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‘Learner engagement and success in higher education – concepts, metrics, interventions’


An opportunity has arisen for a PhD studentship at Solent University to investigate the relationship between learner engagement and learner success in higher education.

Sector-wide declines in student satisfaction and student engagement and increasing concerns about widening participation gaps indicate that student experiences in higher education have shifted rapidly. Many universities have, therefore, developed strategies and plans to improve their learner engagement metrics. However, while such initiatives are admirable, questions remain whether a shared understanding of the concepts and measures that define learner engagement exist, and how learner engagement impacts on the success of learners in higher education institutions. If these were understood, higher education providers would be in a much better position to deliver initiatives and interventions that systematically improve learner engagement and learner success.

The successful PhD student will have the opportunity to:

  • Conduct an extensive and systematic review of the literature and of sector-wide practices within the UK with the aim to conceptualise definitions of learner engagement and learner success that take into account views from a range of stakeholders such as learners, academic educators, government and society.
  • Explore potential biases in existing definitions and measurements of learner engagement that may stem from different views, experiences or backgrounds. For example, do different stakeholders such as academic educators and learners have different or similar views on what makes an ‘engaged learner’? Are learners from underrepresented groups and/or lower participation areas affected differently?
  • Develop a suitable framework that theorises the relationship(s) between learner engagement and success, complemented by an empirical investigation that offers explorative or explanatory insights to this relationship.
  • Based on findings, produce a set of recommendations for Solent University to develop targeted, meaningful and collaborative initiatives and interventions that manage and influence learner engagement and positively influence learner success. These recommendations should also have the potential to contribute evidence to sector-wide conversations in the UK around learner engagement, success and inclusivity.

The project is aligned with several strategic objectives such as those of the Office for Students’ UK Engagement Survey (UKES), AdvanceHE’s Race Equality Charter and the QAA UK Quality Code for Higher Education, as well as Solent University’s Access and Participation Plan, Inclusive Real-World Curriculum and Learning Design Framework. Findings from this project should be valuable locally to inform Solent University’s ongoing learning and teaching strategies and nationally to contribute evidence to ongoing conversations around improving chances of success for all students and reducing inequalities in our societies.

Read detailed information about the project


Primary supervisor: Professor Sabrina Vieth, Professor of Learning and Teaching, Solent Learning and Teaching Institute

Secondary supervisor: Professor Karen Heard-Laureote, Vice Provost Education, Director of Solent Learning and Teaching Institute and Professor of Learning and Teaching

Prospective student

The preferred student should be a UK domicile student (paying home fees) with experience in theory development, strong empirical skills and a passion for using those skills to investigate the relationship between learner engagement and success. We particularly encourage those from racially minoritised backgrounds and/or lower participation areas to apply.

The PhD student will spend each year at Solent University, with a particular focus on data collection in year two. The respective student will be enrolled in the PhD in Higher Education and PGCert in Research Methods programmes at Solent University and supervised by Solent University.

The studentship will be funded for three years, with an annual stipend of £23,000 for at least the first year.

Important dates

Application closes: 12 May 2023

Interviews: mid-to-end May 2023

Start date: September 2023

Making an application

Applications should be made via our website, indicating that you are applying for this, by Friday 12 May 2023. Your complete application should include a CV and research proposal (2,000-4,000 words) outlining how you wish to address this topic (including proposed research questions, methodology and expected outcomes).

If you have questions or wish to discuss your idea before making an application, please contact Professor Sabrina Vieth for an initial conversation.

Tuition fees

The annual tuition fees for doctoral studies are linked to your mode of study (full- or part-time) and residential status. The University reviews and sets tuition fees annually. Each student is responsible for the payment of their fees. If your fees are paid by a sponsor you will need to submit written proof of this annually in order to be eligible to re-enrol.

The University also provides information on funding and a training and development allowance. See below for more details.

Find out more about doctoral student fees in the Doctoral Student Handbook and Guidance

The table below sets out the 2022/23 annual fees for research degrees:

 UK and Island studentsEU, EEA and overseas students
Annual fee full-time £4,800 £13,520
Annual fee part-time £2,400 N/A
Writing-up fee full-time* Two-thirds of full-time fee Two-thirds of full-time fee
Writing-up fee part-time* Two-thirds of part-time fee Two-thirds of part-time fee
Six months major amendments fee part-time One-third part-time fee One-third part-time fee
12 months major amendments fee part-time Two-thirds part-time fee Two-thirds part-time fee

* Full-time research students who are ‘writing-up’, prior to the submission of their thesis for examination, may pay an annual writing-up fee for a maximum of one year. Part-time research students may pay an annual writing-up fee for a maximum of two years. Both full and part-time research students will be eligible for a pro rata refund if they submit before the end of the academic year in which they are ‘writing-up’. This writing-up period cannot exceed the maximum registration period of the degree registration.

Find out more about the registration periods for research degrees

If a research student subsequently fails to submit by the end of their ‘writing-up’ period and is eligible to continue their registration within the maximum registration period, they will again become liable for the full annual tuition fee appropriate to their mode of study. If they submit before the end of the academic year they will be eligible to receive a refund as above.

Find out more about tuition fees and how to pay them

For information about writing-up and major amendments fees for UK, EU and Island students and EEA and International students please contact

Students may be sponsored or self-funded for their fees and/or living expenses. The University’s Finance pages hold information about various sources of funding for postgraduate studies.

Paying your fees, postgraduate funding, early payment discounts, alumni discounts and payment forms


The University may, from time to time, advertise funded doctoral degree studentships. Studentships may be fully funded (fees, maintenance stipend, training allowance) or part funded (eg, fees only). Stipends are normally aligned to the RCUK minimum stipend levels and will generally be disbursed on a quarterly basis to students.

Studentships will normally be advertised through or on the Solent website. Studentships may also be advertised through other media as applicable.

Alternative Guide to Postgraduate Funding

The University also subscribes to the Alternative Guide to Postgraduate Funding. The Guide has information on alternative sources of funding – especially charities – which can make awards (fees, maintenance, research costs) to any student regardless of subject or nationality. The Alternative Guide Online contains a database of funding opportunities, comprehensive guidance, and numerous tools to help you prepare a grant application. Solent has a licence to the Guide, so it is free for all students and staff with a University log in to use. If you are a prospective student who has applied to the University, please email to request a PIN to give you access to this resource.

The University provides support for research, including training in research skills and career development through the Researcher Development Programme (RDP), including tailored content in the Doctoral Training Programme. Access to in-house training and development is free and students are encouraged to make full use of the resource available. Find out more by exploring the researcher support pages.

Doctoral students are further supported by specific training to support their studies on the postgraduate research degree pages. Staff and students can use the links to self-enrol on to the relevant courses in Solent Online Learning.

Go to the Researcher Development Programme on SOL

Go to the Postgraduate Research Degree course on SOL

Go to the Postgraduate Certificate in Research Methods course on SOL

Go to the Graduate School on SOL

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