DPhil in Public Policy | University of Oxford
BSG
A meeting at the Blavatnik School of Government
(Image Credit: John Cairns)

DPhil in Public Policy

About the course

The DPhil in Public Policy provides academically outstanding students who are committed to public service an unrivalled opportunity to study for a rigorous research degree that prepares them to have substantial impact on future policy-making processes.

The DPhil is a research degree that is rooted in and relevant to current policy challenges, over the course of which you will have the chance to meet and interact with leading public policy practitioners. You will work in an interdisciplinary environment where issues, rather than the nuances of debates within specific academic disciplines, take priority in the formation and execution of research questions and strategies.

Although this degree has a focus on applied research, the academic demands of the programme are high and you must have the academic background and skills needed to undertake your research successfully. The Blavatnik School of Government (BSG) encourages an interdisciplinary environment, but you will be expected to anchor your studies in a core academic discipline.

You will be expected to focus your research on practical challenges facing a range of different governments and publicly-oriented agencies. As well as developing your academic expertise, you will learn how to communicate your findings and analysis effectively so as to have real impact on government and public policy development throughout the world.

You will benefit from a DPhil-specific set of seminars and you will be given ample opportunities to present your work in the department, and to develop your research ideas and proposals with the advice and support of your peers.

Graduate destinations

Graduates of the DPhil in Public Policy will be expertly qualified to conduct research to advise or be part of governments or other influential policy-oriented institutions.

BSG hosts an extensive range of events and students benefit from the opportunity to meet leading public policy practitioners from a wide range of sectors and organisations. In addition, students can receive expert one-to-one careers advice at the University's Careers Service, which is very close to BSG, and attend careers fairs, talks, workshops and employer presentations.

Related courses

Changes to the course

The University will seek to deliver this course in accordance with the description set out in this course page. However, there may be situations in which it is desirable or necessary for the University to make changes in course provision, either before or after registration. For further information, please see our page on changes to courses.

Entry requirements for entry in 2017-18

Within equal opportunities principles and legislation, applications will be assessed in the light of an applicant’s ability to meet the following entry requirements:

1. Academic ability

Proven and potential academic excellence

Applicants are normally expected to be predicted or have achieved a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours (or equivalent international qualifications), as a minimum, in any subject. However, entrance is very competitive and most successful applicants have a first-class degree or equivalent.

For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA sought is 3.8 out of 4.0.

Applicants are also expected to have completed a research master’s degree in a relevant subject, which includes methods training appropriate to the research they propose to conduct. Applicants should have a mark of at least 70 per cent or an equivalent level of distinction for both the thesis and overall degree in their master's qualification. The master’s course must be completed and a final transcript available prior to the start of the DPhil.

If you hold non-UK qualifications and wish to check how your qualifications match these requirements, you can contact the National Recognition Information Centre for the United Kingdom (UK NARIC).

It is strongly recommended that you also submit scores from a standardised test such as the GRE, GMAT or LSAT, though these are not required to complete your application. 

Other appropriate indicators will include:

Supporting documents

You will be required to supply supporting documents with your application, including references and an official transcript. See 'How to apply' for instructions on the documents you will need and how these will be assessed.

Performance at interview(s)

Interviews are normally held as part of the admissions process.  

Applicants who are successful in the initial round of assessment may be invited to interview.  The interview will be held using the Skype application (with or without video) and there will be a minimum of two interviewers.

The interviewers may ask questions about the application submitted for the DPhil and about the research proposal but no advance preparation is required. Applicants will also be given the opportunity to raise any questions they have about the programme. 

Further material, such as a sustained piece of writing, may be solicited from you during the selection process. 

Publications

BSG does not expect applicants to have published. However, if you have published scholarly research, you should mention it in your application. 

Other qualifications, evidence of excellence and relevant experience

In addition to the supporting materials required, the assessors will look for evidence that:

  • your research interests focus on policy relevant challenges facing governments and/or publicly-oriented agencies around the world;
  • you have existing experience or exposure to public policy and public service; and
  • you have the capacity to communicate with a variety of policy-relevant audiences at national and international levels.

Students will be expected to demonstrate a commitment to public service either through their research interests, or through their employment or voluntary work. In some cases, this may be through an outstanding record of achievement in working in the public, private or NGO sector.  

