Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

What is a PhD?

A PhD is a Doctorate of Philosophy, a prestigious qualification which is the highest level of degree that a student can achieve, demonstrating talent, academic excellence and a thirst for knowledge. In a modern knowledge-based economy, highly educated and skilled people such as doctoral graduates, are in great demand. They form the most highly educated and skilled group in the UK and internationally. Many will go on to use their skills within academia or in research-intensive occupations in industry. However, there will be others who will draw on their research background and the skills gained through a doctoral degree in a wide variety of other occupations. Examples of the type of employment opportunities taken up by PhD holders can be found at Vitae: researcher careers.

What will I get from a PhD?

You will get a huge sense of personal achievement. Our doctoral training programme will help you develop transferable skills that will be invaluable in your subsequent career. The research techniques and methodologies you master will enable you to make a direct contribution to the advancement of knowledge in your particular subject area.

Successful candidates are awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy and are permitted to use the title ‘Dr’.

How does it work?


The maximum registration for a PhD programme is four years with full-time study, or eight years with part-time study.


All PhD students are initially registered for a Master of Philosophy (MPhil), and the PhD registration is confirmed after the successful completion of an upgrade assessment (at the end of year 1 for full-time students and year 2 for part-time study). You will be registered for a PhD when you pass this upgrade. Your academic progress will be monitored throughout your degree studies, via formal progress reports and regular meetings with your supervisors.

You complete a body of primary, novel research and submit a doctoral thesis of up to 100,000 words, which you then defend via an oral examination (the viva) to the satisfaction of the examiners. Your thesis must meet the expectations specified in the Quality Code.

Entry requirements

Entry requirements vary according to the research topic and/or specific studentships. The normal minimum entrance requirement is an upper second class honours degree or masters degree, relevant to the proposed area of study, from a recognised higher education institution in the UK or other recognised degree-awarding body. The comparability of qualifications from outside the UK with The Open University requirements will be determined through reference to UK ENIC.

The research topic pages (within research areas) give details of specific entry requirements, and provide contact details to discuss your suitability for the PhD.

English language proficiency

To study with us, you will need to have a good command of English. If your first language is not English, you will need to demonstrate your competence in the English Language in all four elements (reading, writing, listening and speaking). The University requires a minimum IELTS score of 6.5 with no less than 6.0 in any of the four categories (or approved equivalent). If you are an overseas student, you must have your level of proficiency certified through a provider approved by UK Visas and Immigration and provide your certificate and grade with your application.

Application closing dates

Entry may be permitted for direct registration with The Open University at the following points of year: October and February. This ensures that students benefit from development and training in peer groups. For further information on how to apply, see our Application process section. Application deadlines may differ between research topics and studentships; full details of topic application period is detailed in the topic page (within research areas).

OU PhD student, Hannah Sargeant.

PhD student, Hannah Sargeant. Her research is focussed on water production from Moon rocks as part of the ProSPA instrument that will be flown to the Moon in 2025.


My PhD journey so far has been a wonderful learning experience that made me reflect upon my beliefs and stretch my thinking.

Sarah HuxleyPhD Student, Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies

The sweetest thing about the PhD is that you’ve worked hard for it. It is an opportunity to make an original contribution to an academic area I have always found fascinating.

Awele AchiPhD Student, OU Business School

Your questions

For advice about applying for a research degree, or sponsoring a research student, email the Graduate School or call +44 (0)1908 653806.