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Leverhulme funded PhD position: Outer Space as a Global Commons

Department: Law School

The award covers tuition fees at UK Home Fee rate plus a stipend at UKRI Level

Full time

Duration: 36 months

Closing date: 3 June 2024 5pm (UK time)

Start date: 1 October 2024

Informal enquiries to: Dr Rozemarijn Roland Holst,


About this position:

This fully funded 3-year PhD position is part of the project The Making and Unmaking of Global Commons by International Organisations led by Dr Rozemarijn Roland Holst and funded by the Leverhulme Trust. The project investigates the role of international organisations (IOs) as sites of power and authority that co-constitute global commons. Global commons like the high seas, Antarctica, and outer space are under pressure from ever-expanding human activity. States manage shared and competing interests in these spaces beyond national jurisdiction through different forms and degrees of institutionalisation. These institutions also function as semi-autonomous actors, shaping the political economies of natural resource extraction and impacting public interests beyond those of their member states alone, but without the accountability mechanisms applicable to states.

An apparent paradox emerges in global commons between their characterisation as ‘commons’ and the way in which these spaces are managed in practice. Overexploitation, ecosystem degradation, interplanetary pollution, and value extraction by a small number of private actors run counter to the very notion of a commons. By focussing on IOs as semi-autonomous actors, this project seeks to identify and better understand the processes that perpetuate socio-ecological inequities and failures in the governance of global commons, as well as ways to challenge these through existing legal infrastructures. The project consists of three case studies that will cover different types of institutions with mandates relating in different ways to the management of shared resources and other public interests in areas beyond national jurisdiction, focussing on (1) the ocean beyond national jurisdiction, (2) polar regions, and (3) outer space.

The PhD work package comprises of case study 3, focussing on outer space. The political economy of outer space shows considerable similarities with that of global commons on Earth (case studies 1 and 2), but the international legal framework is significantly less developed, and there is a comparatively low degree of formal institutionalisation in the international governance of outer space. As a result, there is wider scope for unilateralism by way of domestic regulation of space activities, and a booming commercial space industry is taking eager advantage of this. The guiding question for case study 3 is whether and how this fragmented institutional infrastructure and lack of international governance shapes the hierarchy of activities, ambitions, and public interests in outer space, and how different stakeholders are represented therein.

Key responsibilities:

The PhD researcher will be responsible for developing this work package into a self-standing PhD thesis. The overarching themes and aims of the research project will provide a foundation and conceptual skeleton for the PhD project, but there is deliberate leeway built in for the PhD researcher to add flesh to the bones and make the development of case study 3 their own.

The project lead, Dr Roland Holst, and PhD researcher will work together on synthesising findings across the different case studies, and there will be opportunities for joint and individual publication and dissemination activities. Dr Roland Holst will act as primary supervisor, and the PhD researcher will have a secondary supervisor external to the project.

Remuneration & benefits:

The Leverhulme Trust will fully fund the following:

  • Fees at the Home (UK) rate for 36 months over the duration of the project (for 2024-25 this is £4786)
  • Stipend at UKRI rate for 36 months over the duration of the project (for 2024-25 this is £19,237)

The PhD candidate will also benefit from additional research funds available to the project team, for example to attend conferences.

Eligibility Requirements:

  • Possess Home Fee Status for the purpose of PhD study, or have additional funding to self-fund the difference with international fees;
  • In receipt of an offer of admission to the doctoral degree programme at Durham Law School for October 2024 Entry (applications can be submitted until the closing date specified above);
  • Able to commit to the project full time and adhere to the standard terms and conditions of being a registered student;
  • Have no other commitments that would preclude the candidate’s ability to deliver on their studies (e.g. secondary employment);

Person specification:

Candidates applying for this position will have recently completed or be concluding their Master’s and must outline their experience, skills and achievements to date which demonstrate that they meet or that they have the potential to achieve the below criteria:

Essential Criteria:

  • Hold a first class or upper second class Bachelor’s in Law or related discipline, with an average of 65 or above (or equivalent);
  • In addition, hold or expect to hold a Master’s degree in Law or related discipline at a first class or upper second class level with an average of 65 or above (or equivalent) and/or significant relevant professional experience. Where the degree is in a discipline other than Law, the candidate must demonstrate a sufficiently deep understanding of law and legal thought, which will usually require your degree to have included a substantial Law component.
  • Academic training and/or professional experience in public international law
  • Have excellent research skills
  • Have excellent oral and written communication skills in English

Desirable Criteria:

  • Expertise in and/or demonstrable affinity with one or more of the following areas: international organisations law, space law, natural resources governance, (critical) political economy, global commons.
  • Experience with interdisciplinary approaches is welcome
  • Experience with carrying out a larger research project, individually or as part of a team
  • Attending and presenting work at academic workshops or conferences

How to apply:

Candidates must apply before the deadline to the Doctoral Degree Programme at Durham via the online application form. The following documents are required as part of this application:

  1. A current CV;
  2. A personal statement of no more than two pages that details the candidate’s experience, skills and achievements in meeting (or the potential to meet) the criteria set out above;
  3. Degree certificates and academic transcripts with a full breakdown of module marks and degree classification;
  4. If you are not a native English speaker, you must demonstrate competence in English. Our minimum standard is 7.0 on every component of the IELTS test. Applicants must achieve this standard before commencing studies. If your most recent IELTS test is more than 2 years old, it will need to be taken again. Applicants whose entrance qualifications were studied in English in certain countries within the last two years are not required to submit evidence of English language proficiency.
  5. A photo page of their passport
  6. Two academic references from within the past two years. We may also accept one professional reference and one academic reference. Candidates should not email references directly to us. Each reference must be either emailed by the referee directly to us using the following email address: or uploaded via the application system. All references must be on headed paper and clearly dated. If the applicant is a Durham University candidate, one reference may be from within the university and the other from someone independent of the university.
  7. A research proposal of no more than 2,000 words (excluding bibliography) setting out your proposed approach to the PhD work package described above, including your methodology. Details of the content of a good research proposal are explained here. Applicants can make informal enquiries about the project with Dr Rozemarijn Roland Holst, at 
  8. State on your online application that you would like to be considered for the Leverhulme funded PhD Position.

Candidates must ensure they include all relevant documentation when applying. Incomplete applications will not be processed.

Applications are particularly welcome from women and black and minority ethnic candidates, who are under-represented in academic posts in the University.

Selection Criteria and Next Steps:

The process consists of two stages. In the first stage, all applicants apply to the Durham doctoral degree programme in accordance with the procedure specified above. In the second stage, a shortlisting process will take place among those applicants who received an offer of admission to the doctoral degree programme. Only shortlisted candidates will be invited to interview, which is expected to take place at the end of June 2024.

Candidates will be assessed on the basis of:

  • Academic excellence
  • Research potential
  • Fit with the project’s research focus

We will notify candidate on the status of their application at various points throughout the selection process. Candidates are advised to check spam/junk folders periodically to ensure they receive all emails.

For informal enquiries please contact Dr Rozemarijn Roland Holst, project lead, on

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