PhD Funding – African Landscape Systems, University of Exeter

About the award


Dr Tom Powell – University of Exeter

Dr Andrew Cunliffe, University of Exeter

Dr Lorien Jasny, University of Exeter

Professor Mulala Simatele, University of the Witwatersrand


Global Systems Institute, Department of Geography, Streatham Campus, Exeter, UK

The University of Exeter’s College of Life and Environmental Sciences is inviting applications for a fully-funded ‘Oppenheimer-Turvill PhD studentship’ as part of the University’s new Oppenheimer Programme in African Landscape Systems (OPALS;, jointly funded by the University of Exeter and Oppenheimer Generations Research and Conservation.This post will commence in September 2022.

For eligible students, the studentship will cover international tuition fees plus a tax-free stipend of at least £15,609 for four years full-time study and a comprehensive research training support grant. The student would be based in Geography in the College of Life and Environmental Sciences at the Streatham Campus in Exeter.

Project Description:

A majority of African people depend on landscapes for their livelihoods, and are vulnerable to environmental degradation caused by climate change and increasing pressures on natural resources. For smallholder subsistence farmers, available adaptations  include adopting regenerative farming practices such as agroforestry and conservation farming, which can increase the health of agro-ecological systems and support diversified livelihoods. Although the benefits of these practices are well established, their uptake in farming communities is not widespread.

This PhD project will study uptake of regenerative farming practices by smallholder farmers in African landscapes, using a transdisciplinary socio-ecological systems perspective to understand their impacts for both the farmers and the environment. By working with partners who have successfully established wide-reaching programmes, we aim to understand and support the wider uptake of agricultural practices that can increase the resilience and sustainability of food production systems and livelihoods. By combining knowledge from ecology, social science, economics and other disciplines, we will explore how such programmes can be made more accessible and scalable for farmers, and how to work with socio-ecological feedbacks to enhance their benefits. The project will include primary data collection as well as use of secondary datasets. Opportunity for methods training in both quantitative and qualitative approaches will be provided.

The successful applicant should want to promote ‘futures literacy’ in society. They will be a member of a large team of 20 scholars through the Oppenheimer Research Programme in African Landscape Systems, a £2.3M six-year programme of foundational and applied research activity led by the University of Exeter working with Oppenheimer Generations Research and Conservation and other partners across the Continent.

The University is one of the top-ranked research institutes in the world and a recognised leader in understanding the impacts of environmental change on landscapes. This scholarship includes the cost of a student visa and healthcare surcharge to study in the UK but please be aware that it does not include the travel costs to move to the UK.

Entry requirements

Candidates must hold citizenship of an African Nation to be eligible for this funding.

Applicants for this studentship must have obtained, or be about to obtain, qualifications equivalent to a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, in an appropriate area of science, social sciences or sustainable development.

The candidate should have a strong foundation in environmental physics or mathematics, skills in computer programming and quantitative analysis, a good understanding of ecological processes and climate change impacts in African landscapes, a willingness to conduct fieldwork in remote locations, and a passion to inform adaptive management options to have a positive impact in society.

Candidates will be supported and required to present their findings at international research conferences, to contribute to reports for the project funder, and to ensure that all outputs (data, models, publications etc.) are ultimately made available open access for wider benefit.

If English is not your first language you will need to have achieved at least 6.5 in IELTS and no less than 6.0 in any section by the start of the project.  Alternative tests may be acceptable (see

How to apply

Apply now

Please refer to the person specification for additional information on selection criteria. In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents. 

• Letter of application (2-page max. outlining your academic interests, prior research experience, and motivation to undertake this project).

• CV (4-pages max)

• Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained (this should be an interim transcript if you are still studying)

• Names and contact details of two referees familiar with your academic work. You are not required to obtain references yourself. We will request references directly from your referees if you are shortlisted.

• If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country, you will need to submit evidence of your proficiency in English.

The closing date for applications is midnight on 16th March. Interviews will be held virtually on Wednesday the 6th of April.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email or phone 0300 555 60 60 (UK callers) +44 (0) 1392 723044 (International callers) 

Project-specific queries should be directed to Dr Tom Powell (


Application deadline:16th March 2022
Number of awards:1
Value:For eligible students, the studentship will cover international tuition fees plus a tax-free stipend of at least £15,609 for four years full-time study and a comprehensive research training support grant.
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Admissions