Birmingham University PhD Requirements

Last Updated on December 24, 2022

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Entry Requirements

In ‘Postgraduate Research’

  • Postgraduate Research
  • Entry Requirements
  • Support and Development
  • Doctoral Researcher Profiles
  • Doctoral Research Conference

To gain admission to a research programme an applicant must comply with the following entry requirements:

  • Attainment of a good Honours degree (normally a First or Upper Second Class
    Honours degree) awarded by an approved University in an appropriate subject, or the equivalent thereof, or
  • Attainment of an alternative qualification or qualifications and/or evidence of experience judged by the School as indicating a student’s potential for research and as satisfactory for the purpose of entry to a research degree programme

Admission may be subject to preliminary study, which may include assessment. In such cases, registration for a programme leading to a research degree will be subject to satisfactory completion of the preliminary study. The time taken for the preliminary study will not be counted towards the period of registration.

Applications from international students whose native language is not English must satify one of the following English Language requirements. The School of Education requires  IELTS: 7.0 with no less than 6.5 in any band; PTE: PTE Academic 67 in all four skills.


Research applications are made online via Course FinderHowever, in addition to our standard academic and English language requirements, applications to study a PhD in Education are judged on the quality of the research proposal submitted and we advise you to carefully read the information outlined below before applying. 

Your Research Proposal

Your research proposal should illustrate your ability to plan an independent research study in Education and the relevance of your topic to the research interests and expertise of staff in the School of Education. You need to demonstrate that you understand the field that you plan to research, identify an interesting and original research question, develop a tentative plan of study and connect your work with our research in the School. It is critical that your research proposal is written to the guidelines specified below.

Guidelines for the Research Proposal

You are free to write your Research Proposal in a format that suits you.

However, please be sure that your Research Proposal includes the following minimum information.

TitleTitle of your proposed research.
Supervision arrangementsIdentify the Department you want to join.Identify two or three potential supervisors with whom you would like to work.
Research questionProvide an overview of your research question, explaining why it is of academic and/or practical importance.
Literature reviewDiscuss the importance of previous related research and how your own research question might make a useful contribution to the area.
Research methodsState the main research techniques and data collection procedures you propose to answer the research question you have posed. Justify why these are appropriate.
Data collection strategyExplain how you will collect data for your study. Justify why your strategy is a good one and explain how you can successfully collect the data you need in the timeframe.
TimelineOutline your proposed timetable of activities.
ReferencesList the works you have cited in your proposal.
Word LimitYour proposal should be no more than 2,500 words, excluding references.

Common mistakes made in a research proposal

  • The research topic is too general. Your research proposal needs to state clearly what you plan to research, why and how.
  • The proposal is not well-informed, theoretically. Your proposal may identify a real-world educational issue or problem, but it does not demonstrate its theoretical importance to the study of education. Your proposal must identify the theoretical insight your research will bring to our discipline. What will be the significance of your work? Why is your research question original and interesting?
  • The research proposal does not fit with our academic expertise. To study for a PhD in Education at Birmingham you need to (1) find a supervisor whose research interests align with yours and (2) identify links with the research of one of our departments and/or research centres

The stages of a PhD application

  1. Develop your research proposal
  2. Ensure that your proposal matches our research expertise in the SoE
  3. Identify a potential supervisor and department; list these clearly on your application form, in your personal statement and in your research proposal
  4. Make informal contact with your potential supervisor via email and discuss your proposed research with them if you wish
  5. Finalize all of the supporting material for your application (including a 2 – 3 page CV, a personal statement, academic references, copies of academic transcripts/degrees, evidence of a successfully completed English Language Test if applicable)
  6. Submit your application online

Split location postgraduate research study

International students normally carry out their research and are supervised at the University of Birmingham. However, there are students, often academic staff at overseas institutions though not exclusively, who are looking for flexible study arrangements. In these cases, most of the study period would be spent in their home country with short periods at the University of Birmingham. Students registered for a doctoral degree must spend a minimum of six months full-time at the University of Birmingham. The period need not be continuous but needs to take into account accessing the research training programme. The University will seek to ensure that the facilities for research and study in the home country are broadly comparable to those at this University.

Postgraduate taught entry requirements

In ‘Postgraduate entry requirements’

  • Entry requirements
  • International student entry requirements

To gain a place at Birmingham you will need to meet our general entry requirements and the specific entry requirements of your chosen course. Your application will be reviewed by the Admissions Tutor for your course, who will decide whether your application should receive an offer.

Specific entrance requirements for individual courses can be found on individual course listings in our course finder. Entry to our postgraduate programmes usually require a good Honours degree, or equivalent if you were educated outside the UK.

Any academic and professional qualifications or industrial experience you may have are normally taken into account, and in some cases form an integral part of the entrance requirement.

