Dr. Yongjun Zhao

Associate Professor at the Faculty of Spatial Sciences, University of Groningen


About Yongjun Zhao

Dr. Yongjun Zhao is Associate Professor in Integrated Rural & Urban Development, International Cooperation Adviser and China PhD Programme Recruitment Coordinator at the Faculty of Spatial Sciences, University of Groningen. He specializes in social, cultural and institutional dimensions of integrated rural and urban development in China and China’s growing role in international development.


His research covers a wide range of issues concerning natural resources management and governance, agricultural sustainability, roles of civil societies in sustainable development and China’s development aid to Africa.

On behalf of the Graduate School of the Faculty, he recruits suitable candidates with a key interest and solid background in sustainable development issues.

PhD Programme at Faculty of Spatial Sciences of Groningen

Integrating Urban and Rural Development and Good Governance to assist in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals

Cutting-edge studies of sustainable development issues

Being a leading centre for human geography, the University of Groningen Faculty of Spatial Sciences offers a unique multidisciplinary PhD programme that addresses the wide range of issues that underpin the critical challenges and possible solutions to achieve the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Delivering on the Faculty’s mission of research towards wellbeing, innovation and spatial transformation (TWIST), our PhD programme aims to broaden and deepen the knowledge and skill sets of PhD candidates to enhance their ability to analyze the interconnectedness between places and peoples, especially in locations where rapid spatial transformation is occurring. There is a strong need for integrated urban and rural development and governance to be enhanced to better inform policy-making for more equitable and sustainable development outcomes.

Bringing scholars from various disciplines together ranging from environmental and infrastructure planning, social and cultural geography, demography and population studies, and economic geography, and positioned at the only Urban and Regional Studies Institute (URSI) in The Netherlands, this programme offers PhD candidates advantageous opportunities for interdisciplinary learning and interactions through well-organized seminars, workshops, conferences and courses tailored to their needs to prepare them for a successful research career in the future.


We have a global focus, offering candidates comparative angles of analyzing relevant research questions in varying geo-political contexts. The faculty has diverse partnership programmes in teaching and research across the world, thus providing the candidates with a truly cross-cultural learning environment. The candidates enjoy the benefits of interacting with peers and visiting scholars from these regions to explore and discuss interesting research issues together. Students from the South-East Asian countries particularly benefit from participating in research-related activities in the Groningen Research Centre for Southeast Asia and ASEAN, a multidisciplinary center focusing on multilevel governance and societal transformation hosted by the faculty.


Key PhD research areas

Academic staff in the Faculty have broad research interests. Some of the topics of interest include:

  • Governance and sustainable society in Southeast Asia
  • Urban-rural development, focusing on sustainable land use, land tenure, food security
  • Social and cultural dimensions of planned interventions, including social impact assessment
  • Environmental management and infrastructure planning
  • Institutional complexity in urban and rural planning design and policy interventions
  • Human factors in socio-spatial planning, especially community building and self-governance in the planning process
  • Population studies, especially migration and healthy ageing
  • Economic dimensions of spatial change, specifically real estate studies, entrepreneurship and regional development
  • Housing, living conditions, livelihoods and wellbeing
  • China and international development, especially China’s influence in Southeast Asia and Africa
  • Tourism and its implications
  • Ecosystems services and their contribution to wellbeing
  • Spatial data and GIS applications in development planning

Further inquiries regarding the programme

Eligibility for entry

We welcome applications from diverse backgrounds related to the social sciences including, but not limited to development studies, geography, sociology, anthropology, public administration, environmental studies, economics, political sciences, international relations, cultural studies, population studies, rural and urban planning, legal studies, and so on. Successful candidates who have scholarships may be eligible for additional support of a monthly stipend of up to 550 Euros from the University of Groningen.

Additional information:

Contact Mrs. Tineke Dijkman for admission inquiries.

Read more about admission requirements