PhD Project: Between ‘Global Britain’ and national health: The role of Parliament in tackling immunisation inequities of minoritized groups

  • West Midlands, All EnglandWest Midlands, All England


125th Anniversary Scholarship in the School of Government

PhD Project: Between ‘Global Britain’ and national health: The role of Parliament in tackling immunisation inequities of minoritized groups

This PhD project will be based in the School of Government which is part of the College of Social Sciences.

The deadline for applications is 23:59 (UK time) on Tuesday 30 April 2024.

About the project

We invite applications for a 4-year fully-funded PhD fellowship through the University of Birmingham’s 125th Anniversary Black British Scholarship program. The position will be based in the International Development Department, School of Government in Birmingham, United Kingdom.

You will work to develop an exciting new project exploring the role of UK Parliament in tackling health inequities around immunization – nationally and internationally. The project will innovatively build on research into historical development of UK immunization debates and policy at national and international levels, bringing novel focus on the contemporary role parliament plays in identification, explanation and response to immunisation inequities. The project’s significance lies in its focus on health inequities at two levels, reflecting UK domestic practice and its contributions to global vaccination programmes, and considering the under-explored role of legislatures in bringing an equity lens to scrutiny of immunisation policy and practice.

Despite the UK’s long history of successful voluntary immunization with high public compliance, ‘immunization deserts’ persist regionally and by disease type, often mapping onto minority ethnic communities. The West Midlands for example shows a downward trend on MMR immunization (PHE 2021), falling below WHO standards (NHS England, 2023) and low polio vaccination rates (Rains 2022). Evidence shows that historical legacies and patterns of (dis)engagement with the state are critical in determining uptake of services, including immunization (Saville, et al 2022; Ali and Altaf 2021). Put simply, immunization is a highly political project (Ansell and Lindvaal 2021), and uptake depends on public trust in the state. Research into public engagement with parliaments similarly shows that representation and (dis)engagement of minority ethnic communities is heavily-shaped by trust, and that this in turn reflects historical and contemporary encounters with the state (Beswick, 2021; Beswick and Elstub, 2019).

This project is particularly timely considering the ongoing COVID-19 inquiry and discussions around roles and responsibilities of political institutions and actors during the pandemic. Furthermore, despite the UK’s history of engagement with and investment in global public health through the FCDO, Parliament’s Health and Social Care Committee warned in 2023 that the UK is at risk of losing its position as a global leader on vaccination. Bearing this in mind, the project is an opportunity to reflect on the UK’s global development role, and whether international debates and commitments on immunization policy and practice shape national debates and policy on this subject – or vice-versa.

In developing your application, you may wish to consider one or more of the following questions:

  • Who makes up the UK policy community on equity and immunisation, and how far does this cut across national/global spaces?
  • How have revelations during the Covid-19 inquiry influenced debates on UK immunisation policy and its global role as a public health advocate?
  • What specific role does Parliament play in promoting equity in UK immunisation policy and advocacy, globally and nationally?
  • Are there indications of joined-up thinking in UK Parliament on health inequities across national and international spaces?

Design and methods:

The project’s focus on UK parliament and on immunisation and equity policy communities across multiple levels necessitates a multi-pronged and multi-level data collection strategy, including analysis of legislative and committee debates, mapping policy communities/networks, and key stakeholder interviews (e.g. current/former ministers, campaigners, private sector.) We also welcome applicants using quantitative methods utilising large scale health datasets (e.g. COVER program, UK Data Service, NHS Digital).

Intended impacts:

The project will produce new knowledge on roles parliament can play in effectively highlighting – and developing options to address – immunisation inequities. In the UK, this includes identifying opportunities for parliament to strengthen its contributions to identifying and tackling ‘immunisation deserts,’ particularly through improving its own participation channels. Given the UK’s role as a critical player in global vaccination programming, it will also provide insights into strategies national legislatures adopt to influence international approaches to tackling immunisation inequities (e.g. low take-up by communities who have low trust in the state).

The project will have significant impact by developing our understanding of the interplay between legislative and policy debates on immunisation inequities at the national and international levels, and establishing how these shape domestic and international provision of equitable health services. This has potential to improve immunization take-up and health outcomes for vulnerable populations both in Britain and globally.

