Birmingham Business School PhD scholarship topics

Department of Accounting

Title: Accounting and business responsibility in co-operative organisations
Supervisors: Dr. Stewart Smyth & Dr. Elisavet Mantzari

Co-operatives, an innately responsible form of business based on self-help and mutuality, aim at meeting the common economic, social, and cultural aspirations of their owners/members. A key element of the co-operative principles is therefore aligning their economic activity with their social-environmental values; yet, too often current accounting and accountability formats do not adequately recognise the dual nature of co-operatives, as they focus either on the economic (understood as profit creation) or the social (understood as not-for-profit) and see the two as separate and different. At the same time, co-operatives have been developing various ways to account for and report the value they create, including non-monetary measures such as co-operative performance indicators and action taken in relation to the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs). This PhD will aim at: (1) understanding the current accounting and accountability practices of co-operatives; (2) identifying the challenges co-operatives face in accounting and reporting on their holistic performance, and (3) exploring how these insights can help develop appropriate accounting frameworks for co-operative purposes and provide alternatives to conventional financial and social accounting practices.

Title: Evaluating carbon reporting standards from the perspective of net zero emissions targets
Supervisors: Prof. Ian Thomson and Dr. Annika Beelitz

In light of the global climate emergency and the urgency to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to reach the net zero carbon target by 2050, this project will investigate a range of GHG emissions reporting standards and corporate practices. Specifically, it will investigate the interplay between the GHG emissions that companies report (Scope 1 and 2 emissions), (as far as possible) companies’ actual GHG emissions (Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions), and how companies talk about their GHG emissions in their narrative reporting. The project aims to investigate whether companies report all direct and indirect GHG emissions, and whether these disclosures are suitable for input into key stakeholder decision models. This evaluation will explore the possibility of problematic actions emerging from corporate disclosures, e.g. inappropriate investment / disinvestment by asset managers; consumer boycotts; business procurement decisions; government regulators; activist engagement tactics. The project will attempt to uncover innovative standards or practices, as well as critically evaluate conventional reporting practices. The project will further explore how the findings might influence GHG emissions disclosure requirements in the future.

Title: The future of carbon taxation: goals and outcomes
Supervisors: Prof. Penelope Tuck and Dr. Mayya Konovalova

This qualitative project will look at the growth in environmental taxation and analyse the way in which different forms of environmental tax policy can shape the environmental space. In particular, we are interested in carbon taxation, both in the UK and internationally. This PhD will address this subject area by: (1) identifying different approaches to calculating carbon taxation; (2) understanding the practice of regulating environmental taxation; and (3) exploring how these findings might influence behaviour and environmental outcomes.

Department of Finance

Title:  Changes of banking market structure
Supervisors: Dr. Malika Hamadi and Dr. Ziwen Bu

Many economies around the world engage in economic reforms and regulatory changes affecting the traditional banking sector as well as alternative intermediaries in the fintech industry for instance. This project aims to investigate the implementation of reforms and regulations in emerging and/or developed markets and their effects in shaping the market structure of the financial intermediation industry, which ultimately impacts financial performance, risk taking, and credit availability to the different economic agents.

Title: Environmental finance
Supervisors: Dr. Jing-Ming (Thomas) Kuo and Dr. Hui Li

In 2019, the United Nations stated that climate change is believed to be having an unprecedented and far-reaching world-wide effect. In particular, the environmental risk may alter macroeconomic and growth opportunities. Moreover, governments and regulators are in the process of developing environmental polies and regulatory requirements designed to mitigate such effects. However, there is a lack of understanding about how corporate financial decisions respond to the environmental risk and the uncertainty in the related regulations. Our project will contribute to the academic literature and regulatory actions by investigating how the environmental risk and related policy uncertainty may influence corporate behaviour.

Title: Fintech markets across the world
Supervisors: Dr. Danny McGowan and Dr. Santosh Koirala

Over the past decade, new digital financial technologies have transformed lending markets across the world. In these markets funding is provided by institutional investors and individuals rather than banks. It is now common in many countries for consumers to have access to credit through online lending platforms at a lower cost and more quickly relative to traditional financial intermediaries. Entrepreneurs and businesses are similarly able to secure funds for startup and expansion through debt and equity crowdfunding platforms. This project aims to study the reasons behind the growth of these markets and their implications on consumers, businesses and societies. 

Department of Management

Title: New technologies and the future of professions and professionals
Supervisors: Dr. Paul Lewis and Dr. Andy Hodder       

Initial estimates of the number of jobs to be replaced by AI related technologies have been heavily revised downwards in recent studies and it is becoming increasingly clear that in many sectors the nature of professional roles are starting to be reconsidered and redesigned in response to the opportunities and limitations of new technologies. This raises questions regarding our understanding of the future of professions, which activities will be valued, what skills and training will be required, what will career progression entail, and how may technology be designed to augment rather than replace people.