2. English language requirement

Applicants whose first language is not English are usually required to provide evidence of proficiency in English at the higher level required by the University.

3. Availability of supervision, teaching, facilities and places

The following factors will govern whether candidates can be offered places:

  • The ability of the Blavatnik School of Government to provide the appropriate supervision, research opportunities, teaching and facilities for your chosen area of work. 
  • Minimum and maximum limits to the numbers of students who may be admitted to Oxford's research and taught programmes.

The provision of supervision, where required, is subject to the following points:

  • The allocation of graduate supervision is the responsibility of the Blavatnik School of Government and it is not always possible to accommodate the preferences of incoming graduate students to work with a particular member of staff. 
  • Under exceptional circumstances a supervisor may be found outside the Blavatnik School of Government.

Where possible your academic supervisor will not change for the duration of your course. However, it may be necessary to assign a new academic supervisor during the course of study or before registration for reasons which might include sabbatical leave, maternity leave or change in employment.

4. Disability, health conditions and specific learning difficulties

Students are selected for admission without regard to gender, marital or civil partnership status, disability, race, nationality, ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation, age or social background.

Decisions on admission are based solely on the individual academic merits of each candidate and the application of the entry requirements appropriate to the course.

Further information on how these matters are supported during the admissions process is available in our guidance for applicants with disabilities.

5. Assessors

All recommendations to admit a student involve the judgment of at least two members of academic staff with relevant experience and expertise, and additionally must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies or Admissions Committee (or equivalent departmental persons or bodies).

Admissions panels or committees will always include at least one member of academic staff who has undertaken appropriate training.

6. Other information

Whether you have yet secured funding is not taken into consideration in the decision to make an initial offer of a place, but please note that the initial offer of a place will not be confirmed until you have completed a Financial Declaration.

Resources

The Blavatnik School of Government (BSG) is a global school pursuing a vision of better government, stronger societies and richer human opportunities across the world. BSG offers a distinctive global approach to public policy, and is committed to excellence in leadership and public policy education.

BSG is located in a purpose-built, iconic building in the University's Radcliffe Observatory Quarter near the centre of Oxford. 

Students at BSG are able to use the Social Science Library in addition to other University libraries and centrally-provided electronic resources.

Research Development Seminars will give you the opportunity to meet and discuss your research with other students, and BSG hosts regular seminars and events with leading public policy practitioners, affording further networking and socialising opportunities. There is an array of research seminars that run across the University and you will be encouraged to attend and, if appropriate, to present at events relevant to your areas of interest.

Through the Social Sciences Doctoral Training Centre you can also take part in a range of training sessions available across departments.

You will have the opportunity to attend a variety of student social events at BSG including the annual induction programme and annual conference. You will also have access to a student common room and kitchen facilities close to your workspace.

Funding

There are over 1,000 full graduate scholarships available across the University, and these cover your course and college fees and provide a grant for living costs. If you apply by the relevant January deadline and fulfil the eligibility criteria you will be automatically considered. Over two thirds of Oxford scholarships require nothing more than the standard course application. Use the Fees, funding and scholarship search to find out which scholarships you are eligible for and if they require an additional application, full details of which are provided.

A number of Research Council awards are available each year from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), and Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Costs

Annual fees for entry in 2017-18

Fee status

Tuition fee

College fee

Total annual fees

Home/EU
(including Islands)
£19,335£3,021£22,356
Overseas£19,335£3,021£22,356

The fees shown above are the annual tuition and college fees for this course for entry in the stated academic year; for courses lasting longer than one year, please be aware that fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on likely increases to fees and charges.

Tuition and college fees are payable each year for the duration of your fee liability (your fee liability is the length of time for which you are required to pay tuition and college fees).

Following the period of fee liability, you may also be required to pay a University continuation charge and a college continuation charge. The University and college continuation charges are shown on the Continuation charges page.

For more information about tuition fees, college fees and fee liability, please see the Fees section of this website. EU applicants should refer to our dedicated webpage for details on the impact of the result of the UK referendum on its membership of the European Union.

Additional information

Should you and your supervisor(s) agree on placements or research trips, there might be additional costs associated with them. The BSG has limited funding for doctoral students, to which you can apply for help to attend conferences or to defray fieldwork expenses.

