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Work-based learning environments for fostering industry-relevant skills and optimal economic performance

School of Computing

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Dr L Muir No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

A fully funded PhD studentship is being offered within the Centre for Social Informatics at Edinburgh Napier University.

The aim of the proposed studentship project is to develop new knowledge and practical methods for evaluating the impact of work-based learning (WBL) on industry performance. It addresses a need for outcome-based measures to assess long-term benefits of WBL.

The research will survey the extent of current provision and impact of WBL in Scottish industry and analyse the attributes of WBL that contribute to improved productivity and performance. A novel approach to measuring the impact of WBL on firm performance will be explored. Rather than take a purely skills perspective (i.e. mapping skills and outputs), the focus will be on measuring maturity of ‘expansive’ work-based learning environments (WBLE) that include educational providers and sectoral bodies and that demonstrate ‘Industry 4.0’ characteristics in their use of real-time data and context-sensitive information to create an optimal learning experience which leads to increased productivity.

The research will adopt a mixed methods approach to the empirical work. A nation-wide survey will be conducted to gather quantitative data on the current provision and perceived impact of WBL in industry. A sample of 3-5 firms, representing different sizes and sectors, will be selected from the survey participants who have indicated willingness to take part in further in-depth research. A qualitative study of the sample of firms will be undertaken using multi-methods including direct observation, interviews and focus groups.

The main research questions to be addressed in a study of Scottish enterprises are:
1. What is the extent of current provision and impact of WBL?
2. What are the critical success and limiting factors indicative of different levels of WBL maturity and performance success?
3. How can the WBL environment be measured/evaluated/assessed as an indicator of ‘maturity’, and what is the potential value (and burden) of this for educational providers, employers, learners and communities?

Eligibility Criteria & Academic Qualifications:

We are interested in receiving applications for the studentship on a full-time or a part-time basis. Your eligibility to apply will depend on your current level of degree qualification, prior training in advanced research methods, and your ability to meet the additional criteria for the studentship award. If you hold, or are nearing successful completion of, a Masters degree in a social science subject which includes 60 credits of research training, you may be eligible to apply for the fully-funded PhD programme: 3 year full-time; 5 year part-time. If you do not hold a Masters qualification and are not currently working towards one (or the Masters degree that you hold/are working towards does not include 60 credits of research methods training), you will be required to undertake an approved Masters-level research training programme for one year before transferring to this PhD programme. This route is also fully funded, i.e. you will be funded for the approved Masters-level research training programme and for the PhD. In addition to the above, you must meet the following eligibility criteria:

1. Hold a good first degree (2.1 or first class).
2. Demonstrate an interest in, and knowledge of, the broad theme of the studentship as described above.
3. Have a good grounding in social research, including both qualitative and quantitative methods, with a keen desire to develop this further.
4. Demonstrate an excellent level of spoken and written English.

We are particularly interested in receiving applications from those with qualifications in subjects such as: Careers; Education; Information Management; Information Science; Information Systems; Knowledge Management; Management; Organisational Studies; Psychology; Science, Technology and Innovation Studies, Social Research; and Sociology. However, this is not a requirement: if you have a qualification in another social science subject and meet the criteria listed above, we would still be keen to hear from you.
Students must meet ESRC eligibility criteria. ESRC eligibility information can be found here...

English language requirements

IELTS score must be at least 6.5 (with no less than 6.0 in any component). Other, equivalent qualifications will be accepted, full details of the University’s policy is available online.

Award Details

The scholarship is available as a +3 or a 1+3 programme depending on prior research training. This will be assessed as part of the recruitment process. The programme will commence in October 2019. It includes an annual maintenance grant at the RCUK rate (2018/19 rate £14,777 full-time); fees at the standard Home rate; students can also draw on a pooled Research Training Support Grant, usually up to a maximum of £750 per year.

Funding Notes

The studentship is one of a number supported by a partnership between ESRC Scottish Graduate School of Social Science – Doctoral Training Partnership (SGSSS-DTP) and Skills Development Scotland (SDS). It is hosted by The Science, Technology, Innovation, and Information and Communication Studies (STIS-ICS) pathway of the SGSSS-DTP. UK/EU fees are covered. In addition, an annual stipend at the current rate is available for students who meet the ESRC studentship residential conditions for eligibility at:

To apply visit the SGSSS website


Auditor General. (June 2018). Modern Apprenticeships Impact Report. Available from
ETF (European Training Foundation). (2013). Work-based learning: Benefits and obstacles. A Literature Review for policy makers and social partner countries. Available from:
Felstead, A. & Unwin, L. (2017). Learning outside the formal system: what learning happens in the workplace, and how is it recognised?
Fisher, D.M. (2004). The Business Process Maturity Model: A Practical Approach for Identifying Opportunities for Optimization BPTrends (2004), pp. 1-7
Fuller, A. & Unwin, L. (2003). Learning as Apprentices in the Contemporary UK Workplace: creating and managing expansive and restrictive participation, Journal of Education and Work, 16(4) 407-426. doi: 10.1080/1363908032000093012c
Hodkinson, P., Hodkinson, H., Evans, K., Kersh, N., Fuller, A., Unwin, L. & Senker, P. (2004). The significance of individual biography in workplace learning. Studies in the Education of Adults, 36(1), pp.6-24.
Nikolova, I., Van Ruysseveldt, J., De Witte, H. & Syroit, J. (2014). Work-based learning: Development and validation of a scale measuring the learning potential of the workplace (LPW). Journal of Vocational Behavior, 84(1), pp.1-10.
Schuh, G., Gartzen, T., Rodenhauser, T. & Marks, A. (2015). Promoting work-based learning through industry 4.0. Procedia CIRP, 32, pp.82-87.
Raelin, J. (1997). A Model of Work-Based Learning. Organisation Science 8:574. doi: 10.1287/orsc.8.6.563
Unwin, L. & Fuller, A. (2004). Expansive learning environments: integrating organizational and personal development. In Workplace learning in context (pp. 142-160). Routledge.

Selected publications authored by members of the supervision team
Buunk, I., Hall, H., & Smith, C.F. (2017). Tacit knowledge sharing: the determination of a methodological approach to explore the intangible. Information Research, 22(1).
Cleverley, P. H., Burnett, S. & Muir, L. J. (2016). Exploratory information searching in the enterprise: A study of user satisfaction and task performance. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology. 68(1), 77-96
Middleton, L., Hall, H., Muir, L., & Raeside, R. (2018, November). The interaction between people, information and innovation: information literacy to underpin innovative work behaviour in a Finnish organisation. Paper presented at ASIS&T 2018 Annual Meeting, Vancouver
Smith, S., Smith, C., & Caddell, M. (2015). Can pay, should pay? Exploring employer and student perceptions of paid and unpaid placements. Active learning in higher education, (149-164). doi:10.1177/1469787415574049. ISSN 1469-7874
Webster, G., Smith, S., & Smith, C. (2015). Supporting student transitions to placement and work: developing a new self-identity. New Directions in the Teaching of Physical Sciences. ISSN 1740-9888
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