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Gender and volunteer participation in the North East of England: An exploration of disparities using case studies (RDF23/HLS/SWECW/Heslop)

   Faculty of Health and Life Sciences

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  Dr Kay Heslop, Prof Katie Haighton  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Volunteering, defined as planned and sustained unpaid work or activity to benefit others outside of the family or household in which the individual freely chooses to participate, provides some unique benefits to organisations, recipients, and the volunteers themselves (Salamon & Sokolowski 2016). Volunteering can be a cost-effective approach to cope with increased demand for services, given that volunteering contributes around £20 billion to the UK economy each year (NCVO 2021). There is also evidence that volunteering provides benefits to its recipients in the form of improved sense of participation, self-esteem and self-efficacy and reduced loneliness (Grönlund & Falk 2019). In addition, research has shown that volunteering can have significant positive effects on the social, physical and mental health of volunteers themselves (Nichol et al 2022). However, it must also be acknowledged that in some cases volunteering can have negative impacts such as on employment and the local economy.

In general, women are more likely to volunteer than men (NCVO 2021) with around 57% of volunteers being women. There are also differences in the way men and women volunteer, the amount of time they spend, the types of work they do and their levels of responsibilities (Borromeo 2021). Volunteering roles can be highly segregated. Research shows that women are more likely to volunteer for organisations in the areas of social and health services, particularly unpaid care work beyond the household, while male volunteers are often found in political, economic and scientific fields (Borromeo 2021). These differences could be mirroring existing social norms and structural inequalities in our societies. It is important to understand what, where, how and why these disparities occur to better design policies and interventions that can address discrimination and inequalities.

This studentship will sit within the Department of Social Work, Education and Community Wellbeing at the University of Northumbria and build on supervisor’s previous research on volunteering and utilise supervisor’s pre-existing links with organisations in the North East that use volunteers but with apparent gender inequality as contrasting case studies. Methodology will likely include innovative qualitative enquiry, ethnographic work including observation and analysis of naturally occurring data. This PhD aligns with the inter-disciplinary research theme of Integrated Health and Social Care (addressing inequalities and optimising social, physical and mental wellbeing across all life stages) and the Northumbria University “Volunteering” Peak of Excellence. As such the successful candidate will work closely with inter-disciplinary academics at Northumbria University including Dr Kay Heslop (Education), Professor Katie Haighton (Public Health) and Professor Matt Baillie Smith (Geography and Environmental Sciences) who have strong links with both the North East and North Cumbria Applied Research Collaboration and Fuse, the Centre for Translational Research in Public Health.

Academic Enquiries

This project is supervised by Dr Kay Heslop, Professor Katie Haighton and Professor Matt Baillie Smith. For informal queries, please contact Kay Heslop ([Email Address Removed]). For all other enquiries relating to eligibility or application process please use the email form below to contact Admissions. 

Funding Information

Home and International students (inc. EU) are welcome to apply. The studentship is available to Home and International (including EU) students and includes a full stipend at UKRI rates (for 2022/23 full-time study this is £17,668 per year) and full tuition fees. Studentships are also available for applicants who wish to study on a part-time basis over 5 years (0.6 FTE, stipend £10,600 per year and full tuition fees) in combination with work or personal responsibilities).  

Please also see further advice below of additional costs that may apply to international applicants.

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
  • Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
  • Applicants cannot apply for this funding if they are already a PhD holder or if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere.

Please note: to be classed as a Home student, candidates must meet the following criteria:

  • Be a UK National (meeting residency requirements), or
  • have settled status, or
  • have pre-settled status (meeting residency requirements), or
  • have indefinite leave to remain or enter.

If a candidate does not meet the criteria above, they would be classed as an International student.  Applicants will need to be in the UK and fully enrolled before stipend payments can commence, and be aware of the following additional costs that may be incurred, as these are not covered by the studentship.

  • Immigration Health Surcharge https://www.gov.uk/healthcare-immigration-application
  • If you need to apply for a Student Visa to enter the UK, please refer to the information on https://www.gov.uk/student-visa. It is important that you read this information very carefully as it is your responsibility to ensure that you hold the correct funds required for your visa application otherwise your visa may be refused.
  • Check what COVID-19 tests you need to take and the quarantine rules for travel to England https://www.gov.uk/guidance/travel-to-england-from-another-country-during-coronavirus-covid-19
  • Costs associated with English Language requirements which may be required for students not having completed a first degree in English, will not be borne by the university. Please see individual adverts for further details of the English Language requirements for the university you are applying to.

How to Apply

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see


For applications to be considered for interview, please include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words and the advert reference (e.g. RDF23/…).

Deadline for applications: 27 January 2023

Start date of course: 1 October 2023 tbc

Northumbria University is committed to creating an inclusive culture where we take pride in, and value, the diversity of our doctoral students. We encourage and welcome applications from all members of the community. The University holds a bronze Athena Swan award in recognition of our commitment to advancing gender equality, we are a Disability Confident Employer, a member of the Race Equality Charter and are participating in the Stonewall Diversity Champion Programme.


Salamon LM, Sokolowski SW. Beyond Nonprofits: Re-conceptualizing the Third Sector. Voluntas. 2016;27(4):1515
NCVO. What is the economic contribution of the voluntary sector? 2021.
Grönlund H, Falk H. 2019. Does it Make a Difference? The Effects of Volunteering from the Viewpoint of Recipients–A Literature Review. Diaconia. 2019;10(1):7-26
Nichol B, Rodrigues A, Wilson R, Haighton C. 2022. Exploring the effects of volunteering on the social, mental, and physical health and wellbeing of volunteers: an umbrella review. Voluntas, under review
Borromeo K. 2021. Beyond averages: do gender disparities exist in volunteering? UNV

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