Living costs

In addition to your tuition and college fees, you will need to ensure that you have adequate funds to support your living costs for the duration of your course.

For the 2017-18 academic year, the range of likely living costs is between £1,002 and £1,471 for each month spent in Oxford. Full information, including a breakdown of likely living costs in Oxford for items such as food, accommodation and study costs, is available on our Living costs page.

How to apply

If you have any questions about the course, please consult the BSG website. Please note that academics at BSG are unable to comment on your suitability for the course or offer advice on the admissions process.

BSG will appoint a supervisor in the event that your application is successful and you do not need a confirmed supervisor in order to apply. If you have any questions that are not answered by the BSG website, please contact the Admissions Team via email.

The set of documents you should send with your application to this course comprises the following:

Official transcript(s)

Your transcripts should give detailed information of the individual grades received in your university-level qualifications to date. You should only upload official documents issued by your institution and any transcript not in English should be accompanied by a certified translation.

More information about the transcript requirement is available in the Application Guide.

CV/résumé

A CV/résumé is compulsory for all applications. Most applicants choose to submit a document of one to two pages highlighting their academic achievements and any relevant professional experience.

Statement of purpose and research proposal:
Statement of up to 1,000 words and proposal of up to 2,500 words

Please supply a statement of purpose and research proposal as a single, combined document as part of your application, written in English only.

The statement of purpose should briefly describe your reasons for choosing the Blavatnik School of Government as well as outlining your interest in public policy and public service, your capacity for sustained and focused work, and what your previous experience and future career plans are.

Your research proposal should focus on the policy question that you wish to address and how you plan to research and answer that question. The word count does not need to include any bibliography or brief footnotes.

The proposal must include the following:

  • the policy-focused research question that you wish to research and an explanation of its significance
  • the analytical framework you propose to employ
  • the research methods that you will use and your level of expertise in using them
  • the data sources upon which you will draw (in the case of archives or databases, you should note whether or not they are publicly available, their locations and any permissions that may be required)
  • a provisional timetable
  • a list of the most important existing scholarly publications on the subject.

This will be assessed for:

  • your reasons for applying
  • the coherence of the proposal
  • the significance and policy-relevance of the project
  • evidence of competency in research methods needed to carry out the proposed research
  • evidence of motivation for and understanding of the proposed area of study
  • the ability to present a reasoned case in English
  • the feasibility of successfully completing the project in the time available for the course (a maximum of 3 years)
  • commitment to the subject
  • knowledge of research techniques needed for thesis
  • reasoning ability.

It will be normal for your ideas subsequently to change in some ways as you investigate the evidence and develop your project. You should nevertheless make the best effort you can to demonstrate the extent of your research question, sources and method when submitting your application.

Written work:
Two essays of 2,000 words each

You are required to submit samples of work, which must be entirely your own and in English. Extracts from longer pieces are welcome but should be prefaced by a note that puts them in context.

The word count should be adhered to and indicated at the end of your body of written work. The count should exclude any footnotes, annotations or bibliography used. Written work which exceeds the word count will be highlighted and the excess may not be read.

This will be assessed for:

  • comprehensive understanding of the subject area
  • understanding of problems in the area
  • ability to construct and defend an argument
  • powers of analysis
  • powers of expression
  • familiarity with the literature on the subject
  • evidence of a keen interest and understanding of policy analysis.

The written work does not need to relate closely to the proposed area of study, but should permit the BSG Selections Committee to assess your analytic ability as described above.

Note on use of original work

Plagiarism and collusion are serious offences and in order to protect the credibility of the application process applicants are required to submit an electronic copy of their work. All applications are put through plagiarism software to identify applicants submitting an application that is not their own original work.

References/letters of recommendation:
Three overall, generally academic

Whilst you must register three referees, the department may start the assessment of your application if two of the three references are submitted by the course deadline and your application is otherwise complete. Please note that you may still be required to ensure your third referee supplies a reference for consideration.

At least one reference should be from your current or most recent academic institution.

If you have been out of university education for an extended period one professional reference may be submitted, but please be aware that any such reference should still comment on your academic suitability for the DPhil in Public Policy, and that an academic reference is preferred.

If you do not provide academic references that meet the above listed criteria you may be asked to do so before the assessment of your application can be completed.

Your references will support intellectual ability, academic achievement, academic writing ability and career motivation.