MPhil and PhD

When do I apply?

For full-time and part-time MPhil and PhD applications, the main application period is from November to March, for study commencing on 1 October. Students may also make an application to commence study in February.

Closing dates can vary depending on the faculty and source of external funding, if applicable. The Research topic pages (within research areas) on this website and studentship advertisements on the OU Studentships page give details of specific application deadlines.

What do I send?

Before you apply, we recommend that you seek advice from the contact for the research area you are interested in – please read our How to apply page. In addition to a completed application form, we will normally require a research proposal. For advertised studentships, the advertisement will tell you what to send. A description of your suitability for the studentship, including information about your knowledge of the relevant literature and research methods, will normally be required.

The appropriate application form will tell you where to send your application. You should answer all the questions that apply to you, including the HESA data questions. If your application form is not completed in full, we will not be able to consider it.

If you wish to apply to undertake a PhD or MPhil at The Open University please click on the application form most appropriate to your circumstances from the list below:

Your proposal

You should check if a proposal is needed from you, and its format, in the studentship advert or by talking to a contact within the research area (see How to apply). If a proposal is required for your chosen degree or studentship, we suggest the following format, but again research proposals may differ by faculty/studentship and it is important to check this before you apply.

The proposal document typically consists of:

  • the topic or area to be investigated
  • the issue, research question or hypothesis that is to be tested (if it can be defined at this stage)
  • the likely methods and techniques to be used in the investigation
  • the relationship of the proposed research to the published literature and current research in your field, and an indication of the contribution your thesis would make
  • details of work you have already done in the proposed field
  • your suitability as a researcher for the proposed project.

The proposal enables the academic staff responsible for selecting applicants to assess:

  • your competence in the proposed field of study
  • your ability to conduct a research programme independently
  • the nature of the supervision required.

The following books offer useful advice about how to develop a research degree proposal:

  • Dunleavey, P. (2003) Authoring a PhD Thesis: How to Plan, Draft, Write and Finish a Doctoral Dissertation (Palgrave Study Guides), Palgrave Macmillian ISBN 1403905843
  • Walliman, N. (2005) Your Research Project: A Step-by-Step Guide for the First-Time Researcher, Sage Publications ISBN 1412901324
  • Cryer, P. (2006) The Research Student’s Guide to Success, Third edition, Open University Press, ISBN 0335221173

Advertised studentships

If you are applying for an advertised studentship where the research topic has already been defined, instead of preparing a research proposal you should explain in writing why you are interested in the project and your suitability for the studentship. Please include information about your knowledge of the relevant literature and research methods. The advertisement will tell you if you need to send a proposal.

If you are applying for part-time study, you should say what resources you will need (such as library, laboratory, record offices, computing, surveys), what they will cost and the proposed source(s) of funding.

What happens next?

When we receive your application it will be forwarded to the relevant research area for consideration. The research area will assess your eligibility to undertake a research degree, determine whether your proposed project will make a significant contribution to knowledge and determine whether a suitable supervisory team can be established with the relevant expertise in the subject area. The research area will also assess whether your proposed project is a good fit with the research strategy of the department, faculty and University.

Shortlisted applicants will be invited for an interview, normally held at the OU campus in Milton Keynes. If you have a disability or other need for which you might need an adjustment to be made in order to participate fully in an interview, please let us know so we can meet your requirements.

Within the selection process, you will be expected to provide your original qualification certificates (including official translation into English, if applicable), transcripts where appropriate, and your passport. We will follow up your references before an offer of registration will be made.

There are additional requirements and considerations for International research student applications.

Aerial view of The Open University's 111 acre campus, Milton Keynes.

Aerial view of The Open University's 111 acre campus, Milton Keynes.


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.