I had a conversation with a professor who told me that getting into a PhD programme at some university (in the UK) is very difficult without also having an MSc from that same university. Is this true?

If it's relevant, we were specifically taking about Economics PHDs.

  • 1
    That is probably a decision that is pertinent to each university and branch economics, engineering etc...
    – Solar Mike
    Dec 21, 2017 at 21:40
  • I've never heard of this requirement and it seems very unlikely to me (unless the specific university you're talking about is Oxford or Cambridge. Then I would believe it). Anyway, I would contact admissions staff (or even a current PhD student) at your chosen university to clarify. Dec 22, 2017 at 0:12
  • @astronat Why would you think it would be the case for Oxford or Cambridge and not others? Is it purely because these two are very competitive? Because others are also really competitive (like LSE, UCL).
    – pafnuti
    Dec 22, 2017 at 1:25
  • 2
    NO, it is not true.
    – Leon Meier
    Dec 22, 2017 at 3:19
  • @pafnuti less the competitive aspect, more that I have the impression that they have a lot of arcane rules and biases (many not explicit). I could well be wrong of course-- this is just a bias of my own! Dec 22, 2017 at 8:39

2 Answers 2


It depends?

I don't think there really is a straightforward answer to this - as there can be some institutional difference. Though I would in general be a little bit surprised if it were required.

For people who have obtained a UK BSc (it may need to be an honours degree), it is possible to directly progress to a PhD, provided you get a First (maybe also a 2.1) in the BSc. (No idea about a BA - and all related types of Bachelor's degrees.) This definitely applies to at least 3 universities in the engineering field.

Now: If I am not mistaken, I believe that the majority of people who were "doing a PhD" with a non-UK-education background had a Masters Degree before starting a PhD. (During my time at a UK university.) However, this wasn't neccessary a Master's Degree from the institution at which these people were working towards a PhD. (Though one person was on some integrated course which was a 1 years Masters followed by a PhD.)

In this context, it may be interesting to note, that the "Student Loans Company" (i.e. the state) will loan the funds for a Bachelor's degree, but not a Masters. A PhD is typically funded (unless one goes for the self funded option). This means, that unless you have wealthy parents or an employer paying for it, a Masters Degree in the UK makes little sense if you plan to follow up with a PhD and going Bachelors -> PhD makes more sense.

If we now look at the rest of Europe, it is pretty commonplace to obtain a Masters Degree before commencing a PhD. (Though some countries may have some different routes, such as the old German "Diplom" and the French Engineers that may lead to a PhD/Doctorate.)

And if you want a definite answer, the only method is to check the requirements on the university's website, as only they will be able to give you a definite answer.

  • Regarding student loans, they are now offered for masters courses, but on significantly worse terms (£10,000 maximum, to be paid back concurrently with one's undergraduate loan). And In the sciences, integrated masters degrees are common; as "first degrees", those are funded for the full four years. Dec 22, 2017 at 11:40
  • @georgewatson Well, that's an improvement compared to 2011 with respect to being offered.
    – DetlevCM
    Dec 22, 2017 at 14:06

I wonder if you (or the professor) have slightly misunderstood the situation. In some UK universities, people intending to do a PhD are initially admitted to a research-masters programme (e.g. MPhil), and then permitted to transfer into the PhD programme given satisfactory progress after a year or so. I think this is especially common in arts/humanities subjects, where research projects tend to be proposed by students rather than supervisors — the student has to demonstrate that they have a well-developed and feasible research question before they can transfer into the PhD.

This approach is largely an administrative convenience, as it makes it much easier to shed under-performing students: they are refused permission to transfer, but may graduate with the relevant masters degree.

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