PhD in ICT4D: where to begin

Several people tweeted me to ask how I decided which university to apply to begin a PhD in ICT4D. This is how I chose:

Having decided that I wanted to undertake postgraduate research on ICT4D the first thing I did was to set up a Skype chat with Professor Tim Unwin at the University of London, Royal Holloway (RHUL) to discuss the possibility of enrolling at the ICT4D Collective.

I already knew Tim from his time running Imfundo at DFID when I was still setting up Computer Aid International. Tim was very open when I enquired about a PhD and he advised me inter alia (check out my academic-speak!) to also evaluate other universities’ PhD offerings in ICT4D to see which approach best suited my needs.

From Tim’s suggestions I ended up looking primarily at Manchester (IPDM) and the London School of Economics (LSE), in addition to the ICT4D collective at the University of London, Royal Holloway (RHUL). As I have family responsibilities that tie me to London for another three years, I chose not pursue other PhD options in Spain, Sweden & the USA (but see these links from @ICTlogy for other ICT4D courses).

Important Disclaimer: I do not claim to have discovered the ‘best’ place to study. My investigation was of only very limited options and was even more limited in depth. However I am happy to share my subjectivity and ignorance with you. For what they are worth, here are my very personal impressions of the three options, and much more importantly, some references so that you can do your own investigation and form your own opinion.

Manchester, IPDM

My impression was that Manchester would be great for anyone considering moving into a policy role, perhaps in a large agency, government or multi-lateral. The work of Professor Richard Heeks at Manchester University is well known in the field. He runs a popular ICT4D blog and is present on social media including Twitter. Professor Heeks has published on a wide range of issues including various aspects of ICT policy and ICT for micro-enterprise. From my reading about IPDM I formed the impression that they focus primarily on economic development, mainly at the national level.

IPDM postgraduate website
List of  current PhD students’ research
Prof. Richard Heeks publications


London School of Economics, LSE

My impression of LSE was that it is likely to be attractive to those with a social science background or a specialist interest in media and communications. It is also attractive because of the prestige associated with the institution of the LSE. Professor Robin Mansell was at University of Sussex, Institute of Development Studies, Science Policy Research Unit before joining the London School of Economics, where she is now Professor of New Media & the Internet and teaches New Media, Knowledge, and Innovation Systems. Robin Mansell has a prodigious list of publications across a broad range of ICT4D related areas. For my own subjective purposes I found the approach here too oriented to national-level infrastructure, systems and policy development.

Prof. Robin Mansell publications
Dept. Media & Communications profile

Rural connectivity programme in Macha, Zambia


University of London, Royal Holloway, RHUL

Since the acronym “ICT4D” first existed, whenever you Google it the top-ranked link has always been the home page of the ICT4D Collective at RHUL – so everyone interested in ICT4D has bumped into them before. I had known Professor Tim Unwin for more than a decade, once employed one of their PhD students to do R&D and had read the ICT4D book edited by Tim, so RHUL had a clear head-start in attracting my attention. I was attracted by the ‘collective’ approach and gained the clear impression that their approach to development is more political and ‘bottom-up’ when compared to others.

ICT4D Collective website
Prof. Tim Unwin ICT4D blog
Tim on Twitter

I may well be proven wrong in my assumptions but for what its worth, that is how I made the decision to apply to the University of London. Let me know what you think of the various courses once you’ve had a butcher’s.

N.B. Although I was unaware of them at the time I would now also list the doctoral opportunities at the Oxford Internet Institute.


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