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In addition to our highly successful undergraduate level courses, Politics has a lively postgraduate student community that forms an important part of our research culture. Students are regarded as valued members of the department, able to interact with research-active academic staff and post-doctoral fellows based on campus in Milton Keynes, as well as with other staff and students in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and its associated research centres. Doctoral students in POLIS are also part of the wider graduate community of the School and the Faculty, as well as the University as a whole. There are a range of funding opportunities available for doctoral study, including the Grand Union Doctoral Training Partnership, in collaboration with Oxford and Brunel Universities. The Citizenship Studies pathway of the Grand Union DTP is hosted within the Department.

Considering undertaking a PhD in Politics and International Studies at the OU?

Completing a PhD in the UK typically takes 3 years full time, or 6 years part time. Most of this time will be spent undertaking your own research project, under the supervision of experts in your chosen area. You will also be expected to undertake training designed to support you through the transition into becoming an independent researcher, and help you develop academic and professional skills. When applying for a PhD in Politics, you  will be expected to hold an undergraduate degree (normally, at 2.1 or above) and a masters degree (though the latter might be waived in exceptional circumstances).

As expert supervision is key to successful completion of a PhD, your application will be considered both on the strength of the application and proposal, and on the specialist resources available to supervise the proposed project. If you are thinking about submitting an application for a PhD in Politics and International Studies, you are advised to research the expertise available, for example by considering the supervision areas listed below and reading the profiles of the academic staff, including looking at some of their publications. It is common for students to be supervised by staff working in more than one discipline, so you may also want to search the research interests of staff across the university.

All postgraduate students are provided with two supervisors for the duration of their studies. Supervisors meet regularly with students, acting as academic advisors, providing guidance on research topics, on the skills needed to successfully complete a research degree, on planning research and on writing a thesis. They read and discuss students' work, helping to develop ideas and to encourage critical and independent thinking.

Politics staff are specialists in a wide range of research interests and will consider supervising topics in a number of areas, including: international relations, global politics, feminist theory and practice, British politics and government, the theory and practice of democracy and citizenship, security studies (including issues of borders and migration), environmental politics and justice, and sub-Saharan African politics and development.

PhD Supervision areas

Below is a list of PhD supervision areas. This indicates the broad areas under which your PhD supervision might take place and some of the faculty that you might want to consider as a supervisor. Your project might fit neatly into one of these areas, but equally it might straddle more than one topic areas (indeed you’ll notice that most faculty are working across these subject areas). This is intended only as a broad guide to the sorts of subjects areas that could be supported. If you have any questions about a particular project and where it might fit, please do get in touch with the postgraduate convenor (Dr Geoff Andrews).

International Relations and Global Politics

The Department of Politics & International Studies (POLIS) has an international reputation for research in international relations and global politics. Expertise covers theories of international relations as well as their applications in the Middle East, North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. POLIS members also supervise students interested in critical engagements with mainstream international relations theory, including constructivism, postcolonialism, post-structuralism, Marxism, cosmopolitanism and accounts of governmentality. The institutional topics covered include global governance, international and regional cooperation, international development cooperation, international organisations, international economic governance as well as transnational activist networks, NGOs, civil society organisations and social movements. Specialist topics include human rights, foreign policy, development cooperation and aid relations, minority rights, aid and refugees, borders and migrant rights, and human security.

Potential supervisors

British and Comparative Politics

The Department of Politics & International Studies (POLIS) has an international reputation for research in the areas of British and comparative politics. Within UK politics, supervision is available on the PM and the Core Executive, political leadership, Parliament, political participation, electoral campaigns, the construction of publics and public opinion, third sector and NGO politics, labour unions, environmental organisations, social movements, the politics of dissent and political protest. We also supervise policy areas, drawing on the expertise from other departments, such as social policy, public bodies, local governance, third sector organisations, environmental issues, and social and environmental justice. In comparative politics we have an interest in British, Italian, Spanish and US politics, but also focus on wider questions of global, regional and national governance. These include case studies and comparative research on executive government, executive-legislative relations, electoral systems, political parties, national party links with the European Union, transnational networks and citizen participation as well as on topics such as environmental action, organised protest and the effects of different kinds of borders.

