About the course
The Doctor of Philosophy (DPhil) in Sustainable Urban Development is a part-time doctoral programme that provides outstanding students an opportunity to pursue in-depth and rigorous research about the pressing challenges of urban sustainability and the processes of environmental, economic, and social development in urban environments around the world.
Students admitted to the programme are usually motivated to undertake detailed research in preparation for an academic career and other research-intensive occupations; to have a substantial impact on future policy-making processes; or to pursue and/or advance their professional career at organisations and institutions operating in the field of sustainable urban development. The course provides support and an intellectual environment by leading scholars in the field to pursue your own independent research.
Pattern of teaching and learning
This is a part-time DPhil programme, taken over a minimum of four years and a maximum of eight years. You are required to have a good general knowledge of the field within which research falls, and of the methods appropriate to the study of this field. Throughout the period of study, you will be part of a thriving international graduate community of students engaged with sustainable urban development, including students on the part-time MSc in Sustainable Urban Development.
Students are expected to attend the programme’s two doctoral training weeks each academic year (usually held in October and June), and to contribute to additional online research and reading seminars. Students should meet regularly with their supervisor during their doctoral research – usually once or twice a term - but also will be motivated and capable of maintaining consistent independent and self-directed studies throughout the year.
As a part-time student you will be required to attend course activities and related obligations in Oxford for a minimum of 30 days each year.
There will be flexibility in the dates of attendance, which will be determined by mutual agreement with your supervisor. You will have the opportunity to tailor your part-time study and pattern of in-person attendance in liaison with your supervisor. It is expected that you will join all online course activities during your period of study.
The allocation of graduate supervision for this course is the responsibility of the Department for Continuing Education 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 for Continuing Education.
Students admitted to this degree will conduct their own research under the guidance of a University supervisor, who will advise on all aspects of training, development and academic progress. In being admitted to the degree you must be prepared to work independently a good deal, and you will need considerable personal motivation.
In the case of students admitted to the DPhil who require specific help to adjust to an academic programme or to a new range of skills, the supervisor will work with them to ensure that they have additional support.
Students on the DPhil are required to attend a minimum of 30 days of university-based work each year for the duration of your studies, usually that involves meeting their supervisor once a term.
Students will be admitted initially as a Probationary Research Student (PRS), in line with University regulations on doctorates. During the probationary period, you will develop and begin work on the thesis topic. You will develop research skills through a range of training and skills development primarily offered via the Department for Continuing Education Graduate School, as well as across the University.
Students must apply for a Transfer of Status from PRS to DPhil status between the sixth and the eighth academic term after admission, each academic year at Oxford having three terms. This involves the submission of a piece of written work that is examined by two assessors, neither of whom will be your supervisors. This process is to ensure that your work is of potential DPhil quality and that the methodology of the research is appropriate and feasible. Upon successful completion of the Transfer of Status, you would usually undertake a period of primary fieldwork/data collection over one to two years.
You will also be required to apply for a Confirmation of Status as DPhil sometime between the twelfth and eighteenth term after admission. This will also involve the submission of a piece of written work that is assessed by two assessors, neither of whom will be your supervisors. The Confirmation of Status assessment is different to the Transfer of Status assessment as the assessors will be focusing on how the research is progressing, the quality of the draft chapters/papers, and on the plan for completion. The assessors will be looking to ensure that you are making the appropriate amount of progress in the development of your thesis, so that thesis submission will be achieved within the time limit.
You will be expected to submit a substantive academic thesis of around 100,000 words after the eighteenth or, at most, twenty-fourth term from the date of admission. To be successfully awarded a DPhil in Sustainable Urban Development you will need to defend your thesis orally (viva voce) in front of two appointed examiners.
It is expected that students will already be in employment, working within some area related to urban development. The DPhil may enhance professional practice, career prospects and help secure promotions and other opportunities.
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.
Courses suggested by the department
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 with distinction overall, or a distinction grade on the dissertation as a minimum, in a discipline relevant to sustainable urban development; and
- a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours in any discipline.
For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA normally sought is 3.7 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
No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or GMAT scores are sought.
Other qualifications, evidence of excellence and relevant experience
- As this is a part-time DPhil, it is anticipated (although not required) that many applicants will have professional experience in a field relevant to sustainable urban development.
- No publications are expected or required.
- It is essential that applications be submitted as early as possible and to ensure that all required materials are submitted by the advertised deadlines.
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 for the candidates who meet the admissions criteria and present a promising research proposal.
The department endeavours to hold interviews within six weeks of application deadline.
