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PhD Study in the UK

What is a PhD?

A PhD is a research degree and is the highest award available at universities in the UK. The study is based on a substantial research project on an area of academic interest, typically up to 100,000 words in length, written as a thesis, which then must be defended in an oral examination in front of a panel of experts. Students are assigned a supervisor, and a PhD duration is typically three years full-time and six years part-time.

Very few research degrees feature taught modules, so students are expected to take more responsibility for their work and schedule.

PhD Eligibility

UK universities are free to admit anyone, with PhD admission generally conditional on the prospective student having completed an undergraduate degree with at least upper second-class honours and a master's degree. English language ability must be proved; a minimum IELTS score of 7.0 is generally required.

PhD Research Proposal

All students who apply for a PhD must submit a research proposal (example). The proposal should address the research you wish to undertake, how you will do it, and why it is important. A panel of experts must accept the proposal before your programme can begin.

Other types of Research Degree

MPhil (Master of Philosophy)

If you wish to study for a PhD, you may first need to begin an MPhil and then transfer to a PhD programme after 12-18 months. An MPhil is also a qualification in its own right and is generally thesis-only, lasting one year full-time and two years part-time. The thesis must present the results of a study and research and be a maximum of 60,000 words.

Students choose to study an MPhil if the proposed research has insufficient scope for a full PhD.

MRes (Master of Research)

An MRes is an advanced postgraduate research degree in the areas of art, humanities, and social sciences. Some Ph.D. Programs require an MRes qualification before beginning a PhD. The programme proper, and the student is required to complete a 40,000-word dissertation.

An MRes is a good way to see if you enjoy conducting research without fully committing to and funding a full PhD.

Professional Doctorate

Professional doctorates are similar to PhDs but are intended to advance professional practice rather than improve academic ability. Joint professional doctorates include law, education, business, engineering, and medicine.

How long does a PhD last?

A PhD in the UK usually takes three to four years if you study full-time. However, it can vary depending on the subject and how quickly you make progress. If you study part-time, it may take longer, typically five to seven years.

How much does a PhD cost?

Funding and researching a PhD can be expensive, with EU students paying up to £6,000 per year, and international students more.

It is rare for a PhD student to not be supported by some form of bursary, grant or scholarship though, and many universities and research councils provide monetary support for part or all of a PhD programme.

PhD admission - how do I apply?

Once you have decided on an area of research and have looked into how you will fund your study, you will need to fill out several documents required when submitting your application. They can include:

Students will also need to identify a supervisor who will oversee their PhD.

Top PhD Programmes in the UK

- University of Oxford

The DPhil in Computer Science at Oxford University offers students the chance to do advanced research in a beautiful setting. You can study topics like linguistics, biology, medicine, and quantum computation alongside computer science, get one-on-one guidance from experienced supervisors, attend lectures, and gain transferable skills.

  • Popular PhD course: DPhil in Computer Science
  • Entry requirements: A first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours in a four-year undergraduate degree (equivalent to a master's degree) in a relevant subject, or a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours in a three-year BSc/BA degree and a master's degree with merit or distinction in a relevant subject.
  • International fee: £29,700

- University of Cambridge

The PhD in Computer Science at Cambridge University is research-focused. Students work on their research projects under the guidance of a supervisor for three to four years. When admitted, students undergo a probationary period and are registered for the Certificate of Postgraduate Study (CPGS).

  • Popular PhD courses: PhD in Computer Science
  • Entry requirements: A UK First class Honours Degree or international equivalent. Additionally, having a master's-level degree or equivalent postgraduate work is highly desirable. 
  • International fee: £35,673

- Imperial College London

The Imperial College Business School offers a Master's in Research (MRes) that introduces students to theory and research methods in Finance, Economics, and Management, providing a solid foundation for future doctoral studies. Depending on the chosen research area, the MRes programme can be completed in one or two years.

  • Popular PhD course: One year Master’s in Research
  • Entry requirements: A high academic standing (such as a distinction or merit), or a first-class or upper second-class honours undergraduate degree.
  • International fee: £17,500

- University College London

The Management MRes + MPhil/PhD programme at UCL School of Management offers a prestigious research experience for students seeking scholarly careers in management studies. With a strong reputation for world-leading research, the programme provides rigorous academic training and personalised research mentorship.

  • Popular PhD course: Management MRes + MPhil/PhD
  • Entry requirements: A first-class Bachelor's degree from a UK university or an equivalent overseas qualification. UCL encourages applicants from various disciplines to apply and requires them to have taken the GMAT or GRE General Test.
  • International fee: £29,000

- University of Edinburgh

The University of Edinburgh’s PhD in Informatics focuses on training researchers with comprehensive knowledge in their discipline and a specialised area. During the first year, you will attend relevant lectures, submit a thesis proposal, and receive annual progress reviews. Successful completion of a thesis and oral examination leads to the award of a doctorate. Regular talks and seminars provide additional learning opportunities.

  • Popular PhD course: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Informatics
  • Entry requirements: A degree in an Informatics-related field like Artificial Intelligence, Cognitive Science, or Computer Science. Proficiency in computer programming is required. 
  • International fee: £29,700

Study a PhD in the UK

If you are interested in studying for a research degree in the UK, arrange a free consultation today. The PhD Service can also help you apply with expert application advice, interview practice and research proposal editing.

PhD Admission FAQ

Is a PhD fully funded in the UK for international students?

PhD funding for international students in the UK varies. Some universities offer full funding, while others require students to find funding. Scholarships, grants, and assistantships are available, but not all PhD programmes are fully funded.

What are the requirements for studying for a PhD in the UK?

To study for a PhD in the UK, you generally need a master's degree or an equivalent qualification in a related field. You'll also need to write a detailed research proposal explaining your research objectives and academic references that assess your research abilities. Additionally, you must secure funding to cover your tuition fees and living expenses, which can come from scholarships, grants, personal funds, or sponsorship. Requirements may vary, so it's best to check with individual universities.

Can international students apply for a PhD in the UK?

international students can apply for a PhD in the UK. UK universities accept applications from students worldwide. 

How much does a PhD cost for international students in the UK?

PhD tuition fees for international students in the UK depend on factors such as the university, field of study, and location. On average, fees range from £15,000 to £35,000 per year. However, it's important to note that actual fees can vary significantly.

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