Please be aware that entry on to many programmes is highly competitive; consequently we also consider the skills, attributes, motivation and potential for success of an individual when deciding whether to make an offer.  After we have received your application you may, if you live in the UK, be invited for an interview or to visit us to discuss your application.

Non-standard qualifications

If your qualifications are non-standard or different from the entry requirements stated in this prospectus, please contact the relevant school or department to discuss whether your application would be considered

Accreditation of Prior Learning (APL)

This is a process by which the University gives credit for learning achieved by an individual before entry to a programme of study:

  • Previously assessed and certificated – this learning may have been previously assessed and certificated by an education provider, in which case it is known as ‘prior certificated learning’ 
  • Acquired outside formal systems – it may also have been acquired outside formal education and training systems (for example, through work experience) and is therefore known as ‘prior experiential learning’ 
  • Claiming for APL – if you feel that you have sufficient qualifications and/or experience to give you partial exemption from a programme of study at Birmingham you are welcome to make a claim for APL: please note, however, that you must first make a separate application for admission using the accreditation of prior learning form which can be found in the related links on this page.
  • Full details of the University’s policies and procedures with regard to accreditation of prior learning can be found in the related links on this page.

Postgraduate research: how to apply

In ‘Postgraduate research’

  • Postgraduate research
  • What to expect from a PhD/MA by Research
  • Guide to postgraduate research applications
  • Doctoral researchers

This section is designed to guide you through the six steps to making an MRes, MA by Research or PhD application in the College of Arts and Law. It also includes advice on identifying funding opportunities and writing research proposals.

We accept applications at any time, although we strongly encourage research students to begin their studies at the start of the UK academic year in September. There are, however, deadlines for applying for financial support.

Step 1: Which degree?

We offer three different postgraduate research degrees.

  • PhD: 3 years full-time, 6 years part-time
  • MA by Research: 1 year full-time, 2 years part-time
  • MRes:1 year full-time, 2 years part-time

PhD: this is the most advanced research degree;  it is a research-only degree and will generally comprise a thesis of up to 80,000 words on a subject of your choice and under the expert supervision of an academic member of staff. 

MA by Research: this is a research-only Masters programme and generally requires you to prepare a thesis of up to 40,000 words on a topic of your choice under the expert guidance of an academic member of staff. 

MRes: this programme combines taught modules with an extended thesis of 20,000 words. The taught content will provide a foundation upon which to build your research, which you will complete under the expert guidance of an academic member of staff. These degrees involve taught elements that vary across the College, and as a result not all research areas are available to study at this level.

Step 2: Which mode of study?

All of our programmes are available to study on campus, and the majority can be studied on a full-time or part-time basis.

We also offer MA by Research and/or PhD programmes by distance learning across all of our subject areas. 

Step 3: Do you meet our entry requirements?

  • Applicants for a PhD will also need to hold a Masters qualification at Merit level or above (or its international equivalent). Any relevant professional qualifications or experience you may have are normally taken into account and, in some cases, form an integral part of the entry requirements.
  • For MA by Research and MRes programmes, entry to our programmes usually requires a good (normally a 2:1 or above) Honours degree, or the international equivalent. 

Step 4: Contact a member of staff

Once you have identified the subject area that you want to research, we recommend that you contact a member of our staff with appropriate expertise to discuss your proposed research. This should be a well defined, specific area of potential research, rather than a general subject area. Staff research interests can be found on our research course finder listings.

Please contact only one member of staff in the first instance. For MRes programmes, this will be the programme convenor as shown on the programme page. For MA by Research or PhD level research we would encourage you to identify a prospective supervisor in the relevant Department based on your specific research interests.  If necessary, we will redirect your email to a member of staff with expertise more directly relevant to your proposed research. If you are unsure which member of staff to approach, please contact the relevant admissions tutor (as shown on the course finder page) for advice.

This is a pre-application step to help us match your research interests with our expertise. We will give you a preliminary view about whether you proposed research and academic background is a good fit with the School’s research strengths. If there is a good fit between your proposed research and our research strengths, we will give you advice on a draft of your research proposal before you make a formal application. We will also help you to identify funding opportunities.

When contacting a member of our staff, it would be helpful to include the following:

  • A draft research proposal or a summary of your research ideas
  • Details of university-level qualifications and any relevant professional experience
  • Details on how you propose to fund your research

Step 5: Identify funding opportunities

There is a wide range of funding opportunities available to students interested in pursuing postgraduate research in the College —but it is vital that you explore these opportunities early.

