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Doctor of Social and Public Policy

The professional doctorate is aimed at managers and a wide range of practitioners who are experienced and who are working at senior and middle levels of their professions and organisations. It offers the opportunity to examine contemporary leading theories and research evidence, and to apply these within the professional context.

The professional doctorate is a part-time doctoral research degree. It is fully equivalent to the PhD, but substantially different from it in that it is strongly professionally oriented, focussing on ‘applied’ rather than ‘pure’ research.

While the PhD generally prepares candidates for a research-based career, the professional doctorate is a more in-service orientated degree, addressing the career needs of practising professionals, particularly those in or who aspire to senior positions within their professions. The linkages between research-based knowledge and its application in a wide range of professional settings are central to this doctorate.

We offer an integrated professional doctorate scheme within which education, health, social work and social policy professionals engage together in integrated learning for some of the taught modules. This unique inter-professional learning allows you to reflect on what is shared across professional boundaries and what is distinctive to their own occupational traditions.

Above all, a professional doctorate is an opportunity to examine contemporary leading theories and research evidence, and to apply these within the professional context.

The SPPD taught modules are designed to respond to the developmental needs and interests of those employed within UK regional government and local authorities, as well as research institutions (both statutory and independent) with a professional interest in social and public policy. The modules prepare students to make informed judgements on complex issues such as the successful construction and operation of ‘multi-level’ and ‘inclusive’ governance and its implications for policy-making; negotiating the requirements of equal opportunities legislation; and administration responsibilities in public policy settings. The modules draw on a range of theoretical perspectives and explore empirical studies that relate to the public, private and voluntary sectors.

The other distinctive pathways within the professional doctorate scheme are:

Key facts

Mode of study Part-time
Qualification SPPD
Full-time duration No full-time study available
Part-time duration SPPD 5-7 years
Application deadline(s) Applications are welcomed until 1 June annually.

Your studies with us consists of two elements:

  • Part one: completion of six taught weekend modules, each with a 4,000-word assignment or equivalent tasks. Students are required to submit a draft of the assignment(s) for feedback. The pass mark for each module is 50% and you are required to achieve an overall mark of no less than 60% for all modules collectively in order to progress to the thesis stage of the programme.
  • Part two: research thesis of between 35,000 to 50,000 words in length. The research thesis may focus on any approved topic and is individually supervised by academic staff.

There are two different types of taught modules: four core and two specialist. Your specialist modules will depend on your chosen pathway.

Core modules

  • Changing Modes of Professionalism
  • Research Design
  • Qualitative Research Methods
  • Quantitative Research Methods

Specialist modules

  • Citizenship and Social Policy
  • Evaluation: Developing and Evaluating Interventions in Complex Social Systems

Teaching Methods

Each taught module is delivered over the course of a weekend: teaching starts on Thursday evenings and continues throughout Friday and Saturday. Professional doctorate teaching is carried out through lectures and smaller seminars and workshops where the emphasis is on discussion. Teaching also places emphasis on directed independent study.

Skills Acquired

By the end of the programme, you will have acquired research skills, theoretical capacities, and will have experience of deploying them in a manner appropriate to your particular professional context. These skills include:

  • The ability to analyse practices and policies which affect agencies and client groups in your professional field;
  • The ability to manage innovation and resourceful change in your chosen area;
  • Communicating and working effectively and constructively with other professionals in other disciplines across organisational and service boundaries;
  • The provision of clear leadership, supervision and consultation in your field based on your extensive knowledge, interpersonal skills, explicit values and acknowledgement of the responsibilities within your role;
  • The ability to work independently and be accountable and make constructive and innovative use of consultation and management processes.


The scheme provides a maximum period of candidature of seven years. However, students many complete in as few as five years. This will depend on student’s flexibility and availability for study.

Alternative exit awards

You will be encouraged and supported to complete your full doctoral degree. However, we do offer alternative exit awards for students who are unable to complete their programme of study. These are:

  • Postgraduate Certificate in Professional Practice Studies upon completion of three taught modules;
  • Postgraduate Diploma in Professional Practice Studies upon completion of six taught modules; or
  • MSc in Professional Practice Studies upon completion of six taught modules and submission of a 20,000-word research-based dissertation.

