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Detailed guide: graduate school (PhD) in the UK

The UK's first doctoral degrees (DSc and DLitt) was introduced in the universities of London, Edinburgh and Cambridge in the 1870s, and the degree of Doctor of philosophy (PhD) was first introduced in 1917 in the University of Oxford.

Currently in the UK there are more than 5000 different PhD programs.

Types of degrees

Postgraduate programmes in the UK vary widely, and can be obtained through:

  • Traditional research programmes (PhD, DPhil),
  • The program combines research activities with training in England and practice (New Route PhD)
  • Professionally-oriented programmes (DBA, DEng, DEd),
  • The award of the degree of PhD as a result of outstanding practical activities (PhD by Practice),
  • The award of the degree of PhD on the basis of outstanding publication (PhD by Publication).

Being the first stage postgraduate education, postgraduate studies in Europe, in fact, equivalent to the Russian postgraduate programs; for admission, you must have a master's degree. However, in terms of requirements and quality research, postgraduate study in the UK tends to be Russian doctoral studies. This feature allowed the Russian students get the highest research degree that is globally recognized, having studied at one (and not two, as in Russia) postgraduate programmes.

That gives students the doctoral program?

British universities offer the programs of PhD, depending on its type, allow:

  • To broaden and deepen the specialization and knowledge to conduct interdisciplinary research, to gain knowledge and skills in new subject areas (programs Integrated PhDs, The New route PhD);
  • Conduct research at the highest academic level and become one of the world's leading experts in any highly specialized field, prepare for an academic career (PhD traditional);
  • To enhance personal potential and develop transferable skills (transferable skills).

Research (research) programs

Purpose and organization

The purpose of these programs is to conduct fundamental research in the chosen area, performance of original and of scientific value of the findings, writing and defense of a thesis. In scientific and technical subjects the thesis work is often part of a larger study conducted by the University. This allows the student to become part of an actual research team and gain valuable for future career and personal growth experience and a deep knowledge of the subject. Research programs can include a small teaching modules on statistics, special software and hardware for PC, the selection and use of research methods, scientific writing and data presentation.

Teaching methods

  • Mostly independent work, demonstrating a high degree of intellectual independence of students, their skills of self-organization, project management, ability to plan your time.
  • Work with the supervisor (one or two): meetings every few weeks to discuss the intermediate results of the problem. The format of the supervision depends on the subject.

The research program also aims to develop necessary research skills: project management, planning, self-organization and other necessary in the chosen subject area skills.

Much attention in the learning process the integration of students into an academic community, learning different ways of functioning and information exchange – i.e. "professional" training as a scientist: participation in seminars, conferences, publications.

Rating system

Successful completion of the training modules PhD-program may be a requirement to obtain the degree, however, the training modules do not have a significant weight in the final assessment of the work. It is all about the thesis and its successful defense, as well as an oral examination in the specialty.

The titles of awarded degrees

Research programs lead to the degree of Doctor of philosophy (Doctor of Philosophy – PhD, DPhil).

Teaching and research programs

Purpose and organization

To the teaching and research programmes to doctoral level in British universities include the New Route PhD is an integrated programme of postgraduate training which combines research activities with training programme.

Successful graduates of such programs are independent researchers with professional, personal and portable (transferable) skills, able to make a significant contribution to the development of the selected area.

The advantages of the New Route PhD programme are:

  • Research program, individually tailored for each student;
  • Target training for the effective development of research skills;
  • The development of generic skills, including leadership and entrepreneurial spirit;
  • High chance of completing the program in a timely manner;
  • A graduate is able to act as an independent researcher.

Implement your own research project takes place in close interaction with the supervisor. The training module includes major courses, courses aimed at developing educational and research skills, as well as interdisciplinary courses aimed at developing professional skills.

The New Route PhD also allow the student to:

  • Take place during the training necessary for a career practice – that is, in fact, to work in the specialty during the study (e.g., teach);
  • Carry out some research in their country, in the database feature properly University - the option is called “joint supervision/ registration”, “split PhD” or “part time PhD” and is offered by many universities. This training is coordinated individually through the approval of the University for research candidates "local" supervisor and the curriculum.

New Route PhD is treated as a so-called integrated doctoral programme (Integrated PhD). The idea is that initially students enter the master's program of teaching and research (e.g., MRes or MPhil), and subject to the successful completion of the first year (or two years) makes a decision on the continuation of studies and transferred to the PhD program. This form allows you to shorten the period of study on a doctoral programme.

Teaching methods

The New Route PhD: approximately 30-40% of teaching time is given to subjects directly related to the subject of the study, the subjects of related areas, teaching skills and adaptation of technologies from other fields, the development of portable skills. The rest of the time devoted to the inculcation of research skills, set a specific research objective and the development of professional skills.

Rating system

Intermediate grades are in the training modules, the results of practice and the examinations. In the final evaluation, the dissertation usually has slightly more weight than the training modules.

