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The University of Exeter Business School for the PhD in Circular Economy - Improving the UK evidence base through longitudinal case study analysis and evaluation


The Business School

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Prof Peter Hopkinson No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The University of Exeter Business School trains world-class researchers who will shape how we understand and respond to the most important societal challenges.

We have a very generous funding scheme to support the most outstanding students who wish to complete a PhD in Circular Economy as part of the UKRI CE-Hub and Exeter Centre for Circular Economy

Students receive full funding, which includes a tax-free stipend of £19,000 that covers the 3-year PhD, and a tuition fee waiver. Students are additionally eligible for funding to support their research, development and conference attendance. The scholarship includes a requirement that students work as teaching or research assistants for 23 days (180 hours) a year. This is a valuable part of your training and will ensure that you graduate from the Business School as a highly skilled researcher and educator.

Improving the UK evidence base through longitudinal case study analysis and evaluation 

The total material requirements for the UK economy is over 1bn tonnes p.a. dominated by construction minerals, biomass, fossil fuels and metal ores; approximately 15% higher than 2001. The UK also generates an estimated 200 million tonnes of waste p.a.:12% higher than 2010. Additionally, according to a recent study the production of goods and services are a significant contributor (45%) to carbon emissions. The proportion of resources that are recovered, re-used or recycled after a first use life has been estimated to be <10%, meaning their embodied value and materials are lost, whilst placing increasing demand and pressure on virgin materials and scarce resources. This linear take-make-dispose approach to economic growth is widely recognised as being non-sustainable and a different model is required.

The CE is a simple, yet compelling framework based on a set of clear principles that decouple resources from economic growth through innovation and entrepreneurship. Analysis has indicated that scaling up circularity provides a multi-billion economic opportunity, driving up resource productivity, driving down material costs, improving resource security and reducing negative externalities and their human and environmental costs. In the wake of COVID-19 there is a significant opportunity for a more sustainable and resilient recovery that can ‘Build Back Better’. Recent reports propose that moving to a more CE can provide an essential element of the UK’s recovery plan, delivering increased clean growth, net jobs, higher resilience and regenerate natural capital.

To drive a CE at scale across value chains in the UK requires a systematic and systemic approach including: the future design of materials, components, products, services and infrastructure business models that promote access and performance over ownership; closed loop and reverse logistics and whole system enablers and innovation, including the use of data, emerging technologies and behaviour change.

International knowledge and interest in CE have grown dramatically over the past five years. This has led to a proliferation of commitments, ambitions, reports, practitioner tools, investments and policies. This creates a fragmented, sometimes conflicting, discourse and knowledge-base which is often difficult to translate into a UK context. Many case studies are descriptive rather than evaluative and lack detail. This makes it difficult to decipher key lessons and recommendations for CE value creation, policy requirements and industry implementation; or address key research gaps. More broadly, data and evidence on consumer and domestic responses to CE and its propositions is limited. As interest in CE grows, there is a pressing need for longitudinal real-world case studies underpinned by scientific rigour, evidence and evaluation. To maximise policy, practitioner and wider stakeholder impact, case studies also needs to be consistent, accessible and solution focussed. 

This PhD will (1) qualitatively and quantitatively analyse circular economy implementation across a range of contexts and scales, through the implementation of longitudinal case studies (2) develop a theoretical and mixed methods evaluation framework to critically assess progress and impact, to be effectively and consistently communicated to inform different audiences including government, industry, academic and wider society.

The framework for the research is to (1) create an underlying taxonomy of circular economy implementation through the critical review and comparison of existing cases across contexts and scales, (2) conduct longitudinal case study analysis to identify and compare key lessons and recommendations for CE value creation, policy requirements, industry implementation and theories of change, (3) develop, test and validate a theoretical and evaluation framework to assess the direct and indirect social, economic and environmental impacts of CE implementation. 


Funding Notes

Students receive full funding, which includes a tax-free stipend of £19,000 that covers the 3-year PhD & a tuition fee waiver. Students are additionally eligible for funding to support their research, development & conference attendance. The scholarship includes a requirement that students work as teaching or research assistants for 23 days (180 hours) a yr. This is a valuable part of your training and we ensure you graduate from the Business School as a highly skilled researcher & educator.


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