University of St Andrews

Postgraduate Opportunities

Sustainable Development

We welcome applications for study towards a research degree from candidates with an excellent academic background. The list of projects below indicates the range of interests of our staff, but you are also welcome to suggest your own project in a related area. In the first instance, please contact the relevant member of academic staff to discuss your ideas.

More details on the application procedure are available here

If you have an enquiry about the application process, please contact Mrs Helen Olaez.

Current Project list

Governing the shoreface


Supervisor:  Dr Timothy Stojanovic 

The dynamism and inter-connectivity of coastal systems- biophysical and human- makes them challenge to manage.  Contemporary governance of this space has sought to respond to these challenges by developing new frameworks which take account of these characteristics, namely (1) Integrated Coastal Management, and (2) Shoreline planning for flood and coastal erosion risk management.  This study will focus on the latter of the two frameworks, extending the notion of a two dimensional planimetric shore ‘line’ to the three dimensional strip of coast termed the ‘shoreface’ or ‘littoral’ and deepening understanding of how human responses take account of the functioning of this space.

The thesis will contribute to emerging governance theory on how to better design institutions for sustainable coasts.  Research methods from comparative political ecology, planning theory and practice, and/or environmental geography are welcome.  The study could benefit from a comparative case study design to draw lessons from the two generations of shoreline management in the UK since the 1990s. 

The research will make contributions to contemporary Governance theory- a major theme in the disciplines of geography, environmental management and political science.  The results of the study have potential to inform the design of systems for Flood and coastal erosion risk management, and also address a range of practical questions, such as options for adaptation and ‘green’ infrastructure investment under scenarios of sea level rise and increased risk of coastal geohazards.  A key component of the study will therefore be the development of knowledge transfer strategy to engage practitioners and professionals in the debates raised by the study.    The candidate should have a strong honours degree in Geography, Planning or cognate disciplines, and experience of primary data collection in the social sciences.

Ballinger, R. (2015). On the edge: Coastal governance and risk. 373-394 InRisk Governance: The Articulation of Hazard, Politics and Ecology.
Ballinger, R. C., and W. Dodds (2017). Shoreline management plans in England and Wales: A scientific and transparent process? Marine Policy. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2017.03.009
Nicholls, R. J., I. H. Townend, A. P. Bradbury, D. Ramsbottom, and S. A. Day (2013). Planning for long-term coastal change: Experiences from England and Wales. Ocean Engineering 71: 3-16. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.oceaneng.2013.01.025
Blunkell, C. T. (2017). Local participation in coastal adaptation decisions in the UK: between promise and reality. Local Environment 22(4): 492-507. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13549839.2016.1233525

Linking trade with sustainable development


Supervisors: Eoin McLaughlin and Nick Hanley

We are interested in the links between trade in natural resources and sustainable development paths, particularly from a historical perspective, and for trade between rich and poor countries.

Sustainable Development in the making? The evolution of Scottish landed estates over the last 100 years 


Supervisors:  Eoin McLaughlin and Annie Tindley (Dundee)

We are interested in tracking the evolution of landed estates in Scotland and their socio-economic impact from the 1870s to the present, particularly how estates have diversified economically and their role in sustainable development in rural Scotland. This project would look at land and agricultural prices and values, changing markets and legislation, the work of Scottish Land and Estates and its previous incarnations, and would also seek to make international comparisons (with developing countries possibly) and various counterfactual comparisons. This PhD would suit someone with a background in economics, geography, sustainable development and history.

Re-writing the rulebook of landownership: analysing and assessing the economics of community landownership


Supervisor: Eoin McLaughlin and Annie Tindley (Dundee)

Scottish land reform, which promotes community ownership as a socially just and equitable model, is an urgent political issue and will remain so for some years. This is partly because the Scottish Government (and others) hope that land reform will generate a range of outcomes beyond those related directly to land: better outcomes for re-population, employment, environment, sustainable development, entrepreneurial behaviours, housing and health. In addition, there is growing recognition of the relationship between community landownership, economic activities and human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights. The political and policy context for this project is very conducive for an academically-rigorous exploration of the economic models of community-owned land, and by working with CLS, the practical application, dissemination and impact of the research outcomes are also secure. 

The new (2015 and 2016) Land Reform and Community Empowerment Acts demand that Scottish society thinks and acts in innovative ways, to change the nature and outcomes of landowning structures. Community right to buy powers will be strengthened, and made available in the urban context. These constitute radical changes for all of Scottish society, and as such, demand a radical re-thinking of the purpose and impact of landownership, and a new set of assessment criteria. Research in this area is crucial if the increasing proportion of community-owned land that the Scottish Government seeks is to be achieved. This PhD would suit someone with a background in economics, geography, sustainable development and history.

The effects of colonialisation on resource use


Supervisor:  Professor Nick Hanley

We are interested in developing a research project on the effects of countries being colonised on the ways in which natural resources are managed, and how investments in a country’s comprehensive wealth are impacted. Possible case studies include South-East Asia and Africa. This PhD would suit someone with a background in economics, sustainable development and history.

Developing offset markets for biodiversity conservation


Supervisor:  Professor Nick Hanley

There is an increasing interest on the use of offsets and bio-banking in biodiversity planning and management worldwide. However, there are many un-answered questions connected with how to measure impacts; the advantages of markets compared to one-for-one trading; and the valuation of environmental benefits. This PhD would suit someone with a background in ecology and/or environmental economics.

