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A PhD is the highest level of degree a student can achieve and demonstrates that they have made a significant contribution to their field. PhD candidates conduct original research in a specific field or subject before developing a thesis which is assessed for the quality and originality of the work. Collaborative PhDs are when businesses and other non-higher education organisations partner on the PhD, providing a real-world challenge or opportunity for the candidate to tackle. This helps ground the research in real-time problems and provides access to on the ground experience that can help shape the research and create greater impact.

Because the success of the research is often rooted in originality and quality, organisations that partner on the research are getting access to cutting edge thinking and can translate that into real opportunities – with the help of the academic supervisor. The PhD candidate will also have access to specialist equipment, facilities and software via the university that you may not otherwise have access to. It is important to remember that the candidate will have to produce a thesis, which is a substantial, published piece of work requiring dedicated time, particularly in the last year of the PhD.

A full-time PhD takes three to four years, this extends to five to seven years for a part-time PhD. However, businesses don’t have to wait until the end of the PhD to see the benefits. Partners can work with the academic supervisor and PhD candidate to identify key milestones through the duration of the project – these could be quarterly, bi-annually and yearly depending on what is most suitable for your project goals. For example, you may decide to schedule some development work between year one and two of the project, following preliminary discovery, and integrate early stage validation or testing of the new product, service or process into year two. This could in turn provide valuable outputs for the PhD thesis.

Being part of the MOBIE Northumbria Homes For the Future Innovation Centre brings a range of additional benefits on top of the outputs of the PhD. The centre is creating a cluster of projects all in the area of future homebuilding with the intention of complementary projects running alongside each other. Networking events and workshops for candidates and partners will enable knowledge sharing across those projects, backed up by the university’s resource to support further collaborations and research bidding if required. Partners will also benefit from the vast and influential network of both MOBIE and the university across industry, media and government. These networks will be mobilised around the annual centre showcase, where partners and candidates will be invited to present the latest on their projects to a diverse audience.

Further to this, the university will provide a range of development opportunities for partners and candidates alike. PhD candidates will have access to a tailored training programme run by the Northumbria University graduate school, ensuring they have the skills and confidence they need to become fully rounded researchers. Similarly, the university will arrange regular workshops and seminars for businesses to support them in developing their skills around innovation. This will include session such as access to finance, bid writing, R&D tax credits and more.

The centre is open to applications from businesses, public sector and third sector organisations. Those wishing to take part must be financially stable, have an invested interest in residential property and have a base in the UK.

The cost of the PhD will depend on two main factors: 

  1. Whether partners opt for an existing member of staff, or open recruitment
  2. Whether study is part-time or full time

Northumbria University will cover up to half of the overall costs, meaning partner contributions range between £3k and £11k per year for the duration of the PhD, plus any additional research costs such as specialist equipment or additional travel expenses. An annual upper limit for these additional costs will be agreed and included in the collaboration agreement. A member of our team would be happy to discuss this with you and confirm the cost before you make an application. Please get in touch if you’d like to speak to us.

Prospective partners are invited to apply to the centre online within the application window (currently open for 2021). The application form has two parts, an eligibility assessment and an outline project description. All applications will be treated as commercial in confidence.

An expert panel will review the applications following the deadline and select the strongest applications to take forward. Successful partners will be notified and matched with an academic supervisor. The supervisor will then work with the company to refine and agree the project description.

Once a project description is agreed, a collaboration agreement is put in place between the company and the university. If the company is sponsoring an existing member of staff to complete the PhD, this candidate would then complete the application form, and a date would be set for interview. An offer will be made following successful completion of this process.

If the partner opts for open recruitment, the academic supervisor will work with the partner to agree an advert to promote the opportunity. The university will then promote this via its usual channels, and work with the partner to shortlist, interview and select the candidate.

Candidates have up to four weeks to accept a formal offer. Once the offer is accepted, the candidate will start their PhD on the agreed date.

Applications are run roughly in the same timeframe each year. Guideline dates are outlined below:

Stage Date
Partner applications open Sept / Oct
Partner applications reviewed Nov
Successful partners notified Dec
Project descriptions agreed Dec
Collaboration agreement signed Jan


Existing member of staff


Open recruitment

Stage Date Stage Date
Application, interview and offer Jan Advert agreed Jan
Start Jan Opportunity promoted Feb
    Shortlisting, interview and offer March
    Start April

We will be accepting partner applications for the 2021 cohort until 5pm on Friday October 30th 2020. Apply here today!


