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Funding and entry requirements

There are various ways of studying for a PhD in the School of Physical Sciences:

  1.  Full-time, fully funded, on-site: this is the most common route, as described below, for projects defined by us.
  2.  Part-time, fully funded, on-site: this is possible occasionally, for suitable projects defined by us.
  3.  Full-time or Part-time, self-funded, on-site: if students have their own funding they can be considered for the same projects as above.. 
  4.  Part-time, self-funded, off-site: we very occasionally take on students by this route, for self-defined projects.

Each year we advertise typically 20-30 defined research projects and we generally expect to recruit full-time postgraduate students to around 10 of those projects annually. These students will be appointed via selection and interview on fully-funded studentships which provide fees and stipend for 3 years and 3 months. These students are based full-time on campus in Milton Keynes. Occasionally, some of the advertised projects may be suitable for part-time study by students based on campus in Milton Keynes 2 or 3 days per week. Students recruited on that basis would also receive fees and part-time stipend, but for up to 6 years pro-rata.

Applicants with their own funding sources (e.g. private funds, external scholarships) may also apply for any of our advertised projects subject to the academic requirements specified below. Such students will generally be required to be present on campus, full-time, although occasionally part-time, on campus study may be viable for some projects.

Part-time, self-funded postgraduate students on self-defined projects are only appointed in exceptional circumstances, where the projects closely match the interests and activities of staff members.

Applicants for all research degrees must satisfy the academic requirements to be considered for recruitment.

Most studentships, which cover academic fees and stipend (living costs) also have eligibility conditions. Applicants wishing to apply for funding should see below for opportunities and requirements.

Fully Funded PhD

Academic requirements:

Funded PhD places in the school are awarded competitively, and have high entry requirements. Such PhDs are normally completed on a full-time basis, with students based on campus in Milton Keynes. Applications will be considered from students with, or expecting to gain, a first degree in any of a wide range of disciplines including physics, mathematics, engineering, geology, chemistry, geochemistry, biochemistry or similar disciplines at first or upper second class level.

We attempt to recruit the best candidates for any of our advertised projects (see the project list) based on qualifications, skills and aptitude for research, although we also have to take account of subject balance, supervisor workload, timeliness and fit to strategic objectives.


All projects offered have identified funding sources. 

Studentship funding from UK research councils is available for certain projects, whilst others are funded from internal University sources. The funding includes all tuition fees and a stipend, as well as an allowance for research training, travel, conferences etc. All studentships offered by The Open University offer fees and stipends at or above the minimum level specified by the Research Councils.

The studentships are open to Home and International students. 

To be classed as Home student, candidates must meet one of the following criteria:

  • Be a UK National (meeting residency requirements)
  • Have settled status
  • Have pre-settled status (meeting residency requirements)
  • Have indefinite leave to remain or enter

If a candidate does not meet the criteria above, they would be classed as an International student. The full guidance from UKRI is available here (updated 16 March 2023)

Self-funded PhD

Academic requirements:

Self-funded PhDs are normally pursued remotely (off-site) and studied part-time. Part-time PhD study is offered by the OU as part of its mission to provide continuing education for people who are not in a position to undertake full time study. The requirement for a PhD is a new and substantial contribution to the research field, and in general the most obvious research lines will be pursued by full-time researchers. Hence, projects for part-time study need to be very carefully designed. The project must produce results which are a novel contribution to the field at the time of completion (usually about 6 years after the part-time student begins work), and it must be possible to undertake the project without regular access to usual university facilities.

Usually, part-time, off-site PhD students pursue research work which draws upon skills or knowledge related to their other activities. Part-time students normally have a minimum of three supervisors, two internal supervisors who are members of the central academic staff at the OU, and an external supervisor who works in the same research field and is geographically close to the student.

In recognition of the challenges inherent in pursuing PhD research outside the daily work environment of an academic school, the OU is careful to select only part-time PhD students who are likely to succeed. Sadly, this means we receive far more part time PhD enquiries than we are able to satisfy. The first step for part-time PhD applicants is for them to identify the area in which they would like to work as well as potential supervisors. They are then responsible for writing a detailed proposal describing the research work they will undertake. Once an applicant has submitted a promising research proposal, it will be refined in collaboration with the prospective internal supervisor.

Generally, part-time PhD students are required to be resident in the UK. The only exceptions are in cases where a pre-existing collaboration, or an obvious common research area, exists between the prospective internal and external supervisors.


Students are responsible for paying their own tuition fees.

Overseas Students

For overseas students coming to do a PhD there are additional requirements concerning visas and demonstrating English language competency.

If you do not already have a visa, the University will provide a Confirmation of Acceptance (CAS) with your offer letter, to enable you to apply for a visa before your study begins. Details of the visa process may be found on the UK Visas and Immigration website. Specifically, the UKVI site contains info about the Tier 4 visa.

The University requires an overall IELTS score of 6.5 with no less than 6.0 in any of the four categories (reading, writing, speaking, listening). Further details can be found on the UKVI site under language requirement. That page also includes is a link to approved test providers

Many of the approved centres are run buy the British Council, and there is information about the IELTS on their website.  This also includes links to a booking system to register for an IELTS.