About the course
The Department of Social Policy and Intervention offers a DPhil in Social Policy and welcomes students from across the world. Research students are an important part of the department’s community, and you will be fully involved and immersed in the life of the department.
The department welcomes DPhil candidates who are interested in a wide range of areas of social policy research, such as welfare systems in developed and developing countries, family and family policies, educational inequalities and educational policies, economic and social inequalities, social mobility and inequality of opportunity, labour market institutions and policies, retirement age policies, transition from work to retirement and public attitudes on welfare state issues. This varied research portfolio is organised within the Oxford Institute of Social Policy.
The department's approach to graduate study emphasises your ability to work independently to explore a new line of research under an academic supervisor. Each member of academic staff has expertise in a particular area of social policy and you will only be accepted for a DPhil if there is an appropriate supervisor available.
As a doctoral student, you will be offered a unique graduate programme tailored to your individual needs. In addition to individual supervision, the department offers a large and diverse range of seminars, workshops and advanced training opportunities in order to further enhance graduate research experience.
Part-time course arrangements
The DPhil programme in Social Policy is also available on a part-time basis. The part-time version of the degree has the same high standards and requirements as the full-time degree, but is spread over 6-8 years. The degree is particularly well-suited for students who are seeking the flexibility of part-time study and it provides an excellent opportunity for professionals to undertake rigorous long-term research that may be relevant to their working life.
The allocation of graduate supervision for this course is the responsibility of the Department of Social Policy and Intervention 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 Department of Social Policy and Intervention.
Students should normally expect to meet with their supervisor around three to four times a term.
The sequence of milestones for a DPhil student are as follows:
- Admission as a Probationer Research Student (PRS)
- Transfer to DPhil status (‘Transfer of Status’)
- Confirmation of DPhil status for DPhil students (‘Confirmation of Status’)
- Submission of thesis
All students will be initially admitted to the status of Probationer Research Student (PRS). Within a maximum of four terms as a full-time PRS student or eight as a full-time PRS student, you will be expected to apply for transfer of status from Probationer Research Student to DPhil status. This application is normally made by the third term for full-time students and by the sixth term for part-time students.
A successful transfer of status from PRS to DPhil status will require the student to show that their proposed thesis and treatment represents a viable topic and that their written work and interview show that they have a good knowledge and understanding of the subject. Students who are successful at transfer will also be expected to apply for and gain confirmation of DPhil status to show that your work continues to be on track. This will need to done within nine terms of admission for full-time students and eighteen terms of admission for part-time students.
Both milestones normally involve an interview with two assessors (other than your supervisor) and therefore provide important experience for the final oral examination.
Full-time students will be expected to submit a substantial thesis that does not exceed 100,000 words after three or, at most, four years from the date of admission. If you are studying part-time, you be required to submit your thesis after six or, at most, eight years from the date of admission. To be successfully awarded a DPhil in Social Policy, you will need to defend your thesis orally (viva voce) in front of two appointed examiners.
Many graduates of the DPhil go on to pursue academic careers in world-leading research universities, while others hold influential positions in government, non-governmental and international organisations such as the World Bank, the World Health Organisation, and the UN.
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. The safety of students, staff and visitors is paramount and major changes to delivery or services may have to be made in circumstances of a pandemic (including Covid-19), epidemic or local health emergency. In addition, 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 illness, sabbatical leave, parental leave or change in employment.
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 Department of Social Policy and Intervention
Entry requirements for entry in 2021-22
Proven and potential academic excellence
As a minimum, applicants should hold or be predicted to achieve the equivalent of the following UK qualifications:
- a master's degree; and
- a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours.
However, entrance is very competitive and most successful applicants have a first-class degree or the equivalent.
For applicants with a degree from the USA, a bachelor’s degree with a minimum overall GPA of 3.5 out of 4.0, or 4.0 out of 5.0 is sought.
The qualification(s) above should be achieved in one of the following subject areas or disciplines:
- political science
- social policy
- social work
- sociology; or
- closely-related fields.
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
No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or GMAT scores are sought.
Other qualifications, evidence of excellence and relevant experience
- Preference may be given to those who have previously studied in demography, economics, political science, psychology, social policy and social work and sociology, or closely-related fields.
- Publications are not expected, but they would advantage an 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 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.
If your ability to meet the entry requirements has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic (eg you were awarded an unclassified/ungraded degree) or any other exceptional personal circumstance (eg other illness or bereavement), please refer to the guidance on extenuating circumstances in the Application Guide for information about how to declare this so that your application can be considered appropriately.
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. The minimum scores required to meet the University's higher level are detailed in the table below.
|Test||Minimum overall score||Minimum score per component|
|IELTS Academic (Institution code: 0713)||7.5||7.0|
|TOEFL iBT (Institution code: 0490)||110||Listening: 22|
*Previously known as the Cambridge Certificate of Advanced English or Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE)
†Previously known as the Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English or Cambridge English: Proficiency (CPE)
Your test must have been taken no more than two years before the start date of your course. Our Application Guide provides further information about the English language test requirement.
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.
Interviews are only held with shortlisted candidates. The criteria by which applicants are shortlisted are as follows:
- outstanding academic ability
- proven proficiency in English (in the case of non-native speakers)
- an excellent research proposal.
The interviews are normally held by Skype or telephone and will be with two members of faculty; normally with the potential supervisors.