This project will begin by examining understandings of the types of tasks and activities which new technologies (including machine learning, AI and data analytics) are able to automate now, and into the foreseeable future. While initially considered to be labour-replacing, technological productivity benefits are increasingly understood to arise from the significant re-design of work in order that technology augments people. Taking a case-study based approach to a small number of professions, it will examine how new technologies have begun to alter the number of practitioners, entry criteria, the content and accreditation of roles, the services provided and billed to clients, practitioner remuneration, and associated training and progression. It will examine the extent to which change to date has been technologically and managerially led versus practitioner led, and the opportunities for practitioners to shape the implementation of technology and the future design of their professions. It will also consider notions of the changing value of different types of work and perspectives on job quality.

We envisage an interpretive methodological approach, involving review of primary and secondary source information and interviews with a range of stakeholders including key technology providers, professional accreditation bodies, trade bodies and journals, employer and employee representatives, major sectoral organisations, and the association of graduate careers advisory services. It will likely focus upon one country, e.g. UK, but may draw comparisons with changes to professions in other countries or supranational regions.         

Title: Exploring informal learning in SMES
Supervisors: Dr. Margarita Nyfoudi and Dr. Caroline Chapain

Informal learning is learning “predominantly unstructured experiential, and noninstitutional” and takes place while individuals are conducting their jobs (Marsick & Volpe, 1999 p. 4). It is achieved through a plethora of different behaviours, including self-reflection, experimentation with new work processes, interaction with others, and innovation (Noe, Tews, & Marand, 2013; Bednall, Sanders, & Runhaar, 2014), while it is predominantly based on the individual learner’s volition (Tews, Michel, & Noe, 2016). In other words, the learner has “the intent to learn or improve” and thus, the learning experience is not incidental or unintentional (Tannenbaum et al., 2010, p. 306).

Research on informal learning has flourished over the past twenty years. In terms of antecedents, studies have shown that both formal and informal organizational support as well as the degree of autonomy of a job and existing resources significantly relate to informal learning (Cerasoli et al., 2017). In addition, studies have found that learners’ personal characteristics, such as cognitive ability and personality, as well organizational characteristics, such as organizational size and structure, influence the degree of informal learning within the workplace (Jeong et al., 2018). In terms of consequences, informal learning has been found to relate to job and project performance, effectiveness, salary, and promotions (Cerasoli et al., 2017) as well as employees’ retention (Colognesi et al., 2020).

Be that as it may, the majority of research has been conducted in large organisations. We know little about how informal learning plays out in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Yet, SMEs rely extensively on informal on-the-job learning (Jeong et al., 2017). For example, recent research demonstrates that informal learning in SME teams whilst operating under adverse working conditions matters in redressing employee efforts (Nyfoudi et al., 2020). Extant studies highlight the different context of SMEs to larger organisations and call for a more nuanced understanding of the SME workers’ experience (Harney & Alkhalaf, 2020).

Based on the above, the project aims to answer the following research question:
How and under what conditions does informal learning take place in SMEs?

Research Design
The research question will be answered through an inductive research design and a multi-case study approach. The PhD researcher is expected to adopt a longitudinal qualitative data collection strategy in order to be able to capture the dynamic nature of informal learning (e.g. data collection through multiple semi-structured interviews and observations of meetings and day-to-day operations from 5-10 SMEs). The data are expected to be analysed using Gioia’s (2013) methodology.

This project is envisaged to have significant theoretical and practical implications. Specifically, it will contribute to the limited knowledge on informal learning in SMEs developing a new line of research enquiry. In addition, it will guide SME owners and HR practitioners in terms of facilitating informal learning in the workplace, while it may also contribute to policy formation in terms of promoting working conditions that enable informal learning in SMEs.

Title: Exploring the geography of creative innovation through big data in social media
Supervisors: Dr. Carlo Corradini and Prof. Lisa De Propris

Since the seminal contribution by Richard Florida (2002) in The Rise of the Creative Class, a growing strand of research has focused on exploring the role of the creative industries and creative occupations as engines of economic growth and innovation (Boschma and Fritsch, 2009; Cooke and De Propris, 2011). This literature has uncovered the spatially bounded and mostly urban nature of creative occupations, offering initial insights on the nexus between creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship (Boix et al., 2016; Lee et al., 2004; Lee and Rodríguez-Pose, 2014).

