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Research degrees
Frequently asked questions

Frequently asked questions

Got a question about being a research student at The Open University? We’ve answered the main ones here.


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Click on the links to read our FAQs on the topics below. If you can’t find the answer you need, please contact us:

  • For generic queries about research degree study at The Open University please email the Graduate School or telephone +44 (0)1908 653806.
  • For queries about the research area you wish to study, please use the contact details given in the Further information section of each Research topic page.

Being an OU research student

Full-time PhD and MPhil students: You’ll need to live within an easily commutable distance (40 miles or 40 minutes’ travel) of our campus in Milton Keynes, as you’ll attend in person every day.

If, in exceptional circumstances, for example due to childcare, disability or domestic commitments, you need to live outside a reasonable travelling distance of Milton Keynes, you will need approval to register. (You will need to make a case explaining how you intend to engage with the research environment, and submit it with your application form.)

Part-time PhD students: You’ll need to be resident in the UK for the duration of your studies. In exceptional circumstances, this requirement can be waived if the University is satisfied that you can engage fully with your research. In this instance, you’d still be required to travel to the UK regularly at your own expense and to take your examination in the UK.

Professional Doctorate students: You can live anywhere in the world. You’ll be required to fund your travel to a compulsory year 1 residential weekend in Milton Keynes. Similarly, you are required to fund your travel to the residential/day schools in years 2 and 3. You’re also required to fund attendance at your viva, which will be held at the OU campus in Milton Keynes.

You’ll be assigned at least two supervisors who are usually University academic staff. Some students have an additional external supervisor. A third-party monitor will also be assigned to you to provide pastoral care and support. In exceptional cases, Professional Doctorate students may be assigned two external supervisors.

Throughout your studies you’ll attend induction and training events, and you’ll be supported administratively by the Graduate School. The OU Graduate School supplies online support that will guide you through the student journey and link you to training and development resources, as well as in-person and online community spaces.

The number of meetings you’ll have with your supervisors will depend on the nature of your project and whether you’re studying full- or part-time.

Full-time students are required to study for a minimum of 37 hours a week.

Part-time students should normally expect to spend a minimum of 18.5 hours a week studying.

Yes, UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) has licensed The Open University to recruit and register non-UK PhD students. We’ll ask you for some information about your circumstances on your application form and at interview. We’ll also check your documents when you register.

If you’re in the UK, or coming to the UK, on a dependants’ visa, we advise you to apply for a visa for yourself, to ensure you retain the right to remain in the UK for the duration of your study.

Where you are not a UK national, you may be required to complete an IELTS test (or approved equivalent) with a minimum score of 6.5 with no less than 6.0 in any of the four categories (reading, writing, listening and speaking) as part of the entry requirements. The website lists who does not need to prove their knowledge of English. If you require an IELTS test (or approved equivalent), you should provide your certificate and grade with your application. Certificates must have been issued less than two years before your intended start date.

Yes, within the rules set out by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI).

You’ll be encouraged to attend and present papers at conferences, as the ability to present your research and to receive constructive criticism are important skills to develop.

We’ll provide a programme of training for the duration of your PhD studies in line with the Vitae framework. Additionally, you’ll receive training in developing discipline-based skills, and you’ll have access to the Research Skills website to support your training.

Professional Doctorate students are expected to have studied research methods at masters level. They have access to a dedicated website where there are additional training resources, and workshops are provided at the residential/day schools each year.

Full- and part-time research students are eligible to study for an additional OU taught course, only as part of research degree training, following approval from your supervisors and head of discipline. You may not study at any other University while you are registered as an Open University student.

As an OU student, you’ll have the opportunity to engage with an exciting variety of social clubs and societies, through the OU Club.

As an OU student, you’ll automatically be a member of The Open University Students Association (OUSA). OUSA is the University’s representative body for all students. It encourages the formation of societies, clubs and groups, as well as providing social activities for its members and their families.

While there’s no student accommodation on campus, we have an accommodation advisor who can help you navigate the rental process. If your application to study is successful, we’ll send you information about this service with your offer of a place.

Fees and Funding

The Open University supports its research students and we recognise that your financial circumstances can be a deciding factor in your ability to complete your studies. We offer some additional funds and bursaries, aimed at OU graduates, those with dependants, or for those in financial difficulty. Find out more on our Additional funding support page.

We often have a small amount of money available to support such activities, which varies according to faculty and time of year. You should speak to your supervisor in the first instance about any money that might be available to students in your faculty.

If you’re experiencing financial hardship, financial support may be available towards your living or study costs to enable you to continue studying.

How to apply for an OU research degree

Depending on the type of degree you’re looking to study, the application process will differ. Funded studentships are advertised on the OU Studentships page. Further information on application processes can be found in our How to apply section.

We welcome applications from students with disabilities and additional requirements and can offer a wide range of support services and facilities to enable you to succeed in your studies. You may be eligible for a Disabled Students’ Allowance for help with study costs.

Please tell us on your application form, or at interview, if you think you might need support or later on by contacting the Graduate School. Additional guidance can be found in our How to apply section.

You may start in either October or February, gaining full advantage of the induction and training events taking place.

This depends on the timing of your application. We’ll always contact you to let you know if your application has been shortlisted and to confirm next steps.

Guidance on applying is provided in our How to apply section.

For more information, please contact the Graduate School by email or telephone +44 (0)1908 653806. For advice specific to your research area, please use the contact details listed in the Research area you’re interested in.

Research degrees we offer

For information on the research degrees offered please see Degrees we offer.

Open University research degrees are not delivered by distance learning in the way our undergraduate courses are. All PhD students are expected to be resident in the UK for the duration of their studies, and full-time students need to live within an easily commutable distance of Milton Keynes. Professional Doctorate students can be based anywhere in the world.

Students applying to study a research degree are expected to already hold a bachelors degree with a minimum of upper-second class honours or an equivalent qualification. Specific entry requirements for each type of research degree are outlined in Degrees we offer. Also, some disciplines require an additional qualification at masters level and these subject-specific requirements are included, where they apply, on the Research topic pages of this website.

If you apply for a full-time research PhD studentship funded by an external body, you’ll also be subject to their entry requirements.

If you can show that your professional qualifications and experience or previous research activities are suitable preparation for your proposed research degree studies, your application may be considered. Please give as much information as possible on your application form to help the academic staff assess your suitability for study.