K M Enayet Hossain
13 July, 2023

5 mins min read


Postgraduate Research course

UK universities offer research masters, academic doctorate and professional doctorate courses as postgraduate research qualifications. The Research Excellence Framework (REF) of UK assesses the quality of research in UK higher education institutions for international benchmark.

UK universities offer Postgraduate Research (PGR) courses at both master’s level and doctorate level. A Postgraduate Research (PGR) course qualifies students with a research-based higher degree. A PGR programme comprising a research component (including a requirement to produce original work) which is larger in terms of student effort than any accompanying taught component.

PGR degrees give you the opportunity for more independent study, with the chance to focus on more detailed research or projects. You will receive support and guidance from an expert supervisor throughout the course, but the focus of your programme will be on your own research work.

Usually, a UK Postgraduate Research master’s degree takes 1 year full-time study while a UK Postgraduate Research doctorate degree takes 3 to 4 years full-time study to complete. PGR masters are RQF level 7 while PGR doctorate courses are RQF level 8 qualifications.

Regular intakes at UK universities to study a PGR course are September and January. However, many UK universities have interim intakes and a few universities allow students to start it anytime of the year if an appropriate supervisor is available.

Types of Postgraduate Research (PGR) courses taken by international students include:

  • MAD (Master of Arts by Dissertation)
  • MPhil (Master of Philosophy)
  • MRes (Master of Research)
  • MSD (Master of Science by Dissertation)
  • MD (Doctor of Medicine)
  • MLitt (Master of Letters)
  • BusD (Doctor of Business)
  • DBA (Doctor of Business Administration)
  • DBMS (Doctor of Biomedical Science)
  • DSW (Doctor of Social Work)
  • DClinPsy (Doctor of Clinical Psychology)
  • EdD (Doctor of Education)
  • EngD (Doctor of Engineering)
  • DHSci (Doctor of Health Science)
  • DHSC (Doctor of Health and Social Care)
  • DPharm (Doctor of Pharmacy)
  • DPhil (Doctor of Philosophy)
  • PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
  • DProf (Doctor of Professional Studies)
  • DrPH (Doctor of Public Health)
  • LLD (Doctor of Laws)
  • VetMD (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine)
  • Integrated Doctorate (1+3: MPhil + PhD/DPhil)

Study in the UK – Key Information

Academic level
Level 7 to Level 8

Qualification type
Postgraduate Taught course

Study mode
Full-time, part-time or on-line

1 year to 4 years

Throughout the year*


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Most popular postgraduate research degree courses

Postgraduate taught master’s degrees can be studied in host of subject areas, depending on your previous study area and/or work experience. International students most popular choices for master’s course in the UK include:

  • African Studies
  • Agriculture
  • Anthropology
  • Arabic & Islamic Studies
  • Archaeology
  • Architecture
  • Arts & Humanities
  • Biochemistry
  • Business Studies
  • Business Administration
  • Biological Science
  • Biomedical Science
  • Cancer Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Child Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Computer Science
  • Counselling
  • Criminology
  • Data Science
  • Development Studies
  • Earth Science
  • Economics
  • Education
  • Engineering
  • Environment
  • Film Studies
  • Finance
  • Fine Art
  • Food Security
  • Gender Studies
  • Government
  • Health Studies
  • Health Economics
  • History &Cultures
  • Geography
  • Global Studies
  • Information Security
  • International Development
  • International Studies
  • Law & Legal Studies
  • Linguistics
  • Management Studies
  • Mathematics
  • Marketing
  • Marine Science
  • Media Studies
  • Medicine
  • Medical Science
  • Mental Health
  • Microbiology
  • Modern Languages
  • Molecular Genetics
  • Musculoskeletal Biology
  • Music
  • Neurological Science
  • Nursing
  • Performing Arts
  • Pharmacy
  • Philosophy
  • Physics
  • Politics
  • Psychology
  • Public Health
  • Social Work
  • Sociology and Social Policy
  • Speech & Language Therapy
  • Sport & Exercise
  • Theology & Religion
  • Virology
  • War Studies
  • Work, Employment & Organisation

Postgraduate Research (PGR) course duration

Course type Course duration (Full time)
Research masters 1 year
Research Doctorate 3 years
Integrated Doctorate 4 years

Postgraduate Research (PGR) course tuition fees

Tuition fees guide for Postgraduate Research (PGR) course in the UK

Range Tuition fees (GBP)
Low bands £14,000 to £20,000
High bands* £20,000 to £40,000

* Laboratory based courses, bench fees, clinical courses, Russell Group universities etc.

