Environment and Sustainability PHD

Why choose this course

The University of Surrey has been leading the way in environmental and sustainability research for over 25 years. From investigating people’s attitudes to the environment to exploring the opportunities for solar power mini-grids in sub-Saharan Africa, our environment and sustainability researchers are taking innovative approaches for a more prosperous, equitable, safe and secure future.

Since we were established in 1992, the Centre for Environment and Sustainability (CES) at the University of the Surrey has gained an outstanding international reputation for multi-disciplinary research and teaching in all aspects of sustainability. Some examples of our major contributions include: life cycle assessment and environmental impact analysis; industrial ecology and the circular economy; techno-economic analysis; the water, energy and food nexus; bioenergy and biorefineries; low carbon transitions; lifestyles and behaviours; prosperity without growth; environmental and energy policy. 

We champion two of the University of Surrey’s main research themes, sustainability and urban living, and are also home to the prestigious Economic and Social Research Council-funded Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity (CUSP) led by Professor Tim Jackson. We collaborate with staff across the University on a huge range of sustainability-related projects, giving you an excellent opportunity to learn from and contribute to this vital area of human development.

What you will study

It normally takes three or four years of full-time study to complete our PhD programme, or about twice as long part-time. By the end of your programme, you’ll have become an independent researcher with expert knowledge on the technical, economic, social and policy aspects of environment and sustainability.

You’ll have the opportunity to work across the full breadth and depth of theoretical and applied approaches to sustainability, ultimately helping you to lead thinking in their respective fields. Many of our postgraduate researchers are working on projects with local and multi-national businesses, with policy makers and with international bodies such as the United Nations, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the World Wide Fund for Nature, the World Health Organisation, and others.

You’ll be assigned at least two supervisors, who will guide you through your PhD. Your supervisors will meet with your regularly and monitor your progress. Your supervisor will make sure that you have the support you need throughout your programme.

In addition to attending a small number of mandatory training courses, you’ll also co-design an individual researcher development programme with your supervisor. This will include a number of relevant master’s level taught modules in CES or other departments (covering both research skills and subject-based material), as well as training in research budgeting, seminar and conference presentation skills and research publishing. You’ll also take a number of the voluntary training and transferable skills courses provided by the University’s Doctoral College.

You’ll be assessed by formal progress reports at six monthly intervals, a confirmation report and a viva examination after around 12 months (times are extended for part-time students) and by submission and oral examination of a final PhD thesis by independent external and internal examiners.

A lot of your research will be done on campus, and might also involve fieldwork including on-site interviews, surveys, and working with external organisations both in the UK and abroad. If your project involves experimentation or sample processing or analysis, you’ll be able to do this work in laboratories at collaborating departments at the University of Surrey, with external collaborators (such as external research organisations or companies) or through fieldwork in the UK or abroad.

Postgraduate researchers are a core part of the Centre for Environment and Sustainability, and have an active role across our intellectual and social activities. For example, you’re encouraged to attend our monthly external seminar series, and you’ll also attend and contribute to our regular internal seminar series. You’ll also become a member of our Postgraduate Forum, which meets regularly with the Centre Director and the Postgraduate Director to discuss supplementary training, support and the Centre’s social activities.

Four of our taught master’s modules are recognised by the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) and will qualify you for professional membership of the IEMA at Associate level (now moving to their new ‘graduate’ level). You’ll have the option of taking up this opportunity during your studies.

Completing your PhD with us also gives you strong support for an application for the managerial IEMA membership level and to become a Chartered Environmentalist. Depending on the focus of your research, your PhD might also be strong evidence for chartered status with other professional bodies, such as those in engineering.

Course facts

Qualification Study mode Course length Start date
PHD Full-time 48 months October 2018
PHD Part-time 96 months January 2019
PHD Part-time 96 months October 2018
PHD Full-time 48 months April 2018
PHD Full-time 48 months July 2018
PHD Part-time 96 months April 2018
PHD Part-time 96 months July 2018

Additional costs

There are additional costs that you can expect to incur when studying at Surrey. Find out more.

Code of practice for research degrees

Surrey’s postgraduate research code of practice sets out the University's policy and procedural framework relating to research degrees.

The code defines a set of standard procedures and specific responsibilities covering the academic supervision, administration and assessment of research degrees for all faculties within the University.

Download the code of practice for research degrees (PDF).

Research themes

  • Sustainable development policies and practices
  • Energy, water, food nexus
  • Behaviour change
  • Waste systems
  • Sustainable transportation
  • Built environment
  • Social research on sustainability
  • Lifestyles and resource consumption
  • Resource consumption and land use
  • Sustainable systems: design and modelling
  • Life cycle assessment, including social LCA and Life Cycle Costing
  • Carbon and water footprinting
  • Low carbon energy supply
  • Energy demand and efficiency
  • Policy and strategy: for governments and businesses
  • International development and sustainability

As a research student within the Centre for Environment and Sustainability, you’ll get access to newly refurbished office space, personal IT facilities, and access to specialist sustainability software (for life-cycle assessment studies, for example) and advanced computer facilities for modelling-based research.

Research facilities

As a research student within the Centre for Environment and Sustainability, you’ll get access to newly refurbished office space, personal IT facilities, and access to specialist sustainability software (for life-cycle assessment studies, for example) and advanced computer facilities for modelling-based research.

Entry requirements

Applicants are expected to hold a first or upper-second class degree in a relevant discipline (or equivalent overseas qualification), or a lower second plus a good Masters degree (distinction normally required).

View entry requirements by country

English language requirements

IELTS Academic: 6.5 or above (or equivalent) with 6.0 in each individual category.

View the other English language qualifications that we accept.

If you do not currently meet the level required for your programme, we offer intensive pre-sessional English language courses, designed to take you to the level of English ability and skill required for your studies here. The University of Surrey is also an IELTS test centre.

Selection process

Selection is based on applicants meeting the expected entry requirements, assessment of application, successful interview and suitable references where required.

Students are initially registered for a PhD with probationary status and, subject to satisfactory progress, subsequently confirmed as having PhD status.


Study mode Start date UK/EU fees Oversees fees
Full-time October 2018 £4,260 £20,800
Part-time January 2019 £2,130 £10,400
Part-time October 2018 £2,130 £10,400
Full-time April 2018 £4,195 £20,000
Full-time July 2018 £4,195 £20,000
Part-time April 2018 £2,100 £10,000
Part-time July 2018 £2,100 £10,000

For fees payable in 2018/19, these will increase by 4 per cent, rounded up to the nearest £100 for subsequent years of study. Any start date other than October will attract a pro-rata fee for that year of entry (75 per cent for January, 50 per cent for April and 25 per cent for July).

Overseas students applying for 2018 entry should note that annual fees will rise by 4% rounded up to the nearest £100.

View a complete list of all fees for our research programmes.


We have a host of partly and fully-funded studentship opportunities available.

Development of novel radiation-grafted powder ionomers for use in high performance alkali membrane fuel cells

Funding information:
Funding status: Directly Funded Project (European/UK Students only) EU/UK  fees for 3 years: 2018-19 level £4195 Standard stipend for 3 years: 2017-18 level £14,553 £5k bench fees across three-year project

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