The School of Social Sciences is recognised nationally and internationally as a leading centre for theoretically informed, empirical research, combining inter-disciplinaryworking, impact on policy and practice, and innovative methodological approaches, both qualitative and quantitative. Our expertise encompasses a broad range of topics and themes and we encourage applications in the following areas:

In the most recent Research Excellence Framework exercise (2014), we ranked 3rd and 5th in the uk for the quality of our research in sociology and education respectively. We have the highest per capita external grant capture of any social science school or department in the country.

Amongst our academic staff we have the winner of a Lifetime Achievement Award of the British Sociological Association, a Fellow of the Royal Swedish Academy of Agriculture and Forestry.

Typically professional doctorate candidates are employed when they study with us, although current employment is not a condition of entry.

Graduates are able to further their careers within their employment settings or move beyond these into, for example, Higher Education, policy and planning, and/or research development and management

UK government postgraduate doctoral loans

Candidates for the Professional Doctorate programme may be eligible to apply for a UK government postgraduate doctoral loan.

Find out more about UK government postgraduate doctoral loans


See our latest PhD studentships and projects and find out more about other funding opportunities.

Tuition fees

The fee structure for the professional doctorate programme consists of sixteen modules in total: six taught modules and the equivalent of ten taught modules for the thesis stage. Funding for Professional Doctorate candidates is typically provided by employers, though some students are self-funded.

Students from the UK

Get the latest information on postgraduate fees.

Students from the EU, EEA and Switzerland

Get the latest information on postgraduate fees.

Students from the rest of the world (international)

Get the latest information on postgraduate fees.

The Professional Doctorate scheme has an annual admission date in October and applications are welcomed until 1 June. Late applications will be considered on a case-by-case basis. As part of the application process, applicants are required to provide two references, evidence of qualifications, a personal statement and also a research proposal regarding the research topic they intend to pursue for the thesis stage of their studies.

The module stage of the programme is designed to equip students with a doctoral-level understanding of research design and research methods, and so it is acknowledged that initial ideas about a research topic may well change significantly by the time students progress to the thesis stage. Even so, an outline proposal remains a key part of the application, helping the School to establish the suitability of an applicant for doctoral-level study and to identify the availability of an appropriate personal tutor and prospective supervisors.

In addition to their application form, applicants are required to provide:

  • a personal statement
  • a research proposal to supplement the summary proposal in the application form
  • qualification certificates and transcripts, with translations if needed
  • evidence of meeting the English Language entry requirements
  • two academic references to be requested by the applicant.

Personal statement (approx. 500-800 words)

When planning the structure of your personal statement please consider the following:

  • What are your reasons and motivation for applying to undertake doctoral study? This could include some comments and expectations on doctoral study;
  • What is the relevance of your previous academic and professional learning and experience for a doctoral programme of study? This could include your assessment of the strengths and personal skills that you would bring to your study;
  • Why would now be the right time for you to embark on your doctoral study? This could include information regarding your work and/or personal circumstances and how these would facilitate engagement with study.

Research proposal (approx. 500-1500 words)

The outline description of the proposed research should include:

  1. an indicative title for the proposed study
  2. a brief summary of research that has already been undertaken in the field, addressing key relevant literature and research, and demonstrating engagement with a diverse range of sources
  3. a statement of the aims of the proposed research within the context of 2 above
  4. potential specific research questions to be addressed by the study, ideally no more than two or three
  5. an outline of the proposed research design and methodology, including information on prospective research access, sampling, and methods of data collection - try to include a plan for a three-year timetable
  6. an indicative bibliography.

You must possess a good first degree and usually have completed a master’s degree. You should also have two or more years’ professional experience in a field appropriate to your chosen pathway.

Much of the module learning and associated assignments aim to support applied professional development and you are expected to have experience of - or current access to - professional settings in a field appropriate to your doctoral degree.

English language requirements

A score of 600 on TOEFL (250 on computer-based marking) or band 7.0 on IELTS is required where English is not a first language or for those who have not had a substantial part of their education taught in the English language.

Please read our English language requirements for more details.


Administrative contact(s)

Professional Doctorate programmes


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