Progression Route

Further Postgraduate Research (PGR) degree, progress to academic career as senior research fellow, associate or professor, senior researcher position, laboratory management position, scientist or research analyst with research councils or organisations

12 main reasons to study a Postgraduate Research (PGR) course in the UK for international students

  • In a research master’s course you can specialise on one topic that interests you most
  • A research master’s course will give you a headstart for your doctorate course with detailed insights of your research area
  • Research courses will develop your ability to search for, locate, extract, analyse, interpret, review, organise and evaluate data and information methodically
  • You will gain investigative, application of logic, critical thinking, analytical techniques, questioning, forming hypotheses, finding solutions transferrable skills
  • Research students develop excellent team-working, time maintenance, entrepreneurial, leadership professional and communication soft skills
  • You will get to practice ethical issues, originality, accountability, transparency, responsibilities in your work
  • With a doctorate degree, you will be entitled to use ‘Dr’ title before your name
  • A doctorate degree will make you an elite member of worldwide scholarly community and set professional network hubs for you
  • International students will be able to bring their dependants in the UK when studying a research master’s or a doctorate course
  • Research students will have great chance to work as research assistants while studying and potential job offer at university after completion
  • You will get the right of 2 years graduate visa with a research master’s degree and 3 years with a research doctorate degree
  • A research degree will be a valuable passport to enter into highly skilled work visa in the UK and highly demanding jobs internationally

Want to study Postgraduate research course in the UK?

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)s

Q What is an MAD/MSD (Masters by Dissertation) course?

A An MRes is a RQF level 7 Postgraduate Research master’s course and requires to present the results of research carried out during the approved period of study and should demonstrate advanced understanding of the area of study. The course does not have any taught components like regular taught masters. In An MAD/MSD course, you’ll conduct independent research which you will then write up a dissertation, present and defend it in an oral examination, viva voce.

Q What is an MRes (Master by Research) course?

A An MRes is a RQF level 7 Postgraduate Research master’s course and involves undertaking a research project at Master’s level but places more emphasis on research skills than a traditional taught master’s degree. For students who wish to proceed to doctoral research, MRes study can be an excellent preparation for them. In An MRes course, you’ll conduct independent research which you will then write up as a thesis and present in an oral examination - also known as viva voce.

Q What is an MPhil (Master of Philosophy) course?

A An MPhil is a RQF level 7 Postgraduate Research master’s course which is considered as precursor of the PhD. It is normally a full-time one year course, can be studied as a stand-alone course or as part of an integrated doctorate course. In an MPhil course you will need to critically investigate and evaluate an approved topic, write a thesis and then present and defend this thesis by viva voce.

Q What is a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) course?

A A PhD also known as DPhil is a RQF level 8 Postgraduate Research doctorate course and considered as the highest level of degree that a student can achieve. It is normally a full time three year course in the UK. Students studying for a PhD are required to produce original research that expands the boundaries of knowledge, normally in the form of a thesis, and defend their work before a panel of other experts in the viva voce examination. On completion of a PhD degree, you will be entitled to use ‘Dr’ title before your name.

Q What are DProf (Professional Doctorate) courses?

A Professional Doctorate courses are Postgraduate Research degrees at RQF level 8. These programmes take several different forms, but have in common the integration of professional and academic knowledge in a qualification which, whilst equivalent in status and challenge to a PhD, is designed for those pursuing professional rather than academic careers. In DProf courses, you will require to submit a thesis and defend it in viva voce examination. Like a PhD graduate, you can use ‘Dr’ title once you qualify with a professional doctorate course.

Q What is a PhD by publication?

