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Built Environment Research Degrees - PhD

  • Course Code: PR0112 (Full Time) PR0155 (Part Time) PR0171 (Distance Learning)
  • Level: Postgraduate Research
  • Starting: May 2021, May 2021
  • Study mode: Full Time, Part Time, Distance Learning
  • Location: City Centre

Studying with us in 2020/21

While the majority of our teaching will be carried out face-to-face this year, you will be taught as part of a blended learning approach. This means that you will have a mix of on-campus and online learning. Find out more about learning and teaching in 2020/21.

A built environment PhD can be a pathway to a career in a wide range of related professions, especially in management roles – or in the academic world.  If you’re already in such a role, the PhD is a major piece of personal development, developing new knowledge and building skills for your next career step.  Birmingham City University has been a major centre for built environment education in the region, and PhD study builds on our expertise and professional and industry networks.

We cover the major built environment disciplines including surveying, project management, facilities management, planning, real estate and civil engineering.  We are interested in interdisciplinary research building links to areas including engineering, computing, health, law and others.

What's covered in the course?

A PhD enables you to follow a programme of self-directed, independent study, supported by experienced supervisors who are themselves experts in their area. We may use industry experts to support some projects, and others may be run in full collaboration with an industry partner.

The Postgraduate Certificate in Research Practice prepares you for study at this level, as most find it a very different experience from previous taught courses.  Topic-specific training and support is identified and provided by your supervision team and other experts as necessary.

Although you will be developing as an independent researcher, you will be supported both by your supervisors and the wider research community in the School, Faculty and University. There are regular opportunities for you to present and share your work with other research students and staff.

Why Choose Us?

  • Expert staff supervisors, keen to help their students succeed
  • Excellent links with industry and built environment professions, both to support your research and your career progression
  • Research grounded in traditional built environment subjects but also keen to build cross-discipline links to shape the future built environment
  • Encouragement and support for you to publish your work
  • Opportunities to support and teach other students, including bringing your new research into their education
  • A range of specialist software, facilities and working environments tailored to specific project needs

Students outside Millennium Point

Open Days

Our Open Day for this course will take place in March 2021. Register now and we will contact you when the booking form goes live.

Register your interest

This course is open to International students

Teaching Excellence Excellence Framework

Birmingham City University has been awarded silver status for its quality of teaching in the Government’s Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).

What is a PhD?

PhD degrees are research programmes. They allow you to learn as you work through the issues associated with solving a particular problem. Each research degree student is supported by a team of supervisors appointed for the particular study. In all years of study, students will be required to present their work in meetings of fellow students and staff conducting parallel research.

Current interests

Our built environment research is wide ranging.  Our work in construction plant and machinery had four-star, world leading, impact. We are developing new approaches to Building Information Modelling (BIM) including applications to heritage buildings. We have developed ‘serious games’ for public consultation and training in planning and environmental management, which have been used by government, local authorities, schools and other agencies. We have a world-leading reputation in urban form and post-catastrophe reconstruction. We are developing new construction materials and techniques such as timber laminates. We are working on building energy use and management. 

Current interests

We welcome enquiries relating to the built and natural environment, including planning, development, real estate, civil engineering, surveying, facilities management, conservation, and urban form and history.

We find it most effective to work with inquirers to focus their research ideas before a formal application is made.  You can contact either individual staff or the School's Director of Research Degrees, Professor Peter Larkham.

Areas of research in which staff are currently active include:

  • Digital built environment including BIM (Building Information Management)
  • Renewable energy, energy management in buildings, customer energy management behaviour
  • Nano-fluids and heat transfer
  • Sustainable and innovative materials for construction
  • Construction waste management
  • Automation in construction
  • Water management, urban drainage systems and flood resilience
  • Real estate – property and asset management, risk
  • Planning and development law
  • Urban change: post-catastrophe reconstruction, urban form, conservation and design
  • Spatial planning including stakeholder engagement, crowdsourcing, placemaking
  • Using games to foster social learning and engagement with planning challenges
  • Facilities management including infection control in hospitals

Past projects

London Olympic Stadium

Dr Ashok Subbiah’s PhD explored factors for success in the construction project management of the London Olympic Stadium. Ashok went on to senior roles on the London Crossrail project and then to Dubai.