Potential supervisors

Citizenship Studies

The Department of Politics & International Studies (POLIS) has an international reputation in the transformative field of Citizenship Studies, a rapidly developing and influential area of social science. POLIS researchers have been at the cutting edge of this development for over a decade. These innovations include ‘acts of citizenship’, feminist citizenship, practical ecological citizenship, the formation of new political subjects and even problematising the idea of citizenship itself. Researching citizenship involves critical questions of security and social cohesion, rights and duties, entitlements and obligations, justice and fairness, gender and ethnicity/race, inclusion and exclusion, human rights, protecting the vulnerable, migration, asylum and identity. The department encourages applicants who can contribute to this new wave of critical citizenship studies as well as to the transnational and comparative analysis of emerging citizen subject positions (such as indigenous, feminist, postcolonial and ecological citizenship as manifested in local and global movements). If you are interested in undertaking a PhD in Citizenship Studies, you might also want to consider applying as part of the Grand Union Doctoral Training Partnership Citizenship Studies pathway.

Potential supervisors

Democracy and Social Movements

The Department of Politics & International Studies (POLIS) has an international reputation for research in democracy and social movements. Members of POLIS are interested in supervising research on theories of democracy and democratisation; contested conceptualisations of democracy; struggles for democracy and rights; democratic institutions and movements; contentious and activist politics; identity and democratic politics; contemporary social and political movements.

Potential supervisors

Political Ideas

The Department of Politics & International Studies (POLIS) has an international reputation for research in political theory and ideologies, including critical, post-structuralist and normative theory; theories of citizenship; agonistic politics; international political theory; and research on the ideas and actions of social movements (such as ‘slow food’) and environmental justice campaigns. In terms of political concepts, POLIS can supervise students working on citizenship, justice, rights, duties, governance, power, community, ecology, and democracy, to name a few. We also encourage research in continental political philosophy and the intellectual history of political thought. We supervise on a range of political ideologies including transnational discourses and movements (cultural, ecological, gender, human rights, labour and emergent political subject positions), as well as conservative, liberal, labour and utopian discourses in the UK – especially those drawing on empirical cases, institutional practices and lived experience.

Potential supervisors

Current PhD students

Our current and past PhD students are full members of the team.

Further Information for Prospective Students

You are encouraged to approach potential supervisors, or to contact the postgraduate convenor (Dr Geoff Andrews) for suggestions regarding potential supervisors. This is not essential, but it will enable your proposed project to be considered informally and, if there is a fit, for you to be supported in developing a stronger proposal. If you already have a draft proposal, send that along with your enquiry to give faculty members an idea of the kind of research you propose to undertake. If you don’t have a proposal ready, do include a few paragraphs in the email describing your proposed research. As staff are busy, if you want to receive support, you would need to get in touch in plenty of time. The convenor and the faculty will try to respond to you as quickly as possible, but as they receive a high volume of emails, please wait a week or two after you have made your initial contact. If you do not hear back after that, it is fine to send a reminder email.

You will need to submit a research proposal with your formal application. Alison Phipps has written a useful blog post on writing a good PhD proposal in the social sciences. We accept application for 1st October and 1st February start dates. We also offer a number of faculty-funded full-time and part-time studentships every year. When available, they are advertised on the OU’s internal website, and on You will notice that adverts for studentships often specify research areas, which reflect the strategic research areas of the faculty. You may find it useful to spend some time developing your research proposal to fit within the research priorities in the faculty. 

You should submit your application using the central Open University application form and read the guidelines for submission carefully. Information on the application process, including submission dates, funding opportunities, and deadlines. You can find general information about OU research degrees

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