A A PhD by publication is a postgraduate research degree that's based on research you've already undertaken over a significant period of time (at least five to ten years) and have a number of publications arising from this work which have already been published. As well as submitting the published work, candidates for the PhD by Publication need to prepare a critical analysis of around 15,000 words and to undertake an oral examination (viva) on the critical analysis and the published work. The course is normally a part-time one and are available to faculty members.

Q What is an MD (Doctor of Medicine) course?

A The Doctor of Medicine (MD) is a doctoral degree open to medical graduates and practitioners (technically, anyone holding a medical qualification that meets registration requirements with the General Medical Council). It is usually laboratory-based though it will focus on a specific clinical research topic. It is equivalent in requirements and format to the PhD.

Q What is an Integrated Doctorate course?

A An Integrated Doctorate is a four-year full-time postgraduate research programme. Integrated Doctorates are referred to as ‘New Route’, ‘4 year’ or ‘1+3’ (MPhil + PhD/DPhil) programmes. Unlike stand-alone PhD graduates, Integrated Doctorate students will graduate with two separate qualifications: i) a RQF level 7 MPhil degree and ii) a RQF level 8 PhD/DPhil degree.

Q What documents I may need to apply for a postgraduate research course?

A To apply for a postgraduate research course, you will normally require the following documents including –

  • Certificate and official transcripts of your previous degree/s
  • English language proficiency certificate
  • Details of two referees or two reference letters dated within last 2 years
  • A research proposal
  • A personal statement
  • Up-to-date academic CV
  • A portfolio of artwork or samples of your written work (if applicable)
  • Published work i.e. book, journal, article etc. (if any)
Q What is a research proposal?

A Your application for PhD and postgraduate research masters courses must be supported by a written proposal for your theses. In the proposal, you should give clear, academically sound, description of the area that you intend to work in and the type of research that you are looking to undertake. The research proposal should describe ‘what’ you will investigate, ‘why’ it is important to investigate those and ‘how’ you will conduct the investigation. This will help universities to understand your interests, assess your ability to successfully complete a PhD or Postgraduate research masters courses and find an appropriate supervisor for you.

As a general guideline, a research proposal should be around 2,000 to 3,000 words that you write to outline the project you want to undertake – it is a concise and coherent summary of your proposed research for your theses.

Your research proposal aims should be centred on –

  • Relevance
  • Context
  • Approach
  • Feasibility
Q What should be the format of a research proposal for a successful PhD application?

A There is no formal structure for proposal; as a general guideline you may follow the following structure and suggestions that get positive outcomes –

  • A working title
  • Introduction
  • Literature review
  • Key research questions
  • Research design and methods
  • Significance of the research
  • Work plan and timescale
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography or reference list
Q What should I include in the research design and methodology section of the research proposal?

A The research design and methodology is the most important part of the research proposal. The section should cover answers for questions as outlined below –

Research type
  • Are you going to perform qualitative or quantitative research? Combination of both?
  • Will you collect original data or work with primary/secondary sources?
  • Is your research design descriptive, correlational or experimental? Something completely different?
  • If you are undertaking your own study, when and where will you collect the data? How will you select subjects or sources? Ethics review? Exactly what or who will you study?
Research methods
  • What tools and procedures will you use (e.g. systematic reviews, surveys, interviews, observation, experiments, bibliographic data) to collect your data?
  • What tools/methods will you use to analyse your data?
  • Why are these the best methods to answer your research question(s)? This is where you should justify your choices.
  • How much time will you need to collect the data?
  • How will you gain access to participants and sources?
  • Do you foresee any potential obstacles and if so, how will you address them?
Q How are Postgraduate Research (PGR) courses assessed for degree awards?

A The assessment of Postgraduate Research (PGR) courses for degree awards involve –

  • Peer review
  • Examination of written thesis
  • Viva voce examination to discuss and defend the thesis
Q What is the difference between thesis and a dissertation?

A A thesis is the acquisition and dissemination of new knowledge of learned and existing information, while the purpose of a dissertation is to develop a personal unique and original concept in a particular area of research.

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