Step 6: Submit your application (including a research proposal)

Applications are submitted online. Applications are made directly to the University of Birmingham by using course finder and clicking on the course you wish to apply for. To complete an online application, you will require the following for all of our postgraduate research programmes:

  • A research proposal of between 1000 and 1500 words specifying the subject of the proposed research, the body of ideas or theory that will be used, the aim and objectives and the methodological approach to be adopted. Please see additional guidance below.
  • Copies of university transcripts
  • Two references from referees who are able to comment on your academic and professional background
  • Certificates to show competence in the English language (if English is not your first language)
  • A personal statement of no more than one side of A4 in length explaining why you are interested in studying on your chosen programme

It normally takes us 4-6 weeks to make a decision once we have received all of your supporting documents as we select students with care and your application is likely to be considered by several members of academic staff. If you have followed the steps above, it will help us to arrive at a decision much quicker. All applicants for research programmes will be interviewed. This may be in person, by telephone or by electronic means. 

During the application process, we may ask you to refine or reformulate your proposal in the light of comments from staff involved in assessing your project.

Research proposal guidance

All of our MRes, MA by Research and PhD programmes require a research proposal as part of the application process. Your proposal should include information about your chosen area of research and your proposed research question(s) so that we can understand exactly what you’re hoping to study. Each discipline requires slightly different things in a research proposal, so you might find it useful to seek advice from the admissions tutor or your potential supervisor.

International student entry requirements

In ‘International student entry requirements’

  • International student entry requirements
  • English for international students

We welcome postgraduate applications from candidates offering a range of overseas qualifications. As well as achieving appropriate grades in your examinations, you also need to submit official transcripts of your qualifications translated into English and showing the subjects and grades obtained.

Academic requirements

The programme requirements are listed next to the programme entry in the course finder. To find out what the grade requirements would be for a qualification that you have studied in your own country, please see your individual country page information.

English language requirements

In order to undertake a programme of study here at the University, you will need to demonstrate that you have a good level of written and spoken English. You can demonstrate your level of English with IELTS/TOEFL/PTE or alternative qualifications. English Language test certificates should be no more than two years old on the start date of your chosen programme. The sections below will tell you what grades you need in these qualifications for the subject area you want to study.

Some degree programmes have slightly higher requirements than those stated here. When this is so, we will ensure that you are informed using the contact details you have provided on your application. If you have been instructed and assessed in English language at a recognised institution, you may be exempt from these requirements.

Proof of English language proficiency

For those joining us for 2021, due to the circumstances surrounding COVID-19, we will accept the following additional tests as evidence of English language proficiency:

  • TOEFL “At Home” Test
  • IELTs Indicator (entry requirements match standard IELTs requirements listed in table below)
  • Password English (applicants in India and China can find out more about Password English language tests delivered by NCUK by visiting their website)

Postgraduate degree programmes

Business Research Degrees - PhD - 2021/22 Entry - Birmingham City Business  School | Birmingham City University
Academic areaTOEFLIELTS*Pearson
Test of
English (PTE)**
Cambridge English
(exams taken from 2015)***
Engineering and Science***80 overall with no less than 19 in Reading, 19 in Listening, 21 in Speaking and 19 in Writing6.0 with no less than 5.5 in any bandPTE Academic 64 with no less than 59 in all four skillsCambridge English: Advanced
Minimum overall score of 169,
with no less than 162 in any
Business****, Dentistry,
Education (Taught),
Health Sciences, Medicine***,
Public Policy,
Social Sciences***
88 overall with no less than 21 in Reading, 20 in Listening, 22 in Speaking and 21 in Writing6.5 with no less than 6.0 in any bandPTE Academic 67 with no less than 64 in all four skillsCambridge English: Advanced
Minimum overall score of 176, with no less than 169 in any component
Research Education, Law (LLM), ClinPsychD95 overall with no less than 22 in any band  7.0 with no less than 6.5 in any bandPTE Academic 76 with no less than 67 in all four skillsCambridge English: Advanced or Cambridge English: Proficiency
Minimum overall score of 185, with no less than 176 in any component

* Further information on can be found at the IELTS website.

**Further information on the PTE test and how to register.

*** Some programmes require higher or lower grades. Please see individual course entry requirements for further details.

**** Some Business programmes require higher grades.  Please see the Business School website for more details.

Alternative qualifications for postgraduate programmes

QualificationMinimum University requirement
University of Birmingham presessional English course (see below)Pass (see the BIA page for details)
India Standard XII (CBSE/CISCE/West Bengal)75% or above
India Standard XII (other Indian state boards)80% or above
German AbiturEnglish studied for four semesters, with an overall result of ‘gut’ (usually an average score of 10) 
French Baccalaureat14 (bien) 

English language courses

If you do not have the required level of English or would like to improve your English before the start of the academic year, you can take one of our pre-sessional English language courses.

Learn more

For advice on entry requirements or English language requirements for specific courses, you can contact the Admissions Tutor listed against the course entry in the course finder or visit the relevant department’s website.

Special requirements

For some courses there are very specific entry requirements concerning a students’ fitness to practice their chosen course of study. For information concerning these requirements, please visit the Terms and conditions page which also contains important information concerning the University’s conditions of study.

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