Urban Agriculture

Dr Mike Hardman’s PhD explored guerrilla gardening and urban agriculture. It has built a wide network of academics and practitioners, the book of the thesis is selling well, and Mike secured a lecturing post at the University of Salford.

Building Information Modelling (BIM)

Dr Mo Mayouf’s PhD aimed to enhance the delivery of Building Performance using Building Information Modelling (BIM). This is through socio-technical approaches that holistically incorporates different perspectives’ needs and requirements.  He is now a lecturer at BCU.

  • UK/EU students
  • International students

Award: PhD

Starting: May 2021

  • Mode
  • Duration
  • Fees
  • Full Time
  • 3-4 years
  • £4,407 per year
  • Distance Learning
  • 4 years
  • £2,755 per year

Award: PhD

Starting: May 2021

  • Mode
  • Duration
  • Fees
  • Part Time
  • 4-7 years
  • £2,204 per year

Award: PhD

Starting: May 2021

  • Mode
  • Duration
  • Fees
  • Full Time
  • 3-4 years
  • £12,800 per year
  • Part Time
  • 4-7 years
  • £6,400 per year
  • Distance Learning
  • 4 years
  • £8,000 per year

If you’re unable to use our online application form for any reason, please email University reserves the right to increase fees in line with inflation based on the Retail Prices Index or to reflect changes in Government funding policies or changes agreed by Parliament up to a maximum of five per cent.

Entry Requirements

To apply for our built environment PhD research degree you should have, or expect to be awarded, a Masters degree in a relevant subject area from a British or overseas university.

Exceptional candidates without a Masters degree, but holding a first class or upper second class Bachelors degree in a relevant subject area, may be considered.

We also welcome enquiries from potential PhD researchers with appropriate levels of professional experience.

We find it most effective to work with inquirers to focus their research ideas before a formal application is made.  You can contact either individual staff or the Faculty’s Director of Research Degrees, Professor Peter Larkham (

Alternatively please send us an initial PhD enquiry containing your brief PhD research proposal (1000-2000 words), and/or any questions or queries you may have.

We will review your initial enquiry to ensure that your research proposal compliments one of our PhD research interests and if so we will ask you to make a full application.  We are unable to progress any proposals that do not have a clear and close link to our interests.

Additional costs

As each PhD is an individual research project, it is impossible to specify precisely what additional costs (fieldwork, travel etc) may be incurred. Any potential costs should be identified in your application.

Although the School and Faculty has some limited financial support towards the direct costs of research (e.g. attendance at conferences and workshops, etc.) this is allocated on a competitive basis and you may need to supplement this. 

A day in the life of a PhD student

If you're considering doing a PhD there's probably a lot of questions going through your mind: how am I going to pay for it? Should I quit my job? Will I cope with the workload? But most importantly, what is it really like? Karen Patel, a full time PhD student, shares her experiences of juggling life, a part time job and her studies. Read more in Karen's blog.

The PhD Journey

Full-time students are expected to complete within 3-4 years, whilst part-time students may take 4-7 years. In your first year (two years for PT students) you will spend time reviewing the field, refining your research proposal and projected plan, and developing key topic-specific research skills. You will be supported in this through attendance at the Postgraduate Certificate in Research Practice, which runs for the first semester of your studies.

Your progress is reviewed every 6 months, with alternating ‘light-touch’ written reviews with your supervisors and annual reviews involving a written paper, presentation and interview with an independent panel of experienced supervisors.

Your second year (years 3 and 4 for PT students) is likely to be spent undertaking in-depth research (data collection and analysis) in your chosen area, with the third year (years 5-6 for PT students) involving writing up your results and presenting them in a suitable format (usually a written thesis of some 80,000 words).

Once you have submitted your thesis the examiners usually need 6-8 weeks to read it before the viva (oral) examination, after which there is likely to be a period for corrections / rewriting before successful completion and award of your PhD.