Your supervisory team:

The supervisors for this doctoral research project are Dr Danielle Beswick and Dr Sameen Ali. Danielle brings extensive supervision experience, including working with scholar-practitioners seeking to bring their professional experience working in policy and practice into an academic environment in order to conduct robust, impactful research. Danielle also brings research expertise on UK development policymaking and the development policy community as well as practical experience working with the UK Parliament on public participation and inequities. Sameen brings expertise on impact of political dynamics and institutional and policy design on the health sector, particularly immunization programming. Her research in Pakistan has emphasised how public health services are shaped by citizens’ experience of, and relationship with, the state, and she is part of a current research project exploring minoritised groups’ receptiveness to vaccination messaging in Pakistan.

Research training and support:

The successful candidate will have access to a range of training opportunities in the International Development Department and across the School of Government and beyond. These include taught modules designed to support first-year progression and integration into the School PGR community, and Qualitative and Quantitative methods courses. Advanced training modules are also available to support the development of specific skills required for the project focus on legislative debates and policy communities. This includes modules on discourse analysis, mixed-methods research, and social network analysis. You will be encouraged to participate in research groups and seminars within the School, as well as those held by the University’s Health Services Management Centre and School of Social Policy. The selected candidate will also be encouraged to actively engage with wider scholarly communities on parliaments and on public and global health.

Entry Requirements

Applicants will be expected to have a good Masters degree awarded by a recognised University in a related discipline. We also welcome applications from candidates with academic and policy or practice backgrounds in relevant sectors. If you have such relevant professional experience or qualifications, these will also be taken into account when considering your application.

Who can apply?

These scholarships are designed to create opportunities and address the underrepresentation of talented Black or Black mixed heritage students in academia. Applicants who meet all of the following criteria are eligible to apply:

1. UK nationals and eligible for registration as Home students

2. Members of one of the following ethnic groups:

  • Black African
  • Black Caribbean
  • Black Other
  • Mixed – White and Black Caribbean
  • Mixed – White and Black African
  • Other mixed background (to include Black African, Black Caribbean or Black Other)

3. Not already enrolled on a PhD programme at the University of Birmingham

What does the scholarship provide?

1. Financial Support: Recipients of these scholarships will receive substantial financial support, including a stipend at UKRI rates, which is set at £18,622 per year. This support covers tuition fees, living expenses, and research-related costs, including bench fees. This support is designed to alleviate the financial burden often associated with pursuing a doctoral degree.

2. Mentorship and Guidance: Scholarship recipients will benefit from mentorship opportunities and guidance from accomplished faculty members who are dedicated to helping them succeed in their academic and research endeavours.

3. Research Opportunities: We are committed to providing an exceptional research environment. Students will have access to state-of-the-art facilities, cutting-edge resources, and a vibrant scholarly community.

4. Community Building: A key component of the scholarship programme is the creation of a supportive community of Black British researchers pursuing PhDs. This network will foster collaboration and peer support among scholars.

5. Research Training Support Grant: In addition to financial support, scholarship recipients will receive a research training support grant. This grant is intended to support conference attendance, fieldwork, and other essential activities that enhance their research and academic growth.

6. Commitment to Inclusivity: We are dedicated to building an inclusive academic environment that values diversity and ensures equitable access to education.

Contact the lead supervisor

Once applicants have familiarised themselves with the above project details, they are encouraged to contact the lead PhD supervisor to discuss the project and the applicant’s suitability for the project. This is recommended before you submit an application to the PhD project.


How to apply

After applicants have made contact with the lead PhD supervisor, you will then need to apply to the PhD project using our online application portal: you should select ‘125th Anniversary Scholarships (COSS)‘. You will need to create an account for the online application portal and you will be prompted to sign-in upon your return to the portal.

You do not need to complete your application in one session; you can save your application at each stage and return to the portal at any stage before submission, particularly if you do not have all of the necessary documents when you begin your application.

As this is an ‘advertised PhD’, in which you will studying the above project that has already been provided by the academic supervisor(s), you do not need to submit a research proposal. Your personal statement will suffice for determining your suitability for the PhD project as well as your previous academic, professional and personal experiences.

The deadline for applications is 23:59 (UK time) on Tuesday 30 April 2024.

For your application you will need to submit the following documents:

  • Personal Statement
  • References
  • Academic certificate and transcript(s) for all prior degrees
  • Sample Work


Who is eligible to apply?

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