellors-Bourne R. Improving access for the most able but least likely: Evaluation of the Realising Opportunities programme. Institution for Employment Studies; 2019.
5) Connell-Smith A, Hobble S. Widening participation strategy in higher education in England. Briefing Paper No: 8204. House of Commons Briefing Library.; 2018.
6) Chowdry H, Crawford C, Dearden L, Goodman A, Vignoles A. Widening participation in higher education: analysis using linked administrative data. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series a-Statistics in Society 2013;176(2):431-457.
PhD saved successfully
View saved PhDs