Yet, while creative industries now contribute over £100 billion to the UK economy and represent the fastest growing sector in the economy (DCMD, 2018), our understanding of the relationship between creative activities and innovation remains underdeveloped, with limited empirical studies offering mixed evidence (Boschma and Fritsch, 2009; Lee and Rodríguez-Pose, 2014). Advances in this area have been hampered by the limitations in the data available, which inevitably rest on a rigid classification of occupations in labour market statistics. Indeed, scholars have pointed out that measuring creativity using creative occupations may lead to excluding many other jobs that are not classified as creative but actually do present significant aspects of innovative content (Boschma and Fritsch, 2009; Sleuwaegen and Boiardi, 2014). Florida himself recognises this point when he argues that creativity can be required from manufacturing and assembly workers as they engage in problem-solving to improve productivity and deal with breakdowns (Florida, 2012).

This project aims to contribute to this literature exploring the geography of creativity and its relationship with innovation following an interdisciplinary approach that brings together economic geography theory with novel methods grounded in big data analytics. In particular, the project builds on recent studies offering growing evidence supporting the use of big data from social media in capturing spatial variation in economic activity (Sloan, 2017; Indaco, 2020) as well as intangible aspects through language patterns of regions (Grieve et al., 2019; Corradini, 2020). Indicatively, the project will address the following research objectives:

  • Create new measures of creative activity to complement labour market statistics using big data from Twitter.
  • Explore the role of creative activities in innovative and non-innovative (non-urban) areas and linkages in innovation across creative and scientific activities (Rodríguez-Pose and Lee, 2020).
  • Integrate and assess the new creativity indicators within established models of regional growth and innovation.

Empirically, the project will draw from a unique dataset comprising information on the population of geo-referenced tweets in the UK in 2014, corresponding to a 1.8-billion-word of over one million geolocated tweets per day. Methodologically, the project will merge established spatial economic analysis techniques with latest developments in Data Science, including Latent Dirichlet Allocation (LDA) models built on unsupervised machine learning and word embedding algorithms based on keyword extraction (Corradini, 2020), following a Bag of Words (BOW) approach.

Leveraging on the opportunities offered by big data recently highlighted in the scholarly community, the project aims to offer new theoretical insights on creativity as engine of innovation and growth across UK regions, and contribute to the nascent stream of research exploring language patterns in economic geography (Obschonka et al., 2020; Casadei and Lee, 2020; Corradini, 2020).

Department of Marketing

Title: Ethical Consumption: Spill Overs across different domains.
Supervisors: Dr. Solon Magrizos and Dr. Caroline Moraes

Literature provides an inconclusive account of how sustainable consumption behaviours are carried over between different contexts. Studies have considered separately either the home, the holiday, or the work environment as isolated contexts and failed to consider behaviours of the same individual across different domains. We are interested in PhD proposals that explore the underlying mechanisms and processes of how green practices can carry over across different contexts. Specifically, of distinct interest is the interplay between positive and negative spill overs that occur after a sustainable consumption decision; does ,e.g., recycling at home lead to more or less interest in green practices at work? Will a decision to travel sustainably and spend holidays in an ecovillage carry over at everyday life? Do anti-consumption behaviours at home manifest in the workplace too?

Title: The multiple ways of consuming nature in a post-pandemic world
Advisors: Dr. Emma Surman and Dr. Pilar Rojas Gaviria

Abstract: The process of being ‘locked down’ during the Covid-19 pandemic brought with it changes in the pace and spaces of everyday living. Reduced levels of human activity enabled nature to flourish and created the possibility for people to notice and encounter the natural world more readily. Simultaneously, many retailscapes have been unavailable, and families have been encouraged to think about visiting natural spaces. Proximity to nature has proven to be a mental health oasis and an essential source of well-being in stressful and disorienting times (Birch, Rishbeth and Payne 2020, van den Berg et al. 2010) and during the Covid-19 pandemic has also been investigated as an exciting learning experience to motivate a better understanding of the earth’s ecosystem (Diffenbaugh 2020). The consumption of nature as a source of learning, healing and escape is not restricted to those with access to outside space, as it has also become possible and popular to access nature through a proliferation of digital images, films and soundscapes. This project adopts an assemblage perspective based on the ideas that experiences of nature transpire from assemblages of discourses, technologies, and material geographies (Canniford & Shankar 2012).  It will explore the differing ways in which experiences of nature were and continue to be assembled in the pandemic and post-pandemic periods and will also consider the impact of these assemblages on consumers well-being and their willingness to become agents of change.

Title: Barriers to and proposing solutions for securing investment in responsible innovation
Supervisor: Dr.Eric Shiu and Dr. Sheena Leek 

Responsible Innovation is a process that “seeks to promote creativity and opportunities for science and innovation that are socially desirable and undertaken in the public interest” (EPSRC 2021). More and more companies aim at being more socially responsible in their innovation activities. Unfortunately, many of them struggle to obtain the finance to support their planned responsible innovation.

