A doctoral degree is the highest academic qualifications that an institution can award. Full-time, a PHD takes between three and four years to complete. Universities prefer students to complete within three years but they have the option of taking a fourth year. After four years, they are required to submit their work. Part-time, they have between 6 and 8 years.
A PHD is an extended thesis or similar piece of work, which is assessed based on the extent to which it makes an original contribution to knowledge. Throughout their doctorate, students are assessed by a team of supervisors. Doctorates are awarded by universities and other research institutes and qualifications include the PhD, the professional doctorate, the practice-based doctorate and the doctorate by publication.
There is no national application scheme for doctoral degrees and typically applications are submitted directly to the institution(s). Every institution sets its own requirements for entry and application, which may differ somewhat across subjects. These are clearly published on their websites. Some institutions accept doctoral applications all year round, while others have application deadlines linked to specific start dates, typically October, January and April.
Typically, students will not undertake a doctorate without some form of funding. This may only cover tuition fees or it may include a “salary” of up to £20,000+, in some disciplines. Funding may come directly from the institution or from a professional body or research institute in a connected field. Some doctorates have integrated funding, and in others, students need to apply for it. Funding can be hugely complicated and students should talk to advisors about which programmes are relevant to them. They should also be aware that often, even if students get minimal funding the first year of their doctorate they may be awarded more in their second and third years. Furthermore, if they chose to take their fourth year, they will often no longer receive funding.
Applications for a doctorate will include an outline of the research proposal and an interview. Students will also have to hold the minimum of a Bachelor's degree, while some universities might ask for a Master's degree.
Some institutions offer a combined Master's and doctoral award (sometimes known as the '1+3' model) that enables students to undertake a master's degree and, subsequent to satisfactory progress, enter directly into doctoral research at the same institution. Some universities allow students to study part-time or via distance learning. However, this is dependent on the institution.