An expert panel will review the applications for strategic fit to the programme. This will include the centre director, representatives from MOBIE and a series of research and commercialisation experts. The criteria will include a range of elements such as alignment with the programme, level of innovation, fit with complementary partners, alignment with PhD requirements, commercial value and level of risk. Scoring and feedback will be provided to all partners that apply.

We welcome resubmissions and would be happy to work with prospective partners to help refine ideas to improve chances of success.

To make the programme as flexible as possible for partners, there are two options for selecting candidates:

  1. Existing members of staff – partners can choose to sponsor an existing member of staff to complete a PhD subject to meeting entry requirements. If there is someone in the organisation that is keen to complete a PhD, and perhaps move into an innovation or R&D career pathway, this is an ideal way to invest in their development with a view to short, medium and long-term returns. This route also has he benefit of a member of staff who has existing knowledge of the organisation and field. The candidate would still need to complete an application form, and successful interview with the academic supervisor and partner representative.
  2. Open recruitment – this is an ideal route for partners looking for a fresh pair of eyes and perhaps a new skillset to come into the organisation. Northumbria University will lead on the recruitment of the candidate, using its various resources to reach a broad network of applicants. The partner will be involved in the shortlisting, interviewing and selection of candidates to ensure the right fit.

Applicants usually need at least an upper or lower second class Honours degree or equivalent from an overseas university, plus a Masters degree in a relevant discipline. Applicants who do not hold these qualifications may still be eligible if they can demonstrate equivalent experience to the satisfaction of the relevant university committee. If you’re not sure whether the candidate would be eligible, please get in touch and a member of our team would be happy to talk this through with you.


For partners that choose the sponsor an existing member of staff to complete a PhD through the centre, the recruitment process can be turned around within a few weeks – allowing time for the candidate to complete the application form and interview.

For candidates selected via open recruitment, the process can take around 12 weeks. This allows for four weeks of advertising the opportunity, four weeks for shortlisting and interviewing, and up to four weeks for the candidate to accept the offer. 

For further information, please see the indicative timeframes in question six.


The base of the candidate can be flexible depending on circumstances and needs of each project. The set up will often depend on the location of the partner, how the candidate is recruited and whether study is part or full time. As long as the set-up is agreed by the partner, academic supervisor and candidate, time can be split as necessary across home, office and at the university.


Training and supervision meetings can be accessed virtually. We would, however, recommend one face to face meeting between the supervisor and candidate per quarter.

A collaboration agreement between the partner and Northumbria University will be established before a candidate is recruited and work starts on the PhD. This will set out the financial commitments including any additional research costs such as specialist equipment or additional travel expenses etc. for which an upper limit will be agreed. The agreement will also set out the arrangement for the management of Intellectual Property arising from the project.

The PhD projects are co-funded by the partner company and part funded by the university, therefore any intellectual property arising from the PhD project will be shared between them. The company will have the option to exclusively license the university portion if needed. If a company partner wishes to own all intellectual property arising from the project, the company would be required to fully fund the PhD costs, from the start of the project, and the collaboration agreement would need to reflect such terms.

In all cases regarding IP, the university’s terms include the requirement that the student can submit their thesis for examination and are able to lodge academic publications relating to the results of the PhD to support their career progression. There are occasions (such as submitting patents) when the thesis can be embargoed for a period of time and papers can be delayed until patents are written – understandably, this cannot be an unreasonable length of time.


Partners and prospective partners are welcome to submit multiple applications if wish and can support them. The centre will aim to work with a range of organisations across different disciplines to maximise benefits, opportunities for knowledge sharing and to minimise risk, so it is worth considering this when applying for multiple projects.

Yes, as long as one partner takes the lead role in the project proposal and makes arrangements with other partners with respect to exploitation of the project results. This partner will also take responsibility for making payments to the university as set out in the collaboration agreement and will need to subsequently recover contributions from fellow partners. All partners will sign the collaboration agreement.

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