PhD study in the UK

The UK is home to some of the oldest and most respected universities in the world, but there is more to it than doctoral study in Britain of age and reputation. Fortunately, British research programmes are also innovative and world-leading, with a modern approach to doctoral training and generous funding available to students from all backgrounds.

This guide covers everything you need to know about studying a PhD in the UK in 2022. We've explained how British PhD programs work, how they cost (and how to pay for them) as well as tips on applying successfully.

PhD study in the UK
PhD study in the UK

PhD Opportunities in the UK – What is the offer for 2022?

UK universities conduct research in all major areas, but recent years have seen increased investment in priority areas such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and related fields such as health sciences and bioinformatics.

Besides, the UK government is working to attract and support talented international researchers by launching a three-year post-study work visa in Britain and extending doctoral scholarships to international students.

Here are a few reasons why you should consider getting a PhD in the UK this year:

  • Historical Universities – The British university system dates back to at least the eleventh century and has nurtured some of the most important developments in Western science, medicine, arts and philosophy.
  • Global reputation – The British PhD is respected worldwide as the hallmark of the ability to conduct rigorous research and scholarships at the forefront of the student's field.
  • Innovative training and support – UK universities are increasingly offering PhD degrees within organised doctoral training programmes, providing additional opportunities for academic and professional development that equips candidates for a range of jobs.
  • Wide range of funding options – The UK invests heavily in doctoral training, with scholarships from dedicated research councils as well as a government doctoral student loan system and a range of support for international candidates.
  • Priority Research Areas – On top of all the support the UK is already providing for doctoral study, additional funding is currently being provided for groundbreaking work in AI and related fields.
  • New Post-Study Work Visas – The Alumni Pathway visa is available for international students who complete their PhD from the summer of 2021 onwards. You are allowed to stay in the UK and work (or look for work) for up to three years.

The UK is also home to some of Europe's (and the world's) most famous theatres, museums, heritage sites and pubs. All of this may be available to visit during your PhD. For research purposes, of course.

How long does my PhD study in the UK last?

How long is a PhD in the UK? Full-time doctoral degrees usually last for three or four years, while part-time doctoral degrees take up to six or seven years. However, the thesis deadline can be extended for up to four years at the discretion of the institution.

Conditions for doctoral study in Britain

You will usually need the following to be accepted for a PhD in the UK:

  • Suitable university degree (equivalent to UK 2.1 or higher). A master's degree may also be required in some subject areas.
  • Proof of language proficiency (if English is not your first language).
  • Proof that you have the resources to obtain a student visa in the UK (for international students).
  • Other papers including a research proposal, personal statement or references.

Costs of doctoral study in Britain

In the UK, being a self-funded PhD student can be an expensive task, with annual tuition fees of approximately £3,000 to £6,000 (around US$3,800-7,670) for local students and up to £18,000 ($23,000) for international students for the first three years.

PhD Scholarships in Britain

  • University of Leeds Business School: Department of International Business Scholarship
  • University of Cambridge: Harding Distinguished Graduate Scholars Programme
  • SOAS University London Chase
  • Aston University School of Business and Social Sciences
  • University of St Andrews: PhD Scholarship in Biology and Statistics
  • University of Liverpool: Accounting and Finance Materials Group
  • Swansea University: UKRI CDT in Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Advanced Computing
  • University of Exeter – PhD Scholarship
  • Imperial College London: PhD Scholarship in Chemical Engineering
  • University of Oxford – Clarendon Scholarship

PhD Interview in Britain

Not all PhD applications in the UK require an official interview, but this is more common for funded jobs or programs with limited space. Interviews can often be conducted online. You may be asked to answer some questions about your application and/or make a short presentation about the research you intend to do.

Interviews can often be conducted online. You may be asked to answer some questions about your application and/or make a short presentation about the research you intend to do.

The easiest universities to study PhD in Britain

  • Aberystwyth University
  • University of Roehampton
  • University of Portsmouth
  • Leeds Trinity University
  • University of Nottingham Trent
  • Newman University, Birmingham
  • University of Exeter
  • St Mary's University, Twickenham

Postdoctoral study in Britain?

The British Postdoctoral Academy Fellowships are a three-year award awarded to an annual group of early eminent professional researchers in the humanities or social sciences. This scheme provides funding to cover the costs of a 36-month fellowship at a host institution of your choice.

Best Universities in Britain for PhD Study

The UK is currently home to the top-ranked university in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings (Oxford) and many other British institutions are also among the top global universities.

universities Times Higher Education Rankings (2022) Shanghai Jiao Tong University Rankings (2021) Top University Rankings (2022) US News & World Report Ranking (2021) 
University of Oxford1.72.5.
University of Cambridge5.339
Imperial College London1225720
University College London (UCL)1781919
London Economics and Political Science271514924438244
University of Edinburgh30163018
King's College London35473534
University of Manchester50352764
University of Warwick781016113586151135
University of Glasgow86Glasgow7386
Best Universities in Britain for PhD Study

UK Universities

There are more than 150 universities in the UK. The vast majority of public universities, which means they receive funding (including PhD grant budgets) from the UK government. All British universities are free to pursue their own research goals, but the amount of funding each institution receives depends in part on regular evaluations of their performance as part of the Research Excellence Framework (REF).

