Don't miss our weekly PhD newsletter | Sign up now Don't miss our weekly PhD newsletter | Sign up 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

  , ,  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD 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

Admission Requirements  

Applicants should have a minimum of a 2.1 undergraduate degree, and a master’s degree (taught or research) or previous postgraduate research experience in a health-related discipline.

If English is not your first language, the standard requirement for English is an IELTS score of 6.5 overall for non-clinical projects and 7 overall for clinical projects (or equivalent). More details about language requirements can be found here

 For more information on the project, please contact Vanessa Muirhead ()

For information on the application process, please contact

Medicine (26)

Funding Notes

We will consider applications from prospective students with a source of funding to cover tuition fees and bench fees for three years full-time or 6 years part-time. Both self-funded and sponsored students will be considered.
UK nationals, Irish citizens and those with settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme or indefinite leave to remain in the UK might be eligible for a doctoral loan for both the cost of tuition fees and a yearly stipend over the course of the PhD programme from Student Finance England: View Website


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.

How good is research at Queen Mary University of London in Allied Health Professions, Dentistry, Nursing and Pharmacy?

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

Register your interest for this project