Programme content, awards, and duration of study


On registration, all candidates join other members of their cohort in a single ‘doctorate in the built environment’ programme. Successful completion of the programme entitles candidates to receive the Doctor of the Built Environment (DBEnv) award.

At the time of submitting their thesis candidates may instead elect to receive one of two alternative discipline-specific doctoral awards. Depending on the subject of their thesis they may therefore choose to be awarded either the Doctor of Real Estate (DRealEst), or the Doctor of Construction Management (DConstMgt).


Those requiring the more theoretical, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), are also able to graduate with this award if they have so-elected on successful completion of year 2 of their studies.

Programme duration

The doctorate is a research degree, awarded on the basis of a thesis and associated viva voce (oral examination). As such, there can strictly be no prescribed programme duration as individual candidates will take varying amounts of time to complete their thesis.

The programme is however nominally of five years’ duration. Experience suggests that this is a realistic time-scale for diligent candidates to achieve the necessary standard of work through part-time study, whilst also maintaining a reasonable balance in the rest of their lives.

Some determined and well-organised candidates will undoubtedly graduate well within the five year period. Others will choose to take longer than five years. But it’s not a race - the examiners will ultimately assess the quality of the finished thesis rather than the time taken to produce it. Within reason the pace of one’s doctoral research should therefore be tailored to one’s individual inclinations and circumstances.

Programme structure

The structure of the programme is shown in the diagram below. If this is not sufficiently clear when viewed through your browser, an A4 sized PDF version can be downloaded

Paul Chynoweth

Programme Leader

“Every doctoral research project will be unique. So, no doctoral programme can have a syllabus in the conventional sense, and candidates instead pursue an individual research journey under the guidance of a supervisor. However, the Salford programme incorporates a step-by-step roadmap for this journey which candidates can then share with others, rather than travelling alone. The stages of the journey are designed to reflect the individual milestones that practitioner candidates from the built environment professions will encounter as they develop their research projects. Candidates therefore study a number of common modules. These progressively develop the theoretical concepts and the practice-related research skills required for the successful writing and defence of a doctoral-level thesis.”

The ‘taught’ and ‘research’ components

For the purposes of the University’s regulations, professional doctorates consist of a two year ‘taught’ component, followed by and a three year ‘research’ component. This is because the high levels of support and tuition provided to candidates during the first two years are considered to have more in common with a taught degree than a research degree.

However, for the reasons explained below, it is actually quite misleading to consider the first two years of the Salford programme as being conceptually different from the final three years. On the contrary, the programme consists of a single, integrated and coherent whole. Its various component parts combine to provide a logical, step-by-step route to achieving a doctorate by research which has been designed specifically for the needs of practising built environment professionals.

Significance of ‘credits’

‘Credits’ are a sort of higher education version of the euro – a common currency which universities across Europe use when awarding qualifications on taught programmes. Credits are awarded to students on successful completion of ‘modules’ (individual units) within a ‘programme’ (a complete course). Over a period of time students therefore accumulate credits up to the total number required for the award of the qualification they are seeking.

The use of credits ensures that taught degrees from different universities across Europe are comparable, and that students can easily transfer between universities during their studies. It also allows students who are unable to complete a full programme due to personal circumstances to graduate with an exit award (an ‘intermediate terminating qualification’) rather than with nothing. If their circumstances subsequently change they are then free to return to the university (or to another university) to top up their credits, and thereby achieve the qualification they were originally seeking.

Because the University of Salford treats the first two years of the professional doctorate as a ‘taught’ programme it follows that credits are awarded on completion of the ‘modules’ studied during those years. This allows a level of flexibility in terms of pace of study and you will see from the diagram that the programme therefore incorporates a number of ‘stepping on’ and ‘stepping off’ points in the form of exit awards.

The credit-rated element

For the reasons described above it is more correct to describe the first two years of the programme as the ‘credit-rated’ (rather than the ‘taught’) element.

This element provides an induction into academic research at doctoral level and progressively guides candidates through the early stages of developing their individual research projects in partnership with their supervisors. Each of these stages (or ‘building blocks’) is represented by one of the single credit-rated modules illustrated on the diagram. Each of the modules is assessed by a 5,000 word assignment which, as described below, also contributes directly to the candidate’s doctoral thesis.

The modules introduce candidates to some of the theoretical concepts that will be most relevant to the particular stage of their research development, together with the associated literature.