A few private universities also operate in the UK. They tend to specialize in specific topics, such as business or law.

UK Countries

Each of the four parts of the UK has slightly different higher education systems:

  • England is home to the majority of UK universities, including the two oldest universities (Oxford and Cambridge)
  • Scotland is home to 15 UK universities, including four "old universities" (St Andrews, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh) dating back to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
  • Wales has 8 universities, all public institutions, dating back to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
  • Northern Ireland has two universities, each with multiple campuses.

The governments of each part of the UK have the powers to decide on higher education policy, including fees and funding. But, in practice, doctoral research works very similarly throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The country best for you will depend on the research opportunities available at certain universities.

UK University Groups

Some UK universities – formal or informal – are organised into different groups. Here are some of the most common things you might come across, along with what they mean:

  • The Russell Group is a consortium of 24 universities across the UK. The group selects itself (decides its members) and positions itself as representing the country's leading research universities. In practice, this is widely accurate as the Russell Group includes some of Britain's top ranked universities – and perhaps most importantly – awarding the majority of PhD degrees in the UK.
  • Red brick universities are another informal group that relies on history rather than collective organization. It includes nine civil universities founded during the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century with the aim of providing education and training to their cities. Unlike the medieval buildings of ancient universities, its campus was largely built of red brick – hence the name.
  • The term "post-92" is sometimes used to describe universities that were originally multi-arts (institutions of higher education focused on teaching and training rather than research) before being granted full university status in 1992. Many of these "former Polytechnic" universities already have a long and proud history and are now some of the most innovative research centres in the UK.
  • Old universities are a group of 7 institutions dating back to the sixteenth century or earlier , including Oxford, Cambridge, St Andrews, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh as well as Trinity College Dublin (in Ireland). The "membership" of this group is not based on anything other than chronology (it is not surprising that new universities cannot join) and old universities do not cooperate as such, although some are members of the Russell group. Even more important is the fact that some older universities award their own Ph.D. as a Doctor of Philosophy (DPhil) rather than a PhD. Degree and recognition are basically the same thing.

There are a few other formal and informal groups, including plate glass "plate glass" universities (founded in the sixties – the UK has something to connect universities with building materials) as well as organic organisations of newer universities such as MillionPlus and GuildHE.

Yougenerally don't have to worry about the group your potential university belongs to or doesn't belong to. It is true that some groups grant a degree of status, but universities are invited to offer Russell Group because of their research performance and reputation, not vice versa. There are also many excellent universities that have not chosen to join certain associations.

Accreditation and quality of research

The UK takes quality assurance to universities very seriously, with several levels of official recognition and accreditation. The right to use a university degree protected by law in the UK and can be granted by Royal Charter, Act of Parliament or by any similar official means.

The right to award degrees is also protected. The university must be a "recognized body", in which case it can award its own degrees. Or it must be a "listed body" in which case a recognized body must award degrees on its behalf (the listed bodies are often new universities or specialized colleges with accredited qualifications from more established neighboring universities).

You can use the UK Government website to quickly check if the university is officially recognized. The quality of research at UK universities is monitored separately through an exercise known as the Research Excellence Framework (REF). This research produced by the university examines as well as its impact on society in general. The environment and support provided to doctoral students are also part of this process. The latest REF results were published in 2014. The release of the 2021 REF has been temporarily delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Doctoral study system in Britain

British PhD follows a format that can be recognized all over the world (in part because many parts of the world have copied the British PhD format!).

In essence, a PhD in the UK is an independent research qualification. From the very beginning, the focus is on your individual research project with the ultimate goal of producing an original dissertation that contributes to the understanding of your field.

Unlike some countries (such as the USA), there is no formal PhD educational component in the UK. You'll likely get some additional training and development opportunities while earning your Ph.D. (such as teaching undergraduates, attending conferences, and publishing papers) but your performance in them won't affect the outcome of your final degree.

PhD Degrees in the UK

Most UK universities award their own academic PhD degrees as doctoral qualifications. However, some organizations grant DPhil instead. The two degrees are effectively the same; in fact, they represent the same thing ("PhD" is an abbreviation for the Latin Doctor of Philosophy, while "DPhil" is an abbreviation for the English "Doctor of Philosophy"). Rest assured, for all purposes and purposes, a doctorate in human medicine is the same as a doctorate.

Other PhD degrees in the UK vary. Some universities award professional doctorates specializing in certain subjects. Examples include a Doctor of Engineering (Eng.D), a Doctor of Education (EdD) or a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA). These tend to include more practice- and thought-based research, designed for experienced professionals.

The length of a PhD in the UK (or other PhD) is fairly standard. You are usually expected to spend at least three years researching your dissertation ,and most universities allow students to extend for a fourth year if necessary. About six to eight years are usually allowed for a part-time doctoral degree.

