Study at the Constitution Unit
The Constitution Unit welcomes enquiries from potential PhDs. Applications must be made to the School of Public Policy, and comply with UCL requirements, but we are always happy to discuss proposals informally first. The Unit offers a friendly and supportive environment for researchers, with weekly meetings of all research staff, and plenty of informal help and collaboration. There are also opportunities to help with consultancy work, attend our lively policy seminars, contribute to teaching and join in the other collective activities of the Unit. The School of Public Policy has regular MPhil/PhD seminars and offers a similarly supportive environment. We treat PhD students on a par with the other researchers in the Unit, and expect them to pursue their dissertation like any other research project. This includes encouraging PhDs to publish interim findings, and engage strongly with the outside world, including the media. Being small, we are limited in the range of supervisors available within the Unit. We are pleased to offer supervision within our own fields of expertise, which are broadly in Politics and in Law. These include the process of constitutional change, parliaments and parliamentary reform, elections and electoral reform, devolution, the English Question, the Human Rights Act, a British bill of rights, freedom of information, data protection and government information policy. More detail about our current research interests is on the website, and suggestions for possible PhD topics are sketched out below. Where necessary we can find joint supervisors within the School of Public Policy, other departments of UCL or other parts of London University.
Everyone in the Unit is engaged in leading edge research which directly informs public policy. Our strength lies in policy research, and in the wide range of our policy contacts. The Unit has always worked closely with policy makers and practitioners, and we particularly welcome ‘unorthodox’ candidates for PhDs, and people who want to do a PhD part time rather than full time. These can be people in mid-career or in retirement, or people who do not necessarily want to pursue an academic career.
Possible PhD topics in the Unit’s main areas of interest
The Unit’s central policy interests remain focused on constitutional reform in the UK. But this has led us over the years to do a lot of comparative work, in order to learn lessons from overseas; and we have a wide range of overseas contacts. So the list which follows contains a mix of British and comparative research projects. It is illustrative and not exhaustive: if your own pet project is not here, feel free to come and discuss it with us.
- The impact of parliament on the legislative process
- Measuring the effectiveness of Parliamentary Committees
- The internal democracy of Parliamentary party groups, and their influence on the policy process
- Agenda setting in parliaments - the relative powers of members, parties and presiding officers
- Comparative bicameralism, and the work of the British House of Lords
- Devolution, policy innovation and policy transfer
- Devolution, policy divergence and the strains on social citizenship
- Comparative study of the core executive in the three devolved administrations
- Comparative study of the three devolved assemblies and their effectiveness
- Parliamentary scrutiny of multi-level governance in Germany, Italy, Spain and UK
- Intergovernmental relations in the UK compared with other European countries
- Coalition and minority government in Scotland, Wales and N Ireland
- Britishness and nation building post devolution
- Devolution and education; Devolution and transport; Devolution and agriculture; etc
Executive and Civil Service
- Growth and influence of Special Advisers in Australia, Canada, NZ and UK
- Growth of core executive, changing role of No 10 and Cabinet Office
- Effectiveness of Ministerial and Civil Service Codes
- Civil Service Commissioners and Public Appointments Commissioner
- The Law in Whitehall: growth of Government Legal Service
- Comparative study of the role of Attorney General in the UK, Israel and NZ
- The independence and accountability of constitutional watchdogs in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and the UK
- Impact of new Supreme Court
- Judicial Appointments Commission
- Leadership and governance of judiciary by its new head, the Lord Chief Justice
Elections, referendums and political parties
- Comparative study of ways of increasing women’s representation
- Effects of introducing STV in local government in Scotland
- Impact of devolution on political parties
- Place of the referendum in the British constitution
Human Rights Act
- Impact of Human Rights Act on policy fields (eg NHS, criminal justice system)
- The case for a British bill of rights
- Devolution and human rights
- The new Commission for Equality and Human Rights
Freedom of information
- FOI and the media
- The operation of FOI in Britain in local government, the NHS or wider public sector.
- Comparative study of effectiveness of FOI in Britain and other countries, particularly those with similar political systems.
- FOI and Parliament
- FOI and devolution: the differing FOI regimes in Scotland, Wales and UK
- FOI and records management
- FOI as part of democratic transition for emerging democracies (with Sherrill Stroschein).
Privacy and Data Protection
- Information sharing between public agencies
- The operation of DP in Britain in central government, local government, wider public sector or the private sector.
- Comparative study of DP in Britain and other countries, particularly those with similar political systems.
- DP and records management
- Differing attitudes to privacy and implementation of EU Data Protection Directive across different member states (with Graham Sutton).
- The interface between DP and FOI - the privacy versus openness debate.
- Role, history, powers and work of the ICO (possibly comparative or FOI/DP).
- Comparative study of role, powers, accountability of Information Commissioners in Australia, Canada, Ireland and UK.