However, their focus is more on the development of practice-related research skills than on the process of knowledge acquisition itself, which will obviously be unique to every candidate. Each module therefore provides the shell within which knowledge relevant to the individual candidate’s research project can be acquired and presented under the guidance of their research supervisor.

The credit-rated modules

Candidates study the following credit-rated modules during the first two years of the programme.

Academic & Professional Knowledge in the Built Environment (30 credits)

This module introduces candidates to the nature of doctoral-level knowledge in the various built environment professional disciplines and addresses the differences between academic and professional knowledge. It also equips candidates with the philosophical knowledge necessary to make informed decisions about the future direction of their research projects, and the ability to mount an effective defence of these decisions during the examination of their thesis.

Knowledge Development through Reflective Practice (30 credits)

The second module draws upon theories of reflective practice and experiential learning to assist candidates in identifying suitable areas for research from within their own professional environments. As part of this process candidates are also introduced to the concept of action learning research and its potential use by practitioners. Candidates use their studies on this module to identify the broad focus for their doctoral research projects.

Practice-based Theoretical Study (30 credits)

Having identified a suitable area for research from within their own professional environments the third module provides candidates with the academic skills necessary to place this within its broader theoretical and academic context. Candidates are guided in the process of literature searching and the development of a detailed critical review of the relevant literature. At the conclusion of this module candidates will have defined their broad practice-centred research focus in terms of a viable research question, suitable for further development to doctoral level.

Research Approaches and Methodologies in Built Environment Practice (30 credits)

During this module candidates develop their understanding of the range of research methods that might be suitable for practice-related research in the built environment, and of how to select an appropriate method for their own previously identified research question. The module also emphasises the relationship between the choice of research method and some of the fundamental concepts studied during module 1. By the time they complete this module candidates will have produced a detailed research proposal which describes, and justifies, the future direction of their research.

Preliminary Practice-based Investigation (60 credits)

The final credit-rated module supports candidates in the development of a short dissertation of 15,000 to 20,000 words on the subject of their doctoral research project. It provides an opportunity to use the research knowledge and skills, acquired during the first four modules, in a preliminary research project which can be further developed as their doctoral research proceeds. The form of the dissertation will vary according to the subject of study, and the research design decisions previously made by individual candidates. It may, for example, be largely literature based, or may involve some form of empirical pilot study.

The non credit-rated element

By the time candidates reach the start of year 3 they are on the home straight!

Many of their doctoral-level research skills will be in place, and the direction and process of their individual research projects will already be well-advanced. They are also likely to have had some interaction with the wider research community and, based on their research to date, to have made some initial contributions to it.

They will rapidly be becoming seasoned researchers, capable of making independent and critical decisions about the direction of their own research, and offering criticism and insights into the contributions of their peers on the programme.

The nature and scale of the remainder of their research task will vary from candidate to candidate. It may, for example, involve supplementing existing areas of work with other related work. Or perhaps it will involve a more detailed study in one aspect of that addressed during the dissertation. It might involve engagement with an additional body of literature whose significance has only recently come to light, or maybe involve an empirical study. Equally, some candidates will have decided to make more extensive use of the principles of reflective practice and decide to extend their work by drawing on their existing experience in a more ethnographic style of research. The range of possibilities is infinite, and the direction taken will be a matter for the individual candidate, in partnership with their supervisor.

The examination

Once candidate and supervisor are satisfied that the research has reached the required standard the candidate will submit a thesis for examination. Because all the assessed work undertaken during the first two years will be relevant to the doctoral research project this can be re-presented along with the thesis. When choosing to do so candidates are then permitted to present a much shorter thesis (35,000 to 50,000 words) than would normally be permitted for the examination of a doctorate. As an alternative, candidates might choose to re-work some of the earlier work, and to present this, together with the more recent work in the form of a single conventional thesis of between 70,000 and 90,000 words.

The University will then appoint two examiners (one from the University’s own academic staff and one from another university) who will conduct the examination. They will read the thesis and a viva voce (oral examination) will then be convened where the examiners will question the candidate about its contents, and about the process and findings of the research.

But candidates should have no fears about this. The whole of the Salford professional doctorate programme has been designed to enable them to deliver a defensible thesis, and to confidently defend it when challenged by the examiners.

By this stage they will know more than anyone (including the examiners) about the subject of their thesis. They will also be well-versed in self-reflection, critical thinking and research skills. So they should be well able to justify every single step that they have taken in developing their research, and therefore also by definition, to convince any examiner about the validity of its findings.