Interviews may be held via Microsoft Teams, at the discretion of the Programme Director, when travelling to Oxford is difficult or impossible for the candidate within the interview period. The interview will normally last around 30-45 minutes and will be conducted by a minimum of two assessors from the Admissions Panel. Applicants will be asked to discuss the key aims of their research proposal succinctly, explaining the relevance of the research question in the context of existing knowledge and outlining the rationale for the research methods proposed.
The interview will seek to determine whether the applicant:
- recognises the academic rigour required, and has the intellectual capacity and on-going capacity to maintain independent and proactive independent research study to complete a part-time DPhil;
- shows evidence of possessing research methods skills on which to build on in order to conduct the proposed research project;
- shows a good understanding of the relevant debates underpinning the proposed area of study; and
- has independently assessed which academic(s) would be a relevant doctoral supervisor.
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 Rewley House Continuing Education Library, one of the Bodleian Libraries, is situated in Rewley House. The department aims to support the wide variety of subjects covered by departmental courses at many academic levels. The department also has a collection of around 73,000 books together with periodicals. PCs in the library give access to the internet and the full range of electronic resources subscribed to by the University of Oxford. Wifi is also available. The Jessop Reading Room adjoining the library is available for study. You will have access to the Central Bodleian and other Bodleian Libraries.
The Graduate School provides a stimulating and enriching learning and research environment for the department's graduate students, fostering intellectual and social interaction between graduates of different disciplines and professions from the UK and around the globe. The Graduate School will help you make the most of the wealth of resources and opportunities available, paying particular regard to the support and guidance needed if you are following a part-time graduate programme. The department’s graduate community comprises over 700 members following taught programmes and more than 80 undertaking doctoral research.
The department provides various IT facilities, including the Student Computing Facility which provides individual PCs for your use. Many of the department's courses are delivered through blended learning or have a website to support face-to-face study. In most cases, online support is delivered through a virtual learning environment.
Depending on the programme you are taking with the department, you may require accommodation at some point in your student career. Rewley House is ideally located in central Oxford; the city's historic sites, colleges, museums, shops and restaurants are only a few minutes’ walk away. The department has 35 en-suite study bedrooms, all with high quality amenities, including internet access.
The Rewley House dining room has seating for up to 132 people. A full meal service is available daily. The department operates a Common Room with bar for 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.
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.
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 on the DPhil in Sustainable Urban Development:
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. We recommend that you submit your application well in advance - two or three weeks earlier.
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.
Contacting the department
You do not need to make contact with the department before you apply but you are encouraged to visit the relevant departmental webpages to read any further information about your chosen course.
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).
If known, under 'Proposed supervisor name' enter the name of the academic(s) who you would like to supervise your research. Otherwise, leave this field blank.
Three overall, of which at least two 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.
Whilst it is recommended that all references be from experienced scholars and teachers of graduate students, one professional reference is acceptable.
Your references will support your intellectual ability, academic achievement, and personal motivation.
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 3,000 words
You should provide a succinct overview of the research project you plan to undertake for your DPhil, written in English.
A suggested structure for your research proposal would include:
- an introduction stating your research question as succinctly as possible and a justification for why this is a significant and interesting question to address;
- a literature review providing a brief overview of the existing literature, both theoretical and topic specific, stating how your research fits within that literature, and showing the contribution your research will make to existing knowledge;
- a research methodology outlining how you will answer the research question, which should make reference to overall methodological approach, case selection (where a case is used), data to be collected, and methods of data collection and analysis;
- a schedule of work outlining a preliminary timeline leading to the completion of the research project; and
- a bibliography of the works cited in the research proposal.
The bibliography and any footnotes should not be included in your word count.
If possible, please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.
The quality of your research proposal is key in assessing your academic ability to undertake doctoral study. The proposal will be assessed for:
- coherence and originality
- evidence of motivation for and understanding of the proposed area of study
- the ability to present a reasoned case
- the feasibility of successfully completing the project in the time available for the course
- preliminary knowledge of research techniques
- capacity for sustained and intense work.
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 methods at this moment.
One essay or other piece of written work, a maximum of 2,000 words
Your written work can be either an essay, a chapter of a thesis, a published scholarly paper, or work written specifically to support your application. Extracts from longer pieces of work are acceptable, but should not come from the same piece of work; and should be prefaced by a note putting it in context. It is not necessary for this piece of written work to relate closely to the chosen area of study.
Your work should be written in English and the word count does not need to include any bibliography or brief footnotes. Please note that multi-authored works are not acceptable.
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
- the ability to construct and defend an argument
- powers of analysis
- powers of expression
- familiarity with the literature on the subject area.