2023-24 Bloomsbury Colleges PhD Studentship - Project 1

Project 1 – Evaluating how multilateral development banks produce and use benefit-cost evidence in water and sanitation project decisions

The Bloomsbury Colleges group was set up in 2004 and consists of five institutions: Birkbeck, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), and the UCL Institute of Education (UCL–IOE). These studentships were set up to increase collaboration and interdisciplinary research opportunities across the colleges.

Applications are invited for a three-year PhD studentship, to start in the academic year 2023-24 based at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) as the lead institution.


The studentship will provide

for the duration of the award.

Project details

For details of studentships available at other Bloomsbury colleges but in collaboration with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, please see the Bloomsbury Colleges website. Please apply directly to the lead institution only.

Project 1: Evaluating how multilateral development banks produce and use benefit-cost evidence in water and sanitation project decisions

Supervisory team

Project description

Regional development banks and the World Bank disbursed US$ 120 billion for water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) projects in the 5 years to 2020. Some projects succeed and others fail. For example, a third of World Bank WASH projects during 2007–2016 had “moderately unsatisfactory” outcomes or worse. Benefit-cost analyses (BCA) of candidate projects are carried out at the appraisal stage, and the African/Asian Development Banks and World Bank make appraisals of approved projects available online. These BCAs are usually upbeat about economic returns. However, this is perhaps unsurprising because only appraisals of approved projects are published, and projects anticipating poor returns are unlikely to be approved. Given the substantial WASH finance at stake, investigation is warranted of: (i) the influence of interim and final BCA results on project design and evaluation decisions; (ii) the role of partner governments in economic analyses; (iii) similarities and differences in BCA practice across institutions; (iv) whether rates of return projected ex ante are higher or lower than those assessed ex post once key results are achieved.

The aim of this PhD is to evaluate approaches to BCA in project appraisals by multilateral development banks. Its specific objectives are to:

  1. Review methods applied by development banks in BCAs of WASH projects, in the context of the broader practices of each institution.
  2. Explore how BCA methodological decisions were made as part of broader project selection and appraisal, in a qualitative exploration with stakeholders in six recently-approved projects.
  3. Undertake ex-post BCAs of three recently-completed development bank projects, and compare results to those projected at the appraisal stage.

This evidence generated could help improve BCA methods and practice within and beyond these institutions, enabling more efficient allocation of resources over time.

Subject areas/keywords

Benefit-cost analysis; water and sanitation; development banks

Key references

  1. Independent Evaluation Group (2017). “A Thirst for Change : The World Bank Group’s Support for Water Supply and Sanitation, with Focus on the Poor.”

  2. Flyvbjerg, B., & Bester, D. (2021). The Cost-Benefit Fallacy: Why Cost-Benefit Analysis Is Broken and How to Fix It. Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis, 12(3), 395-419. doi:10.1017/bca.2021.9 Y

  3. Yannis Arvanitis, Marco Stampini & Desiré Vencatachellum (2015) Balancing development returns and credit risks: project appraisal in a multilateral development bank, Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal, 33:3, 195-206, DOI: 10.1080/14615517.2015.1041837

  4. Lavagnon Ika & Simon Feeny (2022) Optimism Bias and World Bank Project Performance, The Journal of Development Studies, 58:12, 2604-2623, DOI: 10.1080/00220388.2022.2102901

Additional eligibility requirements

A Master’s degree equivalent to UK merit or distinction is essential, ideally in economics but alternatively in public health, engineering, development studies, or any relevant subject. An interest in both quantitative and qualitative aspects of social science is essential, with aptitude for statistical analysis strongly desirable. Studentships are open to international candidates. Successful applicants who are nationals of low-income countries or lower-middle income countries are eligible for an LSHTM bursary to cover fee top-up costs, following the principles for UKRI studentships.

Further information

Further details about the project may be obtained from:

Deadline for applications

The deadline for applications is 23:59 (GMT) on Sunday 19 February 2023.


Applicants must meet minimum LSHTM entry requirements. Please see the specific project details above for further information.

This studentship is open to applicants assessed as both ‘Home’ and ‘Overseas’ fee status.  For further information about Fee Status Assessments please see the School’s Admissions policies.

Successful applicants who are nationals of low income countries and lower middle income countries (LLMICs) may be eligible for an LSHTM bursary to cover the fee top up costs. LLMIC applicants who are short-listed for interview, will be contacted by the LSHTM Scholarships Team at that time to provide further details of the LSHTM bursary scheme as per our UKRI international recruitment statement.  

Successful international applicants who are not from an LLMIC will be required to cover the tuition fee top up costs from other sources (e.g. other scholarship or bursary awards). Awardees may not use their Bloomsbury studentship stipend to top up fees. 

To apply

Information about the MPhil/PhD programme structure at LSHTM, as well as application guidance and a link to the portal, can be found on the School’s Research Degrees and Doctoral College pages.

To apply for this studentship, applicants should submit an application for research degree study via the LSHTM application portal. The applicant should apply via the Faculty of the Primary Supervisor for their proposed project. ‘2023-24 Bloomsbury PhD Studentship’ must be selected in the Funding Section on the application. Students should submit a research proposal based on the advertisement for this project.

Incomplete applications will not be considered for this studentship.

Applications for this project will only be reviewed and processed after the deadline. All applications that are submitted before the deadline will be considered equally, regardless of submission date.  

By submitting an application for this funding applicants agree to its Terms & Conditions.


The application deadline for this project is 23:59 (GMT) on Sunday 19 February 2023.