SOAS University of London


ESRC Collaborative Studentship - Questioning BRTs: A win-win solution to public transport problems in the cities of developing countries?

Deadline: 5 March 2018

Principal Supervisor: Matteo Rizzo (SOAS, University of London)


Project Partner: International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF)

Applications are invited for a 1+3 studentship to be held at the UBEL DTP in September 2018. This studentship is offered in collaboration with the ITF and the UBEL DTP. The Structure ‘1+3’ study will involve the MSc Research for International Development and MPhil/PhD in International Development at SOAS.

Summary of the Project

Bus Rapid Transit systems are being constructed at unprecedented rates in developing countries as the solution to the crisis of public transport faced by many of its rapidly growing cities. In 2007, forty cities across six continents had BRT systems. By January 2016, the figure had risen to 207. This increase mainly results from new BRTs in Latin America, Asia and Africa, where many more BRTs are currently being planned and negotiated. A consensus presents BRTs as a ‘win-win’ intervention that benefits the transport system, the economy, the environment and the poor. This project asks: for whom do BRT systems work and who stands to gain and lose from their adoption? In what ways, since when and why have they been promoted so aggressively? With what consequences for public transport and its workers?

Drawing on extensive fieldwork, and under the supervision of Dr Matteo Rizzo at SOAS and Alana Dave at ITF, the doctoral research project entails an interdisciplinary and critical analysis of BRT in one city in a developing country. The city to be studied will be selected according to the interests of the strongest applicant for this studentship. The research will explore the tension between urban mass transport as a public entitlement and as a commodified service, and its impact on the evolution of BRTs. The politics of incorporation and resistance to BRTs by pre-existing transport operators (including bus owners and workers) will be scrutinised. Furthermore, the project will map the nexus between economic interests and ‘knowledge production’ which underpins much of the ‘consensus’ about BRT benefits. The doctoral student will disseminate its findings as part of the activities of ITF and its affiliates on BRT.

By asking whether BRTs are fit for purpose, the project contributes to critical debates on a pressing challenge faced by developing countries today: how to provide environmentally friendly public transport to the masses of low-income residents in their rapidly growing cities. 

Further details about this project can be downloaded from the download box at the top right-hand corner of this page.

Value of the '1+3' Studentship

Full Award:

  • Tuition fees per year for 4 years (1+3). One year MSc and 3 years MPhil/PhD. 
  • Annual full-time maintenance stipend of £16,553 (17-18 rate) for 4 years (1+3).

Fees-Only Award:

  • Tuition fees per year for 4 years (1+3). One year MSc and 3 years MPhil/PhD.
  • If an applicant from an EU-country does not meet the residency requirements, they may apply for a “fees-only” studentship. These studentships will only pay the tuition fees for the studentship and will not pay a stipend.

Key References which discuss some of the issues to be explored 

ITF website on Our Public Transport

Rizzo, Matteo. 2015. “The political economy of an African urban megaproject: The implementation of the World Bank’s Bus Rapid Transit Tanzania”, African Affairs, Volume 114, Issue 455, pp.249-270.

World Bank. 2010. "From Chaos to Order: Implementing High Capacity Urban Transport Systems in Colombia." IBRD Results. Washington, D.C.: World Bank. 

Candidate Criteria

Normally minimum upper second class honours degree (or equivalent) in the social sciences, including some political economy, and preferably a demonstrable interest in research, public transport, labour and trade unions. Work and other experience may be taken into account. Each student must attend the Preliminary Mathematics and Statistics module, and attend its exam. The preliminary module runs in September prior to the start of the MSc Research for International Development teaching in term one.

Residency Requirements

ESRC studentships are open to all UK applicants.

Applicants are also eligible for a studentship if they have been an ordinary resident in the UK for three years prior to the start of the studentship grant. For instance, if the applicant applies for a studentship to start in October 2018, they must have resided in the UK since October 2015. Please note: if the applicant is from an EU-country, these three years may include time spent studying however if the applicant is from outside the EU (international), these three years cannot include time spent studying at a Higher Education institution.

If an applicant from an EU-country does not meet the residency requirements, they may apply for a “fees-only” studentship. These studentships will only pay the tuition fees for the studentship and will not pay a stipend.

For more details, please read the ESRC Residential Guidelines.

Further Information

For further information about the relevant programs please click the following links:

MSc Research for International Development

MPhil/PhD in International Development

How to Apply

Candidates wishing to apply for this 1+3 studentship starting September 2018 must complete both an admissions application and a studentship application. These are separate processes.

  • STEP 1: Complete Admissions Application for the MSc Research for International Development by 17:00 (UK local time) on 5 March 2018.

Applicants must submit a COMPLETE on-line application for admission.

A complete application for admission includes transcripts, an explanation of the grading system for any degrees obtained outside of the UK, two references, up-to-date CV and a supporting statement. The panel will be considering your Studentship application TOGETHER with your online application for admission. Please note that complete application for admission can take up to 4 weeks to be considered by the Department, although this duration can vary depending on the time of year. You should be prepared to wait up to 6 weeks in busy periods.

  • STEP 2: Studentship Application by 17:00 (UK local time) on 5 March 2018.

Apply for the Studentship by completing and submitting the studentship application form to by no later than 17:00 (UK local time) 5 March 2018. The Studentship application is available for download from the download box at the top right hand corner of this page.

Late applications will not be considered.

Notification of Results

If you are recommended for a studentship, you will be contacted by email the week commencing 26 March to complete the UBEL DTP procedures. The UBEL DTP procedures must be completed by 30 March.  Our recommendation is subject to the formal approval by the UBEL DTP.

For enquiries about the application procedure, please contact the Scholarships department:

Telephone: +44 (0)20 7074 5088/5094/5091

For enquiries about the project only, please contact

Principal Supervisor: Matteo Rizzo (SOAS, University of London)


Project Partner: Alana Dave (ITF)