EThOS – supporting higher education research

British Library logoThe British Library’s EThOS  service is the national record of  PhD theses. EThOS  makes UK doctoral theses more visible and encourages and helps facilitate their use by researchers in the UK and globally.

Launched in 2008, EThOS currently holds records of approximately 400,000 UK theses. Every month approximately 40,000 theses are accessed by EThOS users globally.

As well as submitting records (metadata) to EThOS, universities can opt to have full PhD theses  stored there, for direct access by researchers, and can arrange for EThOS to digitise theses that were  submitted as hard copies. EThOS is therefore a key part of the British Library’s support for Higher Education (HE) postgraduate research.

The research requirement

In order to inform its future strategy for EThOS, in 2015 the British Library carried out a wide-ranging consultation among higher education research audiences and institutions, to gather opinions about:

  • The overall role and value of the EThOS service
  • The role that the British Library could play in preserving doctoral theses in the future.

Objectives for research included:

  • Understanding if there was a need to develop a national e-thesis collection and preservation offer for all UK theses beyond those held by EThOS.
  • Informing the British Library’s content strategy for theses – including by exploring whether there should be a national e-theses collection or archive.
  • Understanding the extent to which achieving a complete record of UK theses was seen as desirable.
  • Understanding the value of EThOS for HE institutions and HE as a whole
  • Assessing how the EThOS service should be developed, and what it needed to do in order to remain fit for purpose.

The last of those objectives reflected the rapidly evolving environment for higher education research, open access and research repositories.

How we helped


Marketwise Strategies was commissioned to consult three main audiences within UK higher education research:

  • Research directors – at dean or pro-vice chancellor level – responsible for leading postgraduate research
  • Directors of university libraries
  • Managers of research repositories.

We designed and delivered a two-part project involving depth interviews among Research Directors and Library Directors, plus an online survey of Repository Managers.

Depth interviews with senior stakeholders in UK universities

We interviewed:

  • 10 university ‘heads of research’ – e.g. Pro Vice Chancellors (Research), Heads of Graduate Studies or Directors of Doctoral Studies
  • 26 Library Directors (and related roles) at 15 universities.

Different questionnaires were developed for each sub-group. Topics for Library Directors included ways in which universities promoted the visibility of their theses, how they preserved copies of theses and what they saw as the British Library’s role in supporting  PhD thesis preservation. Interviews with Pro Vice Chancellors and others responsible for postgraduate research focused upon changes in doctoral research and upon strategic aspects of thesis management.

Online survey of research repository managers

The second part of the project was an online survey of Repository Managers and others directly involved in managing theses, mainly within UK universities. As the target population was relatively small and focused, we worked with the British Library to develop a questionnaire that blended quantitative and qualitative questions.

The survey obtained 73 responses, from:

  • Named contacts in EThOS’s participating institutions
  • Repository administrators and managers within the United Kingdom Council of Research Repositories mailing list
  • A specialist discussion list for the UK education and research communities.


The British Library is now using the information gathered by the interviews and online survey to develop a plan of future activities for EThOS. After a number of years functioning effectively as a project, EThOS recently reached a steady state with a clear business model, growing usage and reach and well-established workflows. The information provided by Marketwise Strategies will support the British Library’s development of EThOS “Phase 2”, helping to prioritise technical developments, strategic direction and clear engagement with the HE community to ensure it remains relevant and well-used in the short to medium term.

We were impressed by Marketwise Strategies from start to finish. They gave us confidence from the beginning that they understood the HE research context, and once appointed they quickly developed a good understanding of the more specific postgraduate research and PhD thesis context. (It possibly helped that at least one of the team has a PhD thesis listed in the EThOS database). They used appropriate language in their proposal and project documents, and we felt comfortable about them talking to expert senior HE stakeholders on our behalf – we were confident they would engage interviewees and survey respondents at the right level to have credibility and elicit comprehensive responses.

Marketwise Strategies managed the process of recruiting interviewees in a very efficient yet personable manner and achieved a very high take-up – in a quite tight timescale – with minimal work required by ourselves, which was great. Likewise, they planned, developed and managed the online survey efficiently, on time and with just the right amount of guidance from ourselves. We could leave them to get on with the work according to the project schedule we had agreed at the start, and were never left wondering how things were going.

The reports we received from Marketwise Strategies were thorough, comprehensive and reflected their good understanding of the subject area, and we now have a wide spread of feedback and evidence to help us move our service forward.

We particularly found the members of the Marketwise Strategies team a pleasure to work with. They were efficient and professional throughout, but also have a warmth and friendliness that helped our discussions and made the whole process easy to manage. Several of our stakeholders also commented on their professionalism.

— Sara Gould, Development Manager, Services for Researchers, The British Library