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Modelling the resilience of ecosystem service provision in African landscapes, Global Systems Institute/Geography– PhD (Funded)

   College of Life and Environmental Sciences

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  Dr Andrew Cunliffe, Dr Anna Harper, Dr Tom Powell, Dr K Williams  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project


Global Systems Institute, Department of Geography, Streatham Campus, Exeter, UK

The University of Exeter’s College of Life and Environmental Sciences is inviting applications for a fully-funded ‘Oppenheimer-Turvill PhD scholarship’ as part of the University’s new Oppenheimer Programme in African Landscape Systems (OPALS;, jointly funded by the University of Exeter and Oppenheimer Generations Research and Conservation. This post will commence in September 2022. The studentship will cover international tuition fees, a tax-free stipend of at least £15,609 for four years full-time, and a research training support grant. The student would be based in the Global Systems Institute, Department of Geography in the College of Life and Environmental Sciences at the Streatham Campus in Exeter, with a visit to the African Climate and Development Initiative at University of Cape Town in the Republic of South Africa.

Project Description:

African landscapes are changing rapidly in response to climatic change and increasing pressures on natural resources to support a rapidly growing population. Models represent one of the most important tools we have for understanding the current and future functioning of landscape systems and the implications of these predictions for the ecosystem services upon which so many Africans depend. However, all models are imperfect, and most are poorly calibrated and validated for important African ecosystems, limiting their capacity to inform decision making and adaptive management.

This PhD project will examine the healthy and resilient functioning of socio-ecological systems including rangelands, croplands and woodlands that support human society, by focusing on the Joint UK Land Environment Simulator (JULES) land surface model to improve its value to decision makers in Africa. Balancing twin aspirations of model development and model application, the project might address a combination of the following topics, depending on the student’s interests as guided by the supervisory team:

1)   Assessing the unmet information needs of decision makers that JULES outputs should support,

2)   Improving observational constraints on JULES in Africa by working with collaborators to collate new and existing datasets,

3)   Assessing and improving the numerical representations of processes such as fire, herbivory, photodegradation and/or the movement of water through soils and roots,

4)   Undertaking scenario modelling to critically assess the assumptions and dominant narratives around land-based climate mitigation in African landscapes to inform adaptive management.

The successful applicant will be a member of a large team of 20 scholars through the Oppenheimer Research Programme in African Landscape Systems, a £2.3M six-year programme of foundational and applied research activity led by the University of Exeter working with Oppenheimer Generations Research and Conservation and other partners across the African continent. The University of Exeter is one of the top-ranked research institutes in the world and a recognised leader in modelling environmental change. This scholarship includes the cost of a student visa and healthcare surcharge to study in the UK but please be aware that it does not include the travel costs to move to the UK.

Entry requirements:

Candidates must hold citizenship of an African Nation to be eligible for this funding.

Applicants for this scholarship must have obtained, or be about to obtain, qualifications equivalent to a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, in an appropriate area of science or technology. The candidate should have a strong foundation in environmental physics or mathematics, skills in computer programming and quantitative analysis, a good understanding of ecological processes and climate change impacts in African landscapes, and a passion to inform adaptive management options to have a positive impact in society. Candidates should contribute to a positive work environment, supporting best practice in equality, diversity, and inclusivity.

Candidates will be supported and required to present their findings at international research conferences, to contribute to reports for the project funder, and to ensure that all outputs (data, code, models, publications etc.) are ultimately made available open access for wider benefit.

If English is not your first language, you will need to meet the required level in an accepted English language tests as per our guidance at (Profile B for this programme of study).

How to apply:

Please refer to the person specification for additional information on the selection criteria. In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents

·        Letter of application (2-page max. outlining your academic interests, prior research experience, and motivation to undertake this project).

·        CV (4-pages max)

·        Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained (this should be an interim transcript if you are still studying)

·        Names and contact details of two referees familiar with your academic work. You are not required to obtain references yourself. We will request references directly from your referees if you are shortlisted.

·        If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country, you will need to submit evidence of your proficiency in English.

The closing date for applications is midnight on 4th March 2022

Interviews will be held virtually and are expected to happen between the 21st of March and the 1st of April 2022.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email [Email Address Removed] or phone 0300 555 60 60 (UK callers) +44 (0) 1392 723044 (International callers). Project-specific queries should be directed to the main supervisor, Dr Andrew Cunliffe ([Email Address Removed]).

Funding Notes

The studentship will cover international tuition fees, a tax-free stipend of at least £15,609 for four years full-time, and a research training support grant.
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