PhD Studentship - Aquaculture and the Concept of Social Licence to Operate: What are the Current Social Barriers to the Development of Aquaculture in Scotland?

University of the Highlands and Islands - Scottish Association for Marine Science UHI


Dr Adam Hughes

Professor Frank Rennie

Funding Status: Directly Funded Project

Application Deadline: Monday 7th May 2018, 5.00pm UK time

For any industry to operate effectively within a community and to expand, the industry requires a social licence to operate, going beyond what is just required for strict compliance with the environmental regulation or law (Gunningham et al. 2004). This is especially true for the aquaculture industry in Scotland where the planning process for new sites requires extensive public consultation.

The availability of new sites is a major constraint on the Scottish Industry’s ambitions to expand and will ultimately be determined by how the fish-farming industry is thought of – and reflects the values of – the society in which it operates (Hamouda et al. 2005).

In Scotland, it is becoming increasingly evident that finfish farming is losing its social licence to operate in certain locations (Leith et al. 2014), which is causing the wider general public to question the acceptability of the finfish industry as a whole.

The PhD project will aim to:

  • Better understand how demographic and socio-economic factors can influence social licence and legitimacy of aquaculture operations within certain locations in Scotland;
  • Understand how the regulatory framework in Scotland interacts with social licence through aspects such as industry transparency, stakeholder consultation  and information availability;
  • Assess the tools that the industry is currently using to negotiate social licence to operate and provide suggestions for improvements where possible.

The research will involve extensive primary research into public attitudes to aquaculture at a local scale. Approaches will include quantitative assessment using publically available statistics on demographics which can be matched with aquaculture sites. It will also require quantitative and qualitative exploration using interviews and focus groups to collect data from specific individuals or groups of stakeholders in targeted demographic ranges and locations in Scotland.

Funding Notes

This studentship is funded by the European Social Fund and Scottish Funding Council as part of Developing Scotland’s Workforce in the Scotland 2014-2020 European Structural and Investment Fund Programme.

The studentship covers fees at the Home/EU rate only, plus a stipend at the RCUK level, for a total of 42 months (including writing-up).

Funding is available for students worldwide, however non UK/EU students will be liable for the difference between home/EU and international fees.

Students must be domiciled in the Highlands and Islands transition region during the course of their study to be eligible for funding.

The project is expected to start on 1 October 2018.

Applicants must possess a minimum of an Honours degree at 2:1 and/or a Master’s Degree (or International equivalent) in a relevant subject.

To apply please complete the standard application form, attaching supporting documentation and send to:


Project specific enquiries: Dr Adam Hughes 01631559208, 

General enquiries: Graduate School Office 01463 279 241,

Application Web Page

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