Throughout your studies we aim to develop your research skills, and support you in presenting your work through publication and conferences. We expect your participation in the range of research-related activities within the Faculty, contributing to building our research community. You many get opportunities to teach and support other students. We also encourage you to think of your career path and development in the longer term, as well as the first post-PhD job.

Modes of Study

Our PhD programmes are offered full-time or part-time. These modes of study ensure that we can create a PhD research plan around your lifestyle needs, even if you are in full-time employment or overseas.

Full-time PhD Research: three to four years

As a full-time PhD research student we expect you to spend much of your time using facilities on campus and contributing to our research culture.  You may spend periods of time away from campus collecting data (‘fieldwork’ on site or using libraries and other facilities). You will usually spend at least 37 hours per week engaged in research.

You will usually spend at least 37 hours per week engaged in research.

You will be expected to complete your research and submit your work for examination within 36-43 months.

Part-time PhD Research: four to seven years

You would choose part-time PhD research if you opt to study while in employment or if full-time study is impractical.

You will be encouraged to use the campus facilities and attend research events when you can and may often work from home.  Electronic contact with supervisors is possible but face-to-face contact has great benefits.

You will be expected to complete your research and submit your work for examination within 48-72 months.

How the PhD is assessed

Your progress is reviewed every 6 months, with alternating ‘light-touch’ written reviews with your supervisors and annual reviews involving a written paper, presentation and interview with an independent panel of experienced supervisors.  The annual reviews will assess whether you continue with your PhD studies, or whether lack of progress means that you should transfer to an MPhil, or withdraw from your study.

Once you have submitted your thesis the examiners usually need 6-8 weeks to read it before the viva (oral) examination. The viva commonly lasts between 1 and 3 hours and questions can be wide-ranging about your research, how it fits into your discipline, and its contribution to knowledge and impact.  The examiners’ recommendation is based on a combination of the thesis and viva performance.

Following the viva there is likely to be a period for corrections / rewriting before successful completion and award of your PhD.

Examples of day to day activities

Each doctoral project is unique, so each student’s day-to-day experience also differs. A typical day might include thinking, reading, analysis, writing, meeting supervisors, attending research events, or any combination of the above. Whatever the nature of your project, all doctorates require independent study and require you to manage an extended, self-directed research project that uses critical thinking to deliver new knowledge.

You may be collecting research data which, depending on your project, could involve running computer simulations, interviewing senior practitioners in their own offices, running events with members of the public, surveying areas and buildings, or working in libraries and archives outside Birmingham.

You might also be developing your personal and professional skills and knowledge, as well as your PhD research, by participating in wider national and international research and professional communities, attending conferences and CPD (continuing professional development) events, and by contributing to the delivery of undergraduate and masters-level modules.

There may be opportunities to contribute to research projects run by members of staff.

PGCert in Research Practice

For the first semester of your PhD you will undertake the Postgraduate Certificate in Research Practice, which is a taught and compulsory part of the PhD programme.  (Part time and distance learning students are encouraged to take this programme as early in their studies as possible, supported by a virtual learning environment when they cannot attend in person.)

This is an essential part of the PhD which will help you to get your research started and set you up for the rest of your PhD journey.  There are weekly class-based sessions but much of the work focuses on your own topic, so there is considerable overlap with the work you will be doing at the same time with your supervisors.

The CEBE PGCert programme covers the conversion to PhD-level study, the personal skills necessary to succeed, literature review and research approaches.  We also consider your personal research journey and career development.  It does not teach specific research techniques, which will be developed with your supervisors and via separate assessment of your research skills requirements. You are also able to attend any PGCert session in any of the other faculties.

Employment Opportunities

The PhD is a well-established and valued academic qualification within the sector and is highly likely to enhance career prospects. For those wanting to follow a career in teaching and researching in Higher Education, a PhD is highly desirable.

Value of a PhD

The Doctor of Philosophy or PhD is recognised worldwide and is often an essential requirement for those wishing to follow an academic or research career in industry or commerce. Our built environment PhD research degree has been designed to help you achieve a career in one of the wide range of built environment disciplines – surveying, real estate, civil engineering, planning and others – in industry, research or academia.

