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Award details

Accelerating a green transition: Driving positive tipping points in the sustainability of African landscape systems, Global Systems Institute/Geography– PhD (Funded) Ref: 4492

About the award


Professor Tim Lenton, University of Exeter, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, Geography

Dr Andrew Cunliffe, University of Exeter, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, Geography

Dr Tom Powell, University of Exeter, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, Geography

Dr Laura Pereira, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa


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

The University of Exeter’s Global Systems Institute is inviting applications for a fully-funded ‘Oppenheimer-Lovelock Doctoral 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 (OGRC) with contributions from the Lovelock Studentship Fund.

This post will commence in January 2023. For eligible students the studentship will cover international tuition fees plus a tax-free stipend of at least £16,062 per annum for 3.5 years full-time study and a comprehensive research training support grant.

Project Description:

The sustainability of human-environment interactions is increasingly under pressure due to climate change linked with other drivers. Many of these issues are particularly acute in Africa, where socio-economic contexts often exacerbate vulnerabilities to climate hazards. There is an urgent need to use systems thinking approaches to help guide development onto nature-supporting rather than nature-degrading pathways, that are socially just and promote greater equity.

This impact-focused research project will study the conditions that can enable positive tipping points in human-ecosystem interactions, to guide interventions that can most effectively trigger beneficial transitions in those systems. A key goal will be to identify positive feedback loops which can amplify social, technological, and ecological change in a desirable direction. These will be identified from models and from case studies - including learning from experiences elsewhere in the world.

There is considerable flexibility in the focus of this project. We aim to work in partnership with the Food and Land Use Coalition (FOLU). The project might assess the mitigation and adaptation potential of nature-based solutions to climate change, and how this potential can be realised through public and private financing strategies. It might look at integrating nature-supporting activities into building sustainable and resilient food systems and rural livelihoods. This project could also contribute to the development of a global tool to guide investment in nature-based solutions projects and/or inform the development of an African Environmental Index supported by OGRC.

The successful applicant should want to promote ‘futures literacy’ in society, embedding post-colonial approaches that contribute to environmental sustainability and equality. They will be a member of a large team of scholars through the Oppenheimer Research Programme in African Landscape Systems, a six-year programme of foundational and applied research activity led by the University of Exeter working with OGRC and other partners across the Continent including the Future Ecosystems for Africa programme.

The University of Exeter is one of the top-ranked research institutions in the world and a recognised leader in understanding the impacts of environmental change on global social and ecological systems. 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.

Keywords: African Landscapes, Sustainability, Systems Thinking, Tipping Points, Natural Resources

Entry requirements

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

Applicants for this studentship must have obtained 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 engineering, sustainable development, economics, or geography/environmental science, together with numeracy and skills in quantitative analysis, a good understanding of human-environment interactions in African societies, and a passion to inform mitigation and adaptation efforts to have a positive impact in African society. An appreciation and understanding of systems thinking would be valuable (as this will be the over-arching approach used).

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

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, submitted as a PDF, outlining your academic interests, prior research experience, and motivation to undertake this project).

• CV (3-pages max, submitted as a PDF, do not include personal information such as photographs, date of birth, gender, marital status, religion, etc. on your CV)

• 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 Tuesday13th of September 2022.

Interviews will be held virtually in the week commencing the 31st of October 2022.

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 Professor Tim Lenton (


Application deadline:13th September 2022
Number of awards:1
Value:For eligible students, the studentship will cover international tuition fees plus a tax-free stipend of at least £16,062 per annum for 3.5 years full-time stud
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Admissions Team