Finance, alongside demand, are often cited as the two most important categories of barriers to innovation including responsible innovation (Pellegrino and Sarona 2017). There have been studies on both barriers. However previous studies on financial investment barriers were mostly conducted from an econometric perspective. For example, Silva and Carrcira (2012) and Canepa and Stoneman (2008) used a large secondary dataset and conducted econometric modelling trying to quantify financial investment barrier to innovation. More recently, Pellegrino and Sarona (2017) used data from four waves of the UK Community Innovation Survey to develop econometric modelling involving financial investment data, demand data and innovation data. To the best of our knowledge, there has been no study on barriers to securing financial investment in innovation, let alone responsible innovation, using tailed made primary data from companies.

This study addresses the above research gap. What’s more, this study also aims at applying selected theories and primary data from companies to develop possible solutions for securing financial investment in responsible innovation. No previous study has investigated into such potential solutions.

Department of Strategy and International Business

Topic: Building innovation ecosystems to develop solutions to global societal challenges
Supervisors: Dr. Paulina Ramirez and Dr. Linda Hsieh

Building innovation ecosystems that address societal grand challenges (e.g. reduction of carbon emissions; tackling health inequalities) have gained increasing attention since the publication of the UN’s SDGs in 2015. Building successful ecosystems requires the creation of complex networks and the alignment of the strategic interests, the knowledge-base and activities of a broad spectrum of actors (this ranges from multinational companies, SMEs, research institutes to government organizations) across the value chains (i.e. research, development, production, infrastructure and logistics activities). The aim of this PhD project is to study 1) how innovation ecosystems are created and constructed in specific industries, 2) who are the key actors and what role(s) they play, 3) what underpins the relationships between the key actors in industry-based innovation ecosystem. The context is one in which responsible business must include a focus on developing solutions to global societal challenges.

Topic: Sustainability strategies and innovations in professional service firms: a microfoundations perspective
Supervisors: Dr. Roshan Boojihawon & Dr. Emma Gardner 

The global professional services industries - e.g. consulting, law, accounting and IT - have been one of the most resilient industries despite the onslaught of the COVID crisis and subsequent global economic slowdowns. Their strategies have pivoted rapidly in response to the diverse needs of their clients during the pandemic. Whilst business has been good for those at the top of these firms, there have been worrying signs of warnings emerging from the lower ranks as junior consultants have been suffering burnout after working longer hours related to shifting to remote working, sparking fears of mental health problems, even suicide, amongst younger professionals. On the face of it, the world’s four largest professional services firms (PSFs) have recently committed to producing net-zero carbon emissions in the next decade as a way of restoring their reputations amongst clients, and indeed opening up new lines of business. However, this commitment requires strategic transformation to their business models regarding carbon intensive activities and consumption. Moreover, providing tailored advice and solutions is the main business of these firms, but the extent to which this advice is infused with a focus on responsibility or sustainability has always been unclear. There have been, for instance, a number of accounting scandals linked to the Big Four of Deloitte, EY, PwC and KPMG. These incidences raise important research questions around sustainability, responsible management, and the delivery of professional services and this also includes the working culture, management, and strategy of these organisations. Taking a microfoundations perspective, which theoretically focuses on the influence of individual actions and interactions on firm heterogeneity (Felin & Foss, 2005; Barney & Felin, 2013), this thesis aims to provide an employee-level view of design and engagement in sustainability initiatives, strategies and related innovations as they happen down-the-ranks in professional service firms where clients’ advice and solutions form. Empirical contributions here will fill an important knowledge gap and contribute enormously to understanding how sustainability strategies are enacted, innovated and implemented in professional service firms (Bryson & Daniels, 2015).

Topic: Transnational enterprises, geopolitical tensions, and economic sovereignty: responsible business and rebalancing the local with the global
Supervisors: Prof. Xiaohui Liu and Prof. John Bryson

The recent escalation in geopolitical tensions and competition for technological leadership, or economic dominance, between the US, Europe and China have posed new challenges for transnational enterprises and have profound implications for their international strategies. Both the US and the EU have implemented policies intended to rebalance global production and to reduce national risks related to over dependency on suppliers located in foreign countries. An excellent example is the current EU strategy to ensure that 20% of the global supply of computer chip production is located within the EU by 2030. One response has been from Intel which is investing $7bn in Ireland and creating 1,600 jobs with the creation of a new chip manufacturing facility. This research project aims to examine the impacts of interstate relations and ideological conflicts between MNEs’ home country and host countries focusing on the management of geopolitical risks and knowledge management strategies positioned within the emerging political debate on economic sovereignty. It will unpack the mechanisms through which MNEs respond to political instability and economic uncertainty in their international operations by engaging with diverse stakeholders and implementing market and non-market strategies. These non-market strategies include framing production strategies and the configuration of global supply chains within accounts of responsible business and working with governments to support the emerging national agenda on economic sovereignty. The project will be based on both quantitative and qualitative analysis of core sectors that have been identified by the US, Europe and China as being of strategic national importance.