About the course
The MPhil in Politics (Political Theory) is an advanced two-year postgraduate degree, which provides training in research techniques and methodology and enables you to acquire substantive knowledge in this sub-area of the discipline. It is also suitable if you wish to later embark upon doctoral research.
The MPhil in Politics (Political Theory) provides an advanced training in political theory and the history of political thought, in the major contemporary debates, and in the research methods appropriate to the discipline. It provides a range of educational experiences in a variety of learning environments to develop your written and oral communication skills as well as other technical skills. It will also provide you with a solid foundation for a wide range of careers, including academic, professional, commercial, diplomatic and governmental positions.
The DPIR is internationally recognised as a leading centre for teaching and research in political theory, and counts among its members a number of acknowledged authorities within this discipline. It is also home to research centres and programmes within this field, including the Oxford Political Theory Network and the Centre for the Study of Social Justice.
In the first year, you must complete the core classes and tutorials in the theory of politics and a programme of research methods training, which includes core courses in reasoning in political philosophy and in approaches to the study of political theory.
At the end of your first year, you have to sit a three-hour written examination in the core subject and a research design proposal as preparation for the MPhil thesis.
Progression to the second year is conditional on satisfactory performance in the first.
In your second year, you will write a thesis and complete two specialist optional papers. Options offered in recent years have included:
- Political Theories of Hegel and Marx
- Political Theories from Machiavelli to Burke
- Mitigating Historical Injustice
- Contemporary Theories of Liberalism
- Critical Theory
- Contemporary Political Philosophy.
At the end of the course, you are required to sit two three-hour written examinations in the optional papers of your choice and submit a thesis of not more than 30,000 words.
Graduate work in political theory will prepare you for an academic career in the field, either in Oxford or elsewhere, but also the DPIR celebrates the substantial number of its graduates working in government, in diplomatic services, and in senior positions in the private sector.
The DPIR is committed to engaging with its alumni community. The alumni programme is now underway and includes an annual publication ('Inspires’), a website forum, alumni networks and tailored events.
- MPhil in Politics (Comparative Government)
- MPhil in Politics (European Politics and Society)
- MPhil in International Relations
- MSc in Politics Research
- MSc in Political Theory Research
- DPhil in Politics
Changes to the course
The University will seek to deliver this course in accordance with the description set out in this course page. However, there may be situations in which it is desirable or necessary for the University to make changes in course provision, either before or after registration. For further information, please see our page on changes to courses.
Entry requirements for entry in 2018-19
Within equal opportunities principles and legislation, applications will be assessed in the light of an applicant’s ability to meet the following entry requirements:
1. Academic ability
Proven and potential academic excellence
Applicants are normally expected to be predicted or have achieved a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours (or equivalent international qualifications), as a minimum, in political science or international relations, or in a closely related discipline such as economics, history, philosophy, sociology or law.
Nonetheless, each application will be assessed upon its own merits, and so candidates with a degree in an unrelated discipline should demonstrate the relevance of their academic background to their proposed subject or topic of study.
Entrance is very competitive and most successful applicants have a first-class degree or its equivalent.
For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA sought is 3.7 out of 4.0.
If you hold non-UK qualifications and wish to check how your qualifications match these requirements, you can contact the National Recognition Information Centre for the United Kingdom (UK NARIC).
No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or GMAT scores are sought.
Other appropriate indicators will include:
You will be required to supply supporting documents with your application, including references and an official transcript. See 'How to apply' for instructions on the documents you will need and how these will be assessed.
Performance at interview(s)
Interviews are not normally held as part of the admissions process.
Publications are not expected, but a demonstrably peer-reviewed publication in political science or an allied discipline may be taken as prima facie evidence of aptitude for research.
Other qualifications, evidence of excellence and relevant experience
Research or working experience that is relevant to your proposed study may provide further evidence of your academic potential.
2. English language requirement
Applicants whose first language is not English are usually required to provide evidence of proficiency in English at the higher level required by the University.
3. Availability of supervision, teaching, facilities and places
The following factors will govern whether candidates can be offered places:
- The ability of the Department of Politics and International Relations to provide the appropriate supervision, research opportunities, teaching and facilities for your chosen area of work
- Minimum and maximum limits to the numbers of students who may be admitted to Oxford's research and taught programmes.
The provision of supervision, where required, is subject to the following points:
- The allocation of graduate supervision is the responsibility of the Department of Politics and International Relations 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 Politics and International Relations.
Where possible your academic supervisor will not change for the duration of your course. However, it may be necessary to assign a new academic supervisor during the course of study or before registration for reasons which might include sabbatical leave, maternity leave or change in employment.
4. Disability, health conditions and specific learning difficulties
Students are selected for admission without regard to gender, marital or civil partnership status, disability, race, nationality, ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation, age or social background.
Decisions on admission are based solely on the individual academic merits of each candidate and the application of the entry requirements appropriate to the course.
Further information on how these matters are supported during the admissions process is available in our guidance for applicants with disabilities.
All recommendations to admit a student involve the judgment of at least two members of academic staff with relevant experience and expertise, and additionally must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies or Admissions Committee (or equivalent departmental persons or bodies).
Admissions panels or committees will always include at least one member of academic staff who has undertaken appropriate training.
6. Other information
Whether you have yet secured funding is not taken into consideration in the decision to make an initial offer of a place, but please note that the initial offer of a place will not be confirmed until you have completed a Financial Declaration.
The DPIR provides a stimulating research environment in which you can pursue your interests beyond the formal demands of the syllabus.