Improving the design of Payment for Ecosystem Service (PES) schemes


Supervisor:  Professor Nick Hanley

There are many examples now world-wide on the use of PES mechanisms for conservation, carbon management and water quality enhancement. An interesting research question concerns how best to achieve spatial targeting and/or spatial coordination, and what the benefits of such spatial targeting and co-ordination might be. This PhD could make use of stated preference methods and/or simulation modelling to answer these questions. 

Energy Efficiency and Social Housing in an Age of Austerity


Supervisors: Dr Kim McKee & Dr Louise Reid

Scotland’s social landlords have a strong track record in terms of providing warm, energy efficient homes, with standards in Scotland being the most ambitious of the four UK nations.  This not only reflects higher levels of fuel poverty in Scotland, but also our colder ambient temperature and the higher incidence of off-grid housing.  This long-standing emphasis on energy efficiency and conservation has however become even more crucial in these austere times. Social housing tenants have been hit hard by the UK coalition government’s welfare reform agenda, which seeks to reduce the incomes of low-income households in order to maximise work incentives and reduce ‘dependency’ on the state.  Energy efficiency therefore has a vital role to play in maximising the income of low-income households, in order they might better manage their under pressure budgets and avoid the dilemma of ‘heating or eating’.  This mixed-methods project will work with tenants and their landlords in order to explore the links between energy efficiency, welfare reform and income maximisation.  In doing so, it will forge new and innovative links between debates in social policy and energy policy, as well as develop theoretical arguments around neoliberal welfare reforms and place-based stigma.

‘SHOW – health Smart Homes for Older peoples’ Wellbeing’ 


Supervisor: Dr Louise Reid

This studentship will critically examine the utility of ‘health smart homes’ (HSH) to enhance the wellbeing of older people in rural Scotland. Enabling older people to remain in their own homes as long as possible promotes their wellbeing (Chan, et al., 2009, Milligan et al., 2011) and is perceived to reduce pressures on the National Health Service (Scottish Government, 2012). This is particularly important for Scotland – especially its rural areas – since it is faced with a demographically ageing population that has increased healthcare and social needs.  The transition towards HSH’s (Le, et al., 2012), homes which include automation and provide healthcare from afar, is thus gaining political traction as a mechanism for ‘positive-ageing-in-place’ (Bowes & McColgan 2006). Yet, the concept of HSH is not without challenge and much of the scholarship concentrates on technological innovation with individual-level implications (e.g. ability to cope with change) and the broader social context within which HSH operates (e.g. ethics of monitoring) often neglected. It is thus critical that HSH are examined more widely than through a technological lens. The project will draw on multiple fields of inquiry such as Science and Technology Studies, (environmental psychology, geography and sociology. A mixed methods approach will be considered. Research will seek to inform the potential design of HSH in the future and to understand how they are implemented and experienced.

‘The lights are on, but no one’s in’: understanding exterior domestic lighting


Supervisor:  Dr Louise Reid

Whilst household accounts of energy consumption exist (Energy Consumption in the UK (ECUK)), and the relative contribution of different appliances/services to energy demand is relatively well known, the use of exterior domestic lights is less well understood. For instance, in a 2012 the ‘Powering the Nation’ study organised by EST, DECC and Defra, designed to capture day-to-day, minute-by-minute, electricity consumption across a representative sample of UK households, almost every conceivable form of electricity consuming appliance (TV’s, electric toothbrushes) was included. Interestingly, the study revealed that lighting comprised 15.6% of the electricity demand, second only to cold appliances (refrigerators and freezers) at 16.2% yet importantly, lighting only included interior lights (ceiling and table lights) and not exterior lights. This is potentially an important oversight since exterior lights can be more powerful, on for longer durations (e.g. overnight), and triggered more often (motion sensor) in comparison to interior lights, hence actually contribute significantly to overall electricity demand. Moreover, understanding how many exterior lights, their location (i.e. on the building, on garages or in the garden) frequency and duration of use, as well as reasons for this is not particularly well understood, at least not in the same way we understand the use of interior lights. This PhD project will use a mixed methods approach to explore the issue of exterior domestic lighting.

(extra)ordinary spaces: exploring the influence of TV programmes (e.g. Grand Designs and Amazing Spaces) on our homes


Supervisors: Dr Louise Reid and Dr Sharon Leahy

Over the decades, how we conceive of our homes has changed, in part through popular TV shows such as ‘Changing Rooms’, ‘DIY SOS’, and ‘Property Ladder’. Indeed, Wikipedia lists 93 home renovation television series. More recent programmes such as ‘Grand Designs’, and George Clarke’s ‘Amazing Spaces’ increasingly incorporate elements of sustainable living, whether that be smaller homes, new and innovative building materials/techniques, and/or energy generation infrastructure, as just a few examples. Moreover, one of the most famous episodes of Grand Designs, featuring Ben Law’s woodhouse reflects a desire within these programmes towards self-sufficiency and of low impact homes. Hence, these programmes may be understood as promoting a particular type of lifestyle. Yet the extent to which programmes influence self-builders and in which ways, remains largely unknown. For instance, do TV programmes promote particular building style or form, types of techniques, or materials used? And how might such promotion influence what self-builders find (un)desirable and, ultimately be incorporated into homes in order to make them more sustainable?