Saturday, July 13, 2013

Earning a PhD Degree from a UK University Without Moving to England

Are you interested in working on a UK research PhD without moving to Great Britain? The openings are limited and you need to know the options and the application process. The program is rigorous and usually takes approximately 6-7 years part-time. These are not “seminary” PhDs, but “university” degrees that prepare you for a career as an academic.


Here are seven universities in the UK that work with American students. One may be a match for you.

Nazarene Theological College validated by University of Manchester
Cliff College validated by University of Manchester
Spurgeon’s College validated by the University of Manchester
St Johns Nottingham validated by University of Chester
Wales Evangelical School of Theology validated by the University of Chester
Highland Theological College validate by University of Aberdeen
London School of Theology validated by University of Middlesex
Trinity College validated by the University of Bristol


You work with the first school, but receive your degree from the latter school. This is known as the validation system in the UK. So your first step is to get on the first school's website. Second, go to the "postgraduate" link. Read about the PhD application process, etc. Third, contact via email the professor in your desired field.  Fourth, tell him/her of your research interests. It is best to be specific. Unlike American dissertations that are often topic-driven, most UK dissertations are "thesis-driven." That means you state a proposition or thesis and then seek to prove it. For example, my thesis was: “The Lord’s Supper during the first century CE was an anti-imperial practice.” Fifth, ask the professor if s/he would be interested in supervising such a project. Sixth, make formal application to the validating school and the degree awarding university. The academic year in the UK usually begins in October.

Some UK schools such as University of Durham and the University of Wales work directly with the PhD student instead of using a validating institution. This allows them to control the quality of the research.


Since you will be working with the same supervisor for a half dozen years, it is important to find one with whom you can work. This means finding a supervisor who 1) likes Americans, 2) is available to answer your questions, 3) has patience working with someone unfamiliar with the British system, 4) is as concerned with your success as much as s/he is with their own publication schedule, and 5) is an encourager, 6) recommends resources, 7) reads your chapters and offers a critical evaluation, and 8) guides you through each step of the PhD process.


These are not distance education degrees, but research degrees. You receive the same degree as those who decide to reside on campus. You work with the same supervisors, write the same quality thesis (dissertation), and orally defend your thesis (a process known as a viva voca). But instead of being on campus, you meet regularly with your supervisor through Skype, email, etc. Some schools require you to visit campus once a year or once every two years, but others do not. Many meetings between students and supervisors take place at the annual Society of Biblical Literature conference, which convenes in different American cities each year.

Be forewarned, a UK research degree is not for the faint of heart. As one Oxford scholar said, “American PhD programs are a mile wide and an inch deep. UK programs are an inch wide and a mile deep.” This means American PhD graduates are more generalists and UK PhD graduates are more specialists. American PhD programs are more structured and require a student to take classes in a variety of subjects (usually 48 credits hours), plus write a dissertation. UK PhD programs require a student to spend the equivalent amount of time conducting narrowly focused research toward the thesis. There are no classroom requirements, even for full-time students who live on campus.


Typically, UK programs offer no financial assistance to Americans. So expect to pay the full tuition, which can run as high as 6,000 British pounds per year. Additional costs might include travelling expenses to SBL cities and/or to Great Britain: airfare, lodging, meals, and land transportation, etc.


You should only submit your thesis after your supervisor believes your research is PhD worthy. The degree-granting university will then select two scholars to critically read your thesis and examine you on its content. One will be an internal reader from the university. The other will be an external reader from another UK university. One will likely be an expert in your area of research and both will be scholars in your particular discipline (NT, theology, church history, etc.). A date will be set and you will meet for the viva voca, which will involve a 2-3 hour period of intense questioning to determine if you can defend your thesis and elaborate on your research. At the end of the viva voca, you will step outside the room while the examiners discuss the thesis and your responses. You will be called back into the room and given the verdict. Your thesis will be assigned one of the following grades: 1) Pass “as is” without need for revisions or further clarifications; 2) Pass with minor revisions which must be completed and submitted within three months; 3) Pass with significant revisions, which must be completed and submitted within one year; 4) Major rewrite, which must be completed and submitted within two years along with taking another viva voca; 5) Not acceptable or the possible award of MPhil instead of PhD. Your goal is to attain one of the first three evaluations.


Over the past few years, I have recommended four American students for UK PhD programs who were accepted and matriculated into the program. However, only one earned a degree. The others dropped out. All were smart enough to complete the program, but they lacked either self-confidence and/or self-discipline, or else, faced time constraints. So, count the cost before you apply.

If you are a self-starter, inquisitive, thick skinned, academically able to do original research, have a history of meeting deadlines, work well with a supervisor, and do not get discouraged easily, you may be the ideal candidate.

An American or UK PhD program—which is best for you? That depends on your goals, aptitude, interest, personality, work schedule, finances, etc. The Lord will guide you in your selection of the right doctoral program.

If you have any further questions, feel free to write me.


Unknown said...

I am totally impressed with this. So keep posting.

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Unknown said...

As concern as preparing phd thesis online, I would say that you must only submit your thesis after your supervisor believes your research is PhD worthy specially because the degree-granting university will then select two scholars to critically read your thesis and examine you on its content.

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