Many of the academic staff who teach and supervise on the programme also organise extracurricular research seminars for graduate students, such as the Comparative Political Economy seminar, the Constitutional Studies Programme and the Politics Research Colloquium which takes place throughout term.
The DPIR also hosts a wide range of research centres and programmes which actively seek to develop collaborative research activity via conferences, workshops and other academic events, and which include graduate students in their activities.
Research centres provide opportunities for you to present your own work in research seminar series and at conferences in the department and beyond. The research centres have an established and popular visitors’ programme which has allowed many scholars of international repute to participate in the DPIR’s research activities.
The DPIR contains around 40 hot desks that any graduate student may use on a casual basis. Each desk has one active Ethernet point to which you may connect your laptop once it has been registered with the Manor Road Building’s IT Support Office and which give you access to all of the major social science software packages, including STATA, and to the internet, email, file storage and other facilities.
All students are given access to the DPIR and to the open-plan workspace during working hours and regular users may submit an application for twenty-four hour access, subject to attendance at a health and safety induction.
The Social Sciences Library is also located within the Manor Road Building. It houses an extensive collection of literature in all aspects of the Social Sciences and comprises more than 120,000 books and approximately 1,000 journal and series subscriptions.
You also have access to the Bodleian Library, which is one of five copyright libraries within the UK and as such is entitled to receive a copy of every work that is published or distributed in the UK. It also contains an extensive collection of manuscripts and original source materials. Books cannot be borrowed from the Bodleian and must instead be consulted within one of its reading rooms. In addition, nearly 100 college, institute and departmental libraries fall under the auspices of Oxford University Library Services.
There are over 1,100 full graduate scholarships available across the University, and these cover your course and college fees and provide a grant for living costs. If you apply by the relevant January deadline and fulfil the eligibility criteria you will be automatically considered. Over two thirds of Oxford scholarships require nothing more than the standard course application. Use the Fees, funding and scholarship search to find out which scholarships you are eligible for and if they require an additional application, full details of which are provided.
A number of Research Council awards are available each year from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), and Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).
Annual fees for entry in 2018-19
Total annual fees
The fees shown above are the annual tuition and college fees for this course for entry in the stated academic year; for courses lasting longer than one year, please be aware that fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on likely increases to fees and charges.
Tuition and college fees are payable each year for the duration of your fee liability (your fee liability is the length of time for which you are required to pay tuition and college fees).
For more information about tuition fees, college fees and fee liability, please see the Fees section of this website. EU applicants should refer to our dedicated webpage for details of the implications of the UK’s plans to leave the European Union.
There are no compulsory elements of this course that entail additional costs beyond fees and living costs. However, as part of your course requirements, you may need to choose a dissertation, a project or a thesis topic. Please note that, depending on your choice of topic and the research required to complete it, you may incur additional expenses, such as travel and vaccination expenses, conference attendance, 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 tuition and college fees, you will need to ensure that you have adequate funds to support your living costs for the duration of your course.
For the 2018-19 academic year, the range of likely living costs is between c. £1,015 and £1,555 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.
The following colleges accept students on the MPhil in Politics (Political Theory):
- Balliol College
- Brasenose College
- Campion Hall
- Christ Church
- Exeter College
- Green Templeton College
- Harris Manchester College
- Hertford College
- Jesus College
- Keble College
- Kellogg College
- Lady Margaret Hall
- Linacre College
- Lincoln College
- Magdalen College
- Mansfield College
- Merton College
- New College
- Nuffield College
- Oriel College
- Pembroke College
- The Queen's College
- Regent's Park College
- St Anne's College
- St Antony's College
- St Catherine's College
- St Cross College
- St Edmund Hall
- St Hilda's College
- St Hugh's College
- St John's College
- St Peter's College
- Somerville College
- Trinity College
- University College
- Wadham College
- Wolfson College
- Worcester College
How to apply
You are advised to review the profiles of academic staff before you apply as successful applications always depend on the DPIR's capacity to offer appropriate supervision. However, you do not need to contact academic staff members 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.
Statement of purpose:
At least 1,000 words or two pages
Your statement should be written in English and explain your motivation for applying for the course at Oxford, your relevant experience and education, and the specific areas that interest you and/or you intend to specialise in. Please also give an indication of the area of your intended research project.
This suggested length is provided for guidance only and you may exceed it.
This will be assessed for your reasons for applying to this particular MPhil programme; evidence of motivation for and understanding of the proposed area of study; the ability to present a reasoned case in English; the academic attributes that you will bring to the programme; the skills that you hope to gain from the MPhil; commitment to the subject; and the relevance of the MPhil to your future career development plans.
Your statement should focus on your academic objectives and purposes rather than personal achievements, interests and aspirations.
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 of 2,000 words each
You should submit academic essays on any subject or theme within the discipline of politics but preferably ones that relate to your proposed field of study.
The essays may be written specially for the application or may have been produced for other purposes, for instance as a coursework submission within a previous degree programme. Essays that comprise extracts or excerpted sections from longer pieces are acceptable but should be prefaced with a brief note that places them in context.
All written work should be in English. The word count does not need to include any bibliography or brief footnotes.
This will be assessed for understanding of the subject area; understanding of problems in the area; ability to construct and defend an argument; powers of analysis; and powers of expression.
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.
Your application must be supported by academic references, ie each referee should be able to testify to your academic abilities, achievements and motivation. In most cases, the academics who have taught you or who have known your academic work during earlier university-level study will be best placed to testify to these capabilities. When that is not possible, a professional reference from a colleague who has worked with you in a research capacity or is otherwise able to comment on your academic capabilities is acceptable in place of a tutor’s reference.