DPhil in Public Policy | University of Oxford
A DPhil student speaking at the annual Challenges of Government Conference
A DPhil student speaking at the annual Challenges of Government Conference
(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 policymaking processes.

The course can be taken full time in three years or part time over six to eight years. Part-time students are required to spend a minimum of 30 days on study-related business in Oxford each year and to commit approximately 20 hours per week to their studies. Part-time students are also expected to attend induction activities which are held over a couple of days at the beginning of Michaelmas term (October).  

The DPhil specialises in discipline-based, policy-driven research, applying rigorous social science to analysing policy issues with the explicit goal of prescribing solutions for policymakers. You will concentrate on research that answers policy questions with rigorous conceptual design, theoretical insight, and empirical methods. As well as honing your research skills and developing your interdisciplinary understanding of policy challenges, you will also enhance your ability to communicate your research findings to the policy community in a way that ensures real-world impact. You will join a school which conducts groundbreaking academic research where international leaders will engage with you and your scholarly community on the most pressing issues of our time.

The DPhil in Public Policy is one of Oxford's most selective degree courses and recruits those who are highly academically and professionally capable. Your peer group will include economists, political scientists, behavioural scientists, and philosophers with professional backgrounds at international organisations such as the World Bank and the World Economic Forum and senior levels of government.

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 the DPhil Research Development seminar series and will be given ample opportunities to present your work in the department, and develop your research ideas and proposals with the advice and support of your peers.

Supervision

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

Graduate destinations

Graduates of the DPhil in Public Policy will be professional social scientists working in the area of public policy. You will be prepared to lead on devising, implementing, and evaluating innovative policy solutions; and you will be expertly qualified to conduct research, whether as an academic, in a governmental role, or in other influential policy organisations, institutes, and think tanks.

The school’s alumni form a close-knit community providing social connections, professional guidance and a trusted source of advice. These connections also serve as powerful reminders for all of us of our shared commitment to public service and our desire to make a positive difference in the world. For more information, visit our Alumni pages.

At the Blavatnik School of Government you will develop the skills required to succeed in your career as well as benefit from a programme of career-focused events. Collaborating with your fellow students and faculty will help you discover career paths and opportunities in public service and academia. The Blavatnik School of Government also offers an outstanding programme of speaker events at which many visitors discuss their careers, and outside of the school there are many events organised by departments, centres, societies and colleges – all of these provide opportunities to meet with global specialists and develop your network of contacts.

In addition, students can receive expert one-to-one careers advice at the University's Careers Service, which is very close to the Blavatnik School, and attend careers fairs, talks, workshops and employer presentations.

Changes to this course and your supervision

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. In certain circumstances, for example due to visa difficulties or because the health needs of students cannot be met, it may be necessary to make adjustments to course requirements for international study.

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, parental leave or change in employment.

For further information, please see our page on changes to courses.

Other courses you may wish to consider

If you're thinking about applying for this course, you may also wish to consider the courses listed below. These courses may have been suggested due to their similarity with this course, or because they are offered by the same department or faculty.

All graduate courses offered by the Blavatnik School of Government

Entry requirements for entry in 2020-21

Proven and potential academic excellence

Degree-level qualifications

As a minimum, applicants should hold or be predicted to achieve the equivalent of the following UK qualifications:

  • a master's degree with a mark of at least 70% (or an equivalent level of distinction for both the thesis and overall degree) in a relevant subject; and
  • a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours in any subject.

Entrance is very competitive and most successful applicants have a first-class degree or equivalent.

Applicants should hold a master's degree with training in research methods and design or be able to demonstrate significant knowledge and experience of research methods appropriate to their intended area of doctoral study. The master's course must be completed and a final transcript available prior to the start of the DPhil.

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

If your degree is not from the UK or another country specified above, visit our International Qualifications page for guidance on the qualifications and grades that would usually be considered to meet the University’s minimum entry requirements.

GRE General Test scores

It is 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 qualifications, evidence of excellence and relevant experience

In addition to academic excellence, 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 show a capacity to effect change and have positive impact; and
  • you have the capacity to communicate effectively 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. 

The Blavatnik School of Government does not expect applicants to have published. However, if you have published scholarly research, you should mention it in your application.

Part-time applicants will also be expected to show evidence of the ability to commit time to study and, if applicable, an employer's commitment to make time available to study, to complete coursework, and to attend course and University events and modules.

Where appropriate, evidence should also be provided of permission to use employers’ data in the proposed research project.

English language requirement

This course requires proficiency in English at the University's higher level. If your first language is not English, you may need to provide evidence that you meet this requirement.

Detailed requirements - higher level

The minimum scores required to meet the University's higher level are:

IELTS Academic7.5Minimum 7.0 per component
TOEFL iBT110

Minimum component scores:

  • Listening: 22
  • Reading: 24
  • Speaking: 25
  • Writing: 24
Cambridge Certificate of Advanced English (CAE) or C1 Advanced191Minimum 185 per component
Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE) or C2 Proficiency191Minimum 185 per component

Your test must have been taken no more than two years before the start date of your course. For more information about the English language test requirement, visit the Application Guide

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

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 (usually in early March for the January deadline, and early April for the March deadline). 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.

Supervision

Any offer of a place is dependent on the University's ability to provide the appropriate supervision for your chosen area of work. Please refer to the ‘About’ section of this page for more information about the provision of supervision for this course.

How your application is assessed

Your application will be assessed on academic merit and potential, according to the published entry requirements for the course. 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. Whether you have secured funding will not be taken into consideration when your application is assessed.

