What Is a PhD in the UK?

UK universities are attributed some of the highest global rankings in terms of their PhD programme quality, attractiveness and reputation. This is highly beneficial for getting a degree that will be recognised by most organisations and educational institutions all over the world. At the same time, the educational environment in the UK is highly competitive and obtaining scholarships or studentships at popular universities may be quite difficult. This makes the UK a popular destination for obtaining world-class knowledge in the most advanced spheres, which is confirmed by multiple examples of talented foreign students entering this system every year.


How to Apply?

The applications are submitted directly to your universities of choice and students can apply to multiple institutions simultaneously. It is usually advised to contact prospective supervisors in order to inquire if any suitable specialists for your line of study are available at the moment. The list of required documents usually includes academic transcriptions, an academic CV, a personal statement, several academic references, and a doctoral research proposal. If you are planning to use scholarships or bursaries, you need to secure these financing arrangements before the beginning of your term. Foreign students may also be asked to confirm their knowledge of English by providing an IELTS or TOEFL certificate.


What Is the Process of Completing a PhD in the UK?

A full course of PhD studies usually spans three years. Usually, it consists of several stages including the completion of a literature review in the selected field of study, the original research phase, and the writing up of the final thesis. Afterwards, a PhD student has to defend it in front of a thesis committee. In some cases, it is possible to extend the course duration up to 7 years, which may be more suitable if a student seeks to engage in a part-time PhD course to lower tuition fees and combine education with work. This option is more convenient for the applicants unable to secure scholarships and having to fully cover their educational expenses by themselves.

researching your PhD topic

How Does This Differ from Other Countries?

One of the key differences between the UK and other countries is the length of an average PhD programme. For example, US students usually need 4-6 years to complete their course, while their UK peers require 3-4 years, which allows them to start working several years earlier. This may be highly convenient for practitioners interested in getting an industry job rather than those building an academic career. However, this also limits the capability to go beyond the primary scope of a study and pursue interdisciplinary explorations. Additionally, students entering UK-based PhD programmes are encouraged to undergo the IELTS test rather than PTE or TOEFL. This may be problematic since the number of IELTS offices providing test certificates is substantially smaller and they are absent in many areas of the EU and other countries. Another difference is a smaller range of academic choices in British PhD programmes. US students can take multiple courses from different departments, which is highly convenient for interdisciplinary studies.


On the contrary, UK universities generally expect a narrower focus on a single subject within the scope of their PhD projects. This limitation is largely related to the shorter overall duration of studies mentioned earlier. While students can apply for doctoral student loans, these loans only cover the earlier mentioned three-year period. At the same time, many applicants require four or more years to complete their doctoral programmes. The costs of education are another critical difference. For example, doctorate programmes in France have the same pricing level across the whole country and amounted to €380 per year for state universities as of September 2019. Many German universities do not charge tuition fees or charge minimal fees. Alternatively, the fees for PhD programmes in the UK-based Bangor University may range from £1,733 for a part-time programme to £3,466 for full-time offerings. More popular institutions such as the University of Manchester may charge up to £18,500 for non-laboratory degrees and £23,000 for laboratory ones per year.


Thus, PhD costs one of the highest in the EU with prices rising from the average of £1,000 in the 1990s to more than £9,000 in 2019. According to the 2012/2013 figures, up to one-third of UK-based PhD students self-funded their doctorate projects. This makes the part-time option more interesting for the practitioners seeking to keep external income sources and obtain valuable industry experience while also completing their thesis. Finally, the attractiveness of the UK for PhD students has substantially decreased due to Brexit. The limited access to the EU research funding, the ‘brain drain’ of European supervisors, and the questionable status of post-Brexit PhD qualifications raise further questions regarding the reasonability of the extra costs of pursuing a PhD programme in the UK. Nevertheless, you still cannot compare a British PhD with a German one in terms of attractiveness and career prospects, though the quality of doctoral education depends on a specific university.


What Does Your PhD Qualification Mean?

A PhD is an advanced qualification usually following a Master’s degree that demonstrates the fact that you have made a meaningful contribution to a specific field of study. It is issued by your university of choice that confirms this fact and provides the thesis committee for defending your thesis. The reputation and status of this institution are other factors affecting the global recognition and valuation of your degree. Additionally, your PhD course usually allows you to gain teaching experiences and build a network of contacts via participation in conferences, collaborations and academic publications.


What Can You Do with Your PhD Qualification after You Have Finished?

A PhD qualification is a valuable contribution to pursuing an academic career, entering the pharmaceuticals or science industry, becoming a medical scientist or joining a research-oriented company from the private sector. For many industry jobs, this degree is a prerequisite for employment, which makes it highly valuable for future professionals engaged in research and development spheres. However, it is important to choose a globally renowned university with a good reputation to ensure that your doctorate status will be recognised in most countries in the world. Additionally, it is important to develop a ‘track record’ during your PhD years in order to demonstrate your practical expertise to your future employers.


If you consider choosing a PhD programme in the UK, think of using our completely collaborative and customised PhD writing service. We would be honoured to accompany you throughout the entire cycle: from selecting a winning topic to writing a full PhD thesis.

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