Assigned degree

Currently, the New Route PhD programme there are 34 British universities and a wide range of areas such as linguistics, biology, computer science, social skills, Economics, political science, education, engineering, Humanities, mathematics, physics, agriculture, medicine, law, etc.

Typical conferred degrees are the PhD (Integrated PhD) or NRPhD (New Route PhD).

Professionally oriented programmes (Professional Doctorates)

Purpose and organization

Professionally-oriented doctoral programs are a kind of educational and research programs, but they focused not so much on the development of skills of research work and conducting independent research, how much for vocational training and the development of a student associated with a particular profession.

Professionally-oriented doctoral programs can also operate on the type of integrated programs and to provide an intermediate master's degree in the case of successful completion of the first phase of training.

Teaching methods

Training modules include theoretical courses, modern approaches to research methodology and professional practice. The main focus in research is on applied research that contributes to the development of the student's choice of professional field.

Rating system

Interim grades are for the academic modules, the examinations and the results of practice.

Assigned degree

Professionally-oriented doctoral programs usually lead to doctoral degrees in certain Sciences, for example, DEd, DEng, DBA, DClinPsych, etc.

The main difference of the program the doctor of education (DEd) Doctor of philosophy in education (PhD in Education) is that the first program allows you to cover a wider range of subjects related to education, and to focus on one research problem at the end of training.

The degree of Doctor of business administration (Doctor of Business Administration, DBA) is a research degree. Such programs are aimed at the development of the theory and practice of business administration and management.

Degree of PhD be awarded based on the results of professional activities

This type refers to research programs.

The award of the degree of PhD as a result of outstanding practical activities (PhD by Practice) is common in the field of decorative art. The thesis can be an analysis of the creative process or creative project. The result of being awarded such degrees as PhD, Doctor of Music (DMus), Doctor of Musical Arts (AMusD).

The award of the degree of PhD on the basis of outstanding publication (PhD by Publication) is practiced by members of the faculty. A thesis is a published work, as well as critical feedback on the volume of 5000-10000 words. PhD degree on the results of the thesis and its successful oral defense.

The term of study for doctoral programs

Training period Rese. program New Route PhD Prof. oriented programmes
Full-time training (Full-time) 3-4 years 3-4 years 3-4 years

Evening, part-time or weekends (Part-time) 5-7 years 5-7 years 5-7 years

A table of the most popular degrees

Degree Entrance requirements Duration Program type The forms of final control
Doctor of philosophy (PhD, DPhil) Diploma graduate. Possible direct transfer from the master's program 3-4 years full time, 5-7 years part-time Rese. program Writing final thesis + oral examination (oral defense)
New Route PhD Diploma graduate. Possible direct transfer from the master's program 3-4 years full time, 5-6 years part-time Rese. and training modules INTERMED. control, passing exams, writing a dissertation
Professional Doctorates (DEng, DEd, DBA, DClinPsych) Diploma graduate. Professional experience ACC. the field 3-4 years full time, 5-7 years part-time Rese. and training modules INTERMED. control, passing exams, writing a dissertation
PhD by Practice (PhD, DMus, AMusD), PhD by Publication) The award of the degree of PhD as a result of the outstanding professional activities   Rese. program Preparation of the dissertation project and its protection

Preparation and defense of a thesis

A key element in the successful completion of doctoral programs is the preparation and defense of a research project – dissertation (Doctoral thesis). The thesis represents the independent research work of a graduate student, in close cooperation with the supervisor.

Programs and departments set their own requirements for the scope of the dissertation project in the Humanities and social Sciences, typically 80,000-100,000 words, and in the sphere of the exact Sciences – 40,000-50,000 words.

The tentative structure of the thesis looks like this:

  • Title page
  • Summary
  • The expression of gratitude,
  • Content
  • Introduction, formulation of the research problem,
  • Goals, objectives and hypotheses of the study.
  • Review of the literature
  • Research methodology,
  • The main analytical part of the study, structured by chapters,
  • Conclusions, recommendations, areas for further work
  • Links
  • Bibliography,
  • App.

In the UK, the thesis is called a viva voce, i.e. an oral examination (from the Latin for "live voice"). On defense, there are two or more examiners and the candidate. One of the examiners is representative of the University the candidate (but not his supervisor), the rest of the examiners is external, from other universities. The presence of the principal scientific adviser to the defence is not required, and he has no right to ask questions during the exam.

In most universities such protection are held behind closed doors, however, some universities, e.g. Oxford, authorize the presence of University members for doctoral dissertations for the degree of DPhil.

Tuition fees for doctoral programs

British universities independently establish the cost of training for two types of students: for students from the UK and member countries of the European Union - “home fee” for foreign students (all other countries) “overseas fee”. Russian students fall into the latter category.

Based on the materials

Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), the British Council portal Newroutephd, Park, C. “New Variant PhD: The changing nature of the doctorate in the UK”, Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, Vol. 27, No. 2, July 2005, pp. 189-207.