Admissions panels and assessors

All recommendations to admit a student involve the judgement of at least two members of the academic staff with relevant experience and expertise, and must also be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies or Admissions Committee (or equivalent within the department).

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

After an offer is made

If you receive an offer of a place at Oxford, you will be required to meet the following requirements:

Financial Declaration

If you are offered a place, you will be required to complete a Financial Declaration in order to meet your financial condition of admission.

Disclosure of criminal convictions

In accordance with the University’s obligations towards students and staff, we will ask you to declare any relevant, unspent criminal convictions before you can take up a place at Oxford.

Resources

The Blavatnik School of Government is a global school pursuing a vision of a world better led, better served and better governed. We offer a distinctively global approach to public policy and are committed to excellence in leadership and public policy education.

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

Students at the Blavatnik School 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 the Blavatnik School 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. Part-time as well as full-time students will normally be required to attend all 12 of the Research Development Seminars (RDS) during their first year. This is to help you to establish a clear line of thinking and maximise the opportunity to integrate with all first-year students.  

Through the research training offered by the Social Sciences Division you can also take part in a range of skills development training sessions available across departments. Part-time students will be expected to identify, in consultation with their supervisors, their anticipated advanced research skills needs in their first year, and focus on acquiring these additional skills in their second, third and fourth years from the Social Science Division’s research methods and training programme and, as the DPhil in Public Policy is multi- and interdisciplinary in character, from relevant training opportunities in the wider University and nationally.

You will have the opportunity to attend a variety of student social events at the Blavatnik School 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 1,100 full or partial graduate scholarships available across the University. You will be automatically considered for over two thirds of Oxford scholarships, if you fulfil the eligibility criteria and submit your graduate application by the relevant January deadline, with most scholarships awarded on the basis of academic merit and/or potential. To help identify those scholarships where you will be required to submit an additional application, use the Fees, funding and scholarships search and visit individual college websites using the links provided on our college pages.

Costs

Annual fees for entry in 2020-21

Full-time study

Fee status

Annual Course fees

Home/EU (including Islands)£23,505
Overseas£23,505

Part-time study

Fee status

Annual Course fees

Home/EU (including Islands)£11,755
Overseas£11,755

Course 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 course fees). 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.

Course fees cover your teaching as well as other academic services and facilities provided to support your studies. Unless specified in the additional information section below, course fees do not cover your accommodation, residential costs or other living costs. They also don’t cover any additional costs and charges that are outlined in the additional information below.

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 course fees and fee liability, please see the Fees section of this website. EU applicants should refer to our dedicated webpage for details of the implications of the UK’s plans to leave the European Union.

Additional information

Full-time study

There are no compulsory elements of this course that entail additional costs beyond fees (or, after fee liability ends, continuation charges) and living costs. However, please note that, should you and your supervisor(s) agree on placements or research trips, you may incur additional expenses, such as travel expenses, research expenses, and field trips. You will need to meet these additional costs. The Blavatnik School of Government has limited funding for doctoral students, to which you can apply for help to attend conferences or to defray fieldwork expenses, and you may be able to apply for small grants from your college to help you cover some of these expenses.

Part-time study

Please note that you are required to attend in Oxford for a minimum of 30 days each year, and you may incur additional travel and accommodation expenses for this. Also, please note that, should you and your supervisor(s) agree on placements or research trips, you may incur additional expenses, such as travel expenses, research expenses, and field trips. You will need to meet these additional costs. The Blavatnik School of Government has limited funding for doctoral students, to which you can apply for help to attend conferences or to defray fieldwork expenses, and you may be able to apply for small grants from your college to help you cover some of these expenses.

Living costs

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

For the 2020-21 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,135 and £1,650 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. When planning your finances for any future years of study in Oxford beyond 2020-21, you should allow for an estimated increase in living expenses of 3% each year.

If you are studying part-time your living costs may vary depending on your personal circumstances but you must still ensure that you will have sufficient funding to meet these costs for the duration of your course.

How to apply

If you have any questions about the course, please consult the Blavatnik School of Government website. If you have any questions that are not answered by the Blavatnik School website, please contact the Admissions Team via email.

Please note that academics at the Blavatnik School are unable to comment on your suitability for the course or offer advice on the admissions process. The Blavatnik School will appoint a supervisor in the event that your application is successful. You do not need a confirmed supervisor in order to apply. 

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 a separate research proposal combined into a single document as part of your application. Both pieces must be written entirely in English.

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 outline the policy question you wish to address, indicate why this is significant and make clear how you plan to research and answer this question. The word count does not 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 three years if full time)
  • commitment to the subject
  • knowledge of research techniques needed for the proposed 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 two samples of work, which must be entirely your own and in English. You may not submit co-authored pieces. Extracts from longer pieces may be submitted 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 Blavatnik School of Government Admissions 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 must be from your current or most recent academic institution.

Current master’s students, or those who have completed a master’s degree, are required to submit a reference from their supervisor or course director on the master’s programme. 

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 criteria listed above, you may be asked to do so before the assessment of your application can be completed.

Your references should attest to your intellectual ability, academic achievement, academic writing ability and career motivation.

Start or continue an application

Step 1: Read our guide to getting started, which explains how to prepare for and start an application.

Step 2: Check that you meet the Entry requirements and read the How to apply information on this page.

Step 3: Check the deadlines on this page and plan your time to submit your application well in advance.

Step 4: Our Application Guide will help you complete the form. It contains links to FAQs and further help.

Step 5: Submit your application as soon as possible (you can read more information about our deadlines).

Application GuideApply - Full time Apply - Part time

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