For some jobs a PhD is virtually a necessity – in the academic world, for example.  In many professional roles it is an indicator of personal commitment, critical and creative thinking, personal management and ability to work with and even manage others, and is a step to promotion and higher-level, often managerial, roles.

After the PhD

From the very start of your PhD journey we encourage you to think about what happens after you graduate: how the PhD will contribute to your career plan from identifying and getting your first job to beyond.  We use the VITAE research career development framework to help you plan for your future.

Industry links

We have close links to a wide range of organisations in the built environment industries and professions. PhD students have benefited from these links in, for example, PhD funding (for example the developer Willmott Dixon funded a PhD bursary, and provided access to data and senior staff, for a study of BIM and the University’s new Parkside building) and access to key individuals and data (the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and the Royal Institute of Town Planning have been helpful at both regional and national levels).


Some PhD topics may allow you the opportunity to work with other institutions and companies as part of your research.  This could be as a placement, but this is rare for our PhDs – agreements to work with a company to collect data are much more common. 

Occasionally, external funding or contacts have provided placement opportunities not directly related to the PhD research: while these contribute to your knowledge, skills and CV, they do interrupt your studies.

You can discuss your options with your potential supervisors, if you feel a placement would benefit your research. 


OpportUNIty Student Ambassador

OpportUNIty: Student Jobs on Campus ensures that our students are given a first opportunity to fill many part-time temporary positions within the University. This allows you to work while you study with us, fitting the job around your course commitments. By taking part in the scheme, you will gain valuable experiences and employability skills, enhancing your prospects in the job market.

It will also allow you to become more involved in University life by delivering, leading and supporting many aspects of the learning experience, from administration to research and mentoring roles.

Birmingham City University is a vibrant and multicultural university in the heart of a modern and diverse city. We welcome many international students every year – there are currently students from more than 80 countries among our student community.

The University is conveniently placed, with Birmingham International Airport nearby and first-rate transport connections to London and the rest of the UK.

Our international pages contain a wealth of information for international students who are considering applying to study here, including:

Birmingham City University International College (BCUIC)

International students who have a serious interest in studying with us but who perhaps cannot meet the direct entry requirements, academic or English, or who have been out of education for some time, can enter Birmingham City University International College (BCUIC) and begin their degree studies.


BCUIC is part of the global Navitas Group, an internationally recognised education provider, and the partnership allows students to access the University’s facilities and services and move seamlessly through to achieving a Bachelor’s degree from Birmingham City University.

Learn more about BCUIC

Of the 90+ PhD students in the Faculty of Computing, Engineering and the Built Environment, over 75% are from outside the UK. Our supportive research environment is recognised and appreciated:

“The scholarly environment of the Faculty with international students from various backgrounds gave me the opportunity to interact with people from different cultures, thus enriching me and establishing new friendships.” Sherdon Niño Uy (Philippine PhD student)                                                                                                         -

Our Facilities

We are constantly investing in our estate and are currently in the process of spending £340 million on new learning facilities.

Building work on our new Conservatoire began in the summer of 2015 – and is scheduled for completion in summer 2017. This, along with the construction of a new city centre accommodation block, means our students have access to their very own building sites.

We couple this with the more traditional, office-based facilities:

Surveying equipment

Part of your learning activity will be hands-on, including carrying out survey work using a range of equipment, such as levels, theodolites, measuring tapes.

Computer Assisted Design (CAD)

You will be provided with the latest CAD software – free of charge – to enable you to acquire the skills you need in a modern design office.

Learning from industry experts

Discover more about the industry experts you can meet on our Engineering degree courses.

Laura Leyland is one of our lecturers, watch this video to find out more.

Staff expertise

Professor Peter Larkham is the School's Director of Research Degrees as well as being Professor of Planning specialising in urban change and post-war reconstruction.  He has supervised over 15 PhDs and MPhils, and examined nearly 30 – so is well placed to advise potential applicants.

Each PhD student has a supervision team (normally a Director of Study and a second supervisor) who have both experience of supervising research degrees through to completion, and the necessary subject-specific expertise.  Therefore every member of our academic staff is a potential research degree supervisor because they will be contributing as part of a team.

Find a list of all our staff here.