You will be asked about your academic background, motivations and future career plans. The panel will also discuss your research proposals with you in detail, particularly the research questions and the proposed methodology.
The duration of the interview is around 30 minutes. You are strongly recommended to indicate times during which you will not be available for an interview in your application form.
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 purely 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:
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.
The department runs two seminar series – one on social policy and one on social intervention – during the year, providing the opportunity to hear external expert speakers. In addition, there is a weekly colloquium at which members of the department present and discuss their research, creating an excellent chance for staff and students to learn more about each others’ ideas or receive input on their own research. DPhil students also belong to one of the research groups, an opportunity to explore themed areas in more depth with colleagues with similar interests.
The department’s newly established Methods Hub provides research students with general support on qualitative and quantitative research methods, as well as with more specialised and tailored training. In addition, through the Oxford Social Sciences Division a range of methods-training seminars and summer schools are offered.
The department has its own IT provision and specialist IT support staff. The department’s IT committee is responsible for the oversight of IT provision. You will have access to the Bodleian Social Science Library, in addition to other University libraries, and the centrally provided electronic resources. Some college libraries, such as the Nuffield College Library, may also be open to graduate research students on request.
The department has two rooms designated for graduate research students, one used by social policy students and the other used by social intervention and policy evaluation students. The department aims to provide as much space as possible. You will also be able to book the department’s meeting rooms and lecture rooms if required.
The department has a common room open to both staff and students. Barnett House Thursdays - coffee mornings - are held fortnightly and these occasions provide excellent opportunities for talking to academics and research staff, and fellow students.
The University expects to be able to offer up to 1,000 full or partial graduate scholarships across the collegiate University in 2021-22. You will be automatically considered for the majority of Oxford scholarships, if you fulfil the eligibility criteria and submit your graduate application by the relevant January deadline. Most scholarships are awarded on the basis of academic merit and/or potential.
For further details about searching for funding as a graduate student visit our dedicated Funding pages, which contain information about how to apply for Oxford scholarships requiring an additional application, details of external funding, loan schemes and other funding sources. Please ensure that you visit individual college websites for details of college-specific funding opportunities using the links provided on our college pages.
Further information about funding opportunities for this course can be found on the department's website.
Annual fees for entry in 2021-22
Annual Course fees
|Home (UK, Republic of Ireland,|
Channel Islands & Isle of Man)
|Overseas (including EU)||£24,450|
Annual Course fees
|Home (UK, Republic of Ireland,|
Channel Islands & Isle of Man)
|Overseas (including EU)||£12,223|
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.
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, depending on your choice of research topic and the research required to complete it, you may incur additional expenses, such as travel expenses, research expenses, and field trips. Students may also wish to attend or present their work at academic conferences. You will need to meet these additional costs, although you may be able to apply for small grants from your department and/or college to help you cover some of these expenses.
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, depending on your choice of research topic and the research required to complete it, you may incur further additional expenses, such as travel expenses, research expenses, and field trips. You will need to meet these additional costs, although you may be able to apply for small grants from your department and/or college to help you cover some of these expenses.
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 2021-22 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,175 and £1,710 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 2021-22, 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.
All graduate students at Oxford belong to a department or faculty and a college or hall (except those taking non-matriculated courses). If you apply for a place on this course you will have the option to express a preference for one of the colleges listed below, or you can ask us to find a college for you. The Colleges section of this website provides information about the college system at Oxford, as well as factors you may wish to consider when deciding whether to express a college preference. Please note that ‘college’ and ‘colleges’ refers to all 45 of the University’s colleges, including those designated as Permanent Private Halls (PPHs).
For some courses, the department or faculty may have provided some additional advice below to help you to decide. Whatever you decide, it won’t affect how the academic department assesses your application and whether they decide to make you an offer. If your department makes you an offer of a place, you’re guaranteed a place at one of our colleges.
The following colleges accept students for full-time study on this course:
How to apply
The department is interested in applicants with proposals in the areas of its research expertise and interest. Therefore, you are strongly advised to learn more about the department's supervisory expertise by researching the profiles of academic staff on the DSPI website.
However, it is optional to make contact with a potential supervisor before you apply.
The set of documents you should send with your application to this course comprises the following:
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.
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.
A maximum of 2,000 words
You should submit a detailed outline of your proposed research, written in English, covering areas such as the background to the research, methodology, expected results and the contribution to the field of learning.
If possible, please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.
This will be assessed for:
- the coherence of the proposal
- the academic interest of the project
- ability to present a reasoned case in English
- the feasibility of completing the project in the time available.
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 at this moment.
Two essays, a maximum of 2,500 words each
Academic essays or other writing samples from your most recent qualification, written in English, are required. Extracts of the requisite length from longer work are also permissible.
Sole-authored writing samples are strongly preferred; should you choose to submit co-authored materials, you must have been solely responsible for writing the material submitted to us as a sample.
The topic of the work does not need to relate directly to the proposed subject of study. The word count does not need to include any bibliography or brief footnotes.
If possible, please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.
This will be assessed for a comprehensive understanding of the subject area; understanding of problems in the area; ability to construct and defend an argument; ability of analytical thinking; powers of analysis and clarity of expression.
References/letters of recommendation:
Three overall, all of which must be 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.
Your references will support intellectual ability, academic achievement and motivation for the chosen area of study.
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).