DPhil in Social Policy
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 within and across 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 an original 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 six-eight 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.
As a part-time student you will be required to attend classes/seminars/research groups/supervision meetings and other obligations in Oxford for a minimum of 30 days each year. There will be limited flexibility in the dates and pattern of attendance, which will be determined by mutual agreement with your supervisor.
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 part-time PRS student, you will be expected to apply for, and achieve, 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 be achieved 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 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.
For further information please see our page on changes to courses and the provisions of the student contract regarding 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 Department of Social Policy and Intervention
Entry requirements for entry in 2023-24
Proven and potential academic excellence
As a minimum, applicants should hold or be predicted to achieve the following UK qualifications or their equivalent:
- 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.
English language proficiency
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, including the 'Home Edition'
(Institution code: 0490)
*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.
Declaring extenuating circumstances
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.
You will need to register three referees who can give an informed view of your academic ability and suitability for the course. The How to apply section of this page provides details of the types of reference that are required in support of your application for this course and how these will be assessed.
You will be required to supply supporting documents with your application, including an official transcript and a CV/résumé. The How to apply section of this page provides details of the supporting documents that are required as part of your application for this course 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
- an excellent research proposal
- proven proficiency in English (in the case of non-native speakers)
The interviews are normally held online or by telephone and will be with two members of faculty; normally with the potential supervisor involved.
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.
How your application is assessed
Your application will be assessed purely on your proven and potential academic excellence and other entry requirements published under that heading. References and supporting documents submitted as part of your application, and your performance at interview (if interviews are held) will be considered as part of the assessment process.
An overview of the shortlisting and selection process is provided below. Our 'After you apply' pages provide more information about how applications are assessed.
Shortlisting and selection
Students are considered for shortlisting and selected for admission without regard to age, disability, gender reassignment, marital or civil partnership status, pregnancy and maternity, race (including colour, nationality and ethnic or national origins), religion or belief (including lack of belief), sex, sexual orientation, as well as other relevant circumstances including parental or caring responsibilities or social background. However, please note the following:
- socio-economic information may be taken into account in the selection of applicants and award of scholarships for courses that are part of the University’s pilot selection procedure and for scholarships aimed at under-represented groups;
- country of ordinary residence may be taken into account in the awarding of certain scholarships; and
- protected characteristics may be taken into account during shortlisting for interview or the award of scholarships where the University has approved a positive action case under the Equality Act 2010.
Whether or not you have secured funding will not be taken into consideration when your application is assessed.
Processing your data for shortlisting and selection
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.
Other factors governing whether places can be offered
The following factors will also govern whether candidates can be offered places:
- the ability of the University to provide the appropriate supervision for your studies, as outlined under the 'Supervision' heading in the About section of this page;
- the ability of the University to provide appropriate support for your studies (eg through the provision of facilities, resources, teaching and/or research opportunities); and
- minimum and maximum limits to the numbers of students who may be admitted to the University's taught and research programmes.
Offer conditions for successful applications
If you receive an offer of a place at Oxford, your offer will outline any conditions that you need to satisfy and any actions you need to take, together with any associated deadlines. These may include academic conditions, such as achieving a specific final grade in your current degree course. These conditions will usually depend on your individual academic circumstances and may vary between applicants. Our After you apply pages provide more information about offers and conditions.
In addition to any academic conditions which are set, you will also 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 several seminar series on social policy, social intervention, and on methodologies– 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 department's research groups, which provide an opportunity to present their work and explore themed areas in more depth with colleagues with similar interests.
The department’s 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 Thursday 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 around 1,000 full or partial graduate scholarships across the collegiate University in 2023-24. 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 December or 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 any college-specific funding opportunities using the links provided on our college pages or below:
Please note that not all the colleges listed above may accept students on this course. For details of those which do, please refer to the College preference section of this page.
Further information about funding opportunities for this course can be found on the department's website.
Annual fees for entry in 2023-24
Annual Course fees
Further details about fee status eligibility can be found on the fee status webpage.
Annual Course fees
Further details about fee status eligibility can be found on the fee status webpage.
Information about course fees
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 changes 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.
Where can I find further information about fees?
The Fees and Funding section of this website provides further information about course fees, including information about fee status and eligibility and your length of fee liability.
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 2023-24 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,290 and £1,840 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 2023-24, it is suggested that you allow for potential increases in living expenses of 5% or more each year – although this rate may vary significantly depending on how the national economic situation develops. UK inflationary increases will be kept under review and this page updated.
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:
The following colleges accept students for part-time study on this course:
Before you apply
Our guide to getting started provides general advice on how to prepare for and start your application. Check the deadlines on this page and the information about deadlines in our Application Guide. If it's important for you to have your application considered under a particular deadline – eg under a December or January deadline in order to be considered for Oxford scholarships – we recommend that you aim to complete and submit your application at least two weeks in advance.
Application fee waivers
An application fee of £75 is payable per course application. Application fee waivers are available for the following applicants who meet the eligibility criteria:
- applicants from low-income countries;
- refugees and displaced persons;
- UK applicants from low-income backgrounds; and
- applicants who applied for our Graduate Access Programmes in the past two years and met the eligibility criteria.
You are encouraged to check whether you're eligible for an application fee waiver before you apply.
Readmission for current Oxford graduate taught students
If you're currently studying for an Oxford graduate taught course and apply to this course with no break in your studies, you may be eligible to apply to this course as a readmission applicant. The application fee will be waived for an eligible application of this type. Check whether you're eligible to apply for readmission.
Do I need to contact anyone before I 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.
You are strongly recommended to make contact with a potential supervisor before you apply.
Completing your application
You should refer to the information below when completing the application form, paying attention to the specific requirements for the supporting documents. If any document does not meet the specification, including the stipulated word count, your application may be considered incomplete and not assessed by the academic department. Expand each section to show further details.
Proposed field and title of research project
Under the 'Field and title of research project' please enter your proposed field or area of research if this is known. If the department has advertised a specific research project that you would like to be considered for, please enter the project title here instead.
You should not use this field to type out a full research proposal. You will be able to upload your research supporting materials separately if they are required (as described below).
Under 'Proposed supervisor name' enter the name of the academic (s) who you would like to supervise your research.
You can list up to four proposed supervisors and you should list them in order of preference, or indicate equal preference.
Please note, the department offers two distinct DPhils (DPhil in Social Policy, and DPhil in Social Intervention and Policy Evaluation). Members of the faculty can only act as supervisors for one of these programmes.
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.
If you are currently studying on another graduate course, we strongly suggest that one of your references be from your current academic supervisor.
Please contact your referees well in advance of the application deadline to give sufficient time for references to be prepared and submitted.
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.
Personal statement and research proposal:
Statement of a maximum of 1,000 words and proposal of a maximum of 2,000 words
Your personal statement and research proposal should be submitted as a single, combined document with clear subheadings. Please ensure that the word counts for each section are clearly visible in the document.
Your personal statement should outline how your planned project fits with, or emerged out of your career or studies to date and also how it fits with your future intentions.
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.
This will be assessed for:
- the coherence of the proposal
- the academic fit and contribution 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. Please be advised that the department is unable to accept one essay of 5,000 words in substitution of two essays of 2,500 words. Please also note that internal checks are carried out on all submitted writing samples to ensure compliance with length requirements, and over-length submissions can cause errors or delays.
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.
Start or continue your application
You can start or return to an application using the relevant link below. As you complete the form, please refer to the requirements above and consult our Application Guide for advice. You'll find the answers to most common queries in our FAQs.