The academic year in the UK runs from September to June, but the lack of formal teaching in British PhD programmes means that PhD students can, in principle, start at any time in the calendar year. Know that your university may prefer to start in September where possible, in order to keep up with induction and guidance.


At the beginning of your studies you will be in partnership with at least one PhD supervisor. They will be experts in your specialty with some relevant experience with the types of materials you intend to research and the methods you expect to use. Their mission is to guide your project and advise on the best direction for your research as you progress. Your supervisor will also support your professional development as a researcher – and possibly – as a future academic.

It is actually common for students in the UK to have two supervisors:

  • Your primary supervisor provides specialized academic advice on the best direction for your project and provides feedback on drafts and other ongoing work. This person is sometimes referred to as the "Director of Studies".
  • Your secondary supervisor offers more pastoral support and general guidance. They may not be close to your research, but they will help with professional development and training.

Sometimes, the division in supervisor's roles and responsibilities isn't as straightforward, with some students being jointly supervised by two academics who provide academic advice and general support.

PhD Structure

A PhD in the UK is traditionally considered a purely research degree, without classes and assessments (other than the final oral exam – see below). You'll usually begin by reviewing the literature for current work in your field, before moving on to collecting your quantitative or qualitative data, textual evidence or other materials, and eventually writing your findings as a doctoral dissertation.

Some PhD students in the UK begin to enroll in MPhil before completing a PhD promotion at the end of the first year (this is a short oral exam, based on a draft class or similar).

Some UK universities also offer a more structured PhD degree with scheduled training and development activities. This is most common for PhD funded by UK Research Councils and carried out within dedicated PhD training centres.

Application & Examination

At the end of your doctoral dissertation, you will submit a written dissertation detailing your findings and the conclusions you have drawn from them. The length of a doctoral thesis in the UK varies by subject. Dissertations in the arts, humanities, and social sciences tend to be between 60,000 and 100,000 words. Dissertations in STEM subjects are shorter, as much information is conveyed through graphs and spreadsheets.

At least one of the PhD supervisors will read the entire PhD before sending it and provide constructive feedback to help improve your dissertation.

Your PhD will then be submitted for oral examination in a process known as viva voce (Latin for "live voice"). A PhD in the UK FIFA usually involves two examiners: one "internal examiner" from your university and the other "external examiner" from another institution. Both will read your thesis beforehand and then ask you about it. Your job is to "defend" your findings and conclusions in order to prove the value of your research and confirm that your PhD is your own business.

Unlike other European countries, where viva is often a public defense, a PhD is usually examined in the UK in a "closed room" environment. Your supervisor isn't usually present, but should be available immediately before and after the test.

Examiners will recommend you immediately after your viva the result of your PhD for you. This may include success (with or without some corrections to your dissertation) or other results that may require additional research and/or re-submission (it is rare to fail a PhD completely after reaching the VIVA stage).

PhD Finance

The main funding body for UK doctoral research is the UK Research and Innovation Authority (UKRI). The UKRI consists of seven individual research councils, each covering a specific academic discipline. They offer full scholarships that cover fees and living costs.

Other organizations also offer large scholarships and scholarships, including individual universities as well as charities and independent trusts.

Students from outside the UK are eligible for all of the above funding, except for a UK PhD loan. There are also some PhD funding awards specifically for international students.

Student Visas

From the 2021-22 academic year, all international students will need a visa to study PhD in the UK.You must apply for a PhD visa through the New Student Pathway. This is a points-based system that evaluates applications according to three main criteria:

  • Whether you have been accepted for a PhD at one of the UK's recognised universities
  • Whether you have the English language skills needed to conduct research after graduation
  • Whether you have sufficient financial resources (including funding) to support yourself during your PhD

You can start your visa application six months before the PhD start date. The fee is £348 (to apply from your home country) or £475 (to apply from within the UK).

health insurance

International PhD students will need to pay additional immigration healthcare fees in addition to visa fees. This prepares you for health services and treatment during your stay and studies in the UK.

هل دراسة الدكتوراة في بريطانيا سهلة

هل دراسة الدكتوراة في بريطانيا سهلة؟ الدكتوراه هي أعلى مؤهل أكاديمي يمكنك الحصول عليه ، لذا لا يجب أن تتوقع أن تكون نزهة في الحديقة. بإشراك ما لا يقل عن ثلاث سنوات من البحث المركز ، ستحتاج إلى تقديم مساهمة أصلية حقًا في مجالك الأكاديمي.

متى تبدأ دراسة الدكتوراة في بريطانيا

عادةً ما تتبع الدكتوراه الممولة في المملكة المتحدة التقويم الأكاديمي وتبدأ فيu003cstrongu003e أواخر سبتمبر أو أوائل أكتوبرu003c/strongu003e. وفقًا لذلك ، تميل المواعيد النهائية لتقديم الطلبات إلى فبراير أو مارس (غالبًا ما تحددها مجالس التمويل ، وبالتالي ستكون هي نفسها لكل جامعة).


PhD studies in the UK

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