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About PhD Admission

Admission is by formal application only.

It is general departmental policy to admit only PhD applicants who have a strong track record of research and hold a Master’s degree or equivalent.  Our expectation is a minimum of 70%, or the GPA equivalent, at Masters level.  We do, however, consider each application on its own merits - i.e. this is a guideline and not a rule.

In addition, the department will only accept students who wish to work in a research field where the department has expertise.

As the Doctoral Degree Board (DDB) policy requires, a full PhD proposal should be submitted on admission or within 6 months of registration where applicants are admitted on a provisional basis with the opportunity to work on their proposal under supervision.

It is important to recognise that applicants with funding/scholarships are not favoured in the process of admission; that is, scholarships should not be awarded with the presumption that the Department will accept the applicant.

Deadlines - application and registration

1.  Applying:

While PhD applicants may apply at any time of the year, the department has two periods during the academic year during which applications will be formally reviewed by our Postgraduate Committee, one in each semester. The first semester application review process will take place roughly at the end of March /early April, and the second semester review process will be scheduled towards the end of September/early October. Please factor these dates in when you are planning your application

2.  Registering:

Registration takes place after the formal application has been processed and only if a student has been accepted - either provisionally or with full approval.

First-time registrations:

  1. New PhD students may register throughout the academic year but it must be before 1 May if it is to count as the first academic year of study (towards the minimum period of registration).  This is pertinent for those candidates who would like to graduate within the minimum legislated time of 2 years; UCT supports 3-5 years to complete a PhD.
  2. If a new PhD student registers after 30 June they are granted a 50% rebate of the annual course fee for that year.  See the UCT Fee handbook for details and confirmation.

Returning candidates: must register by no later than 28 February each year.

Formal Application Procedures

UCT application information, and the link to the online application form, will be found on the UCT Applications page.

You will be required to supply supporting documentation.

In order to apply online you will need a working email address and your South African identity number or, if you are an international applicant, your passport number.

Once the application has been submitted online the Faculty will refer it to the department for consideration. 

Supporting Documentation - what to provide when you apply

The following documents should be submitted as part of your formal application:

PhD Proposal

  1. Minimum of 8 – 10 pages; referenced; the topic must correspond with the research foci of the Department. Prospective applicants are encouraged to contact a member of the academic staff to enquire if a proposed topic falls within the scope of their research interests
  2. Description of the Research problem based on a brief survey of the relevant academic literature. Proposals must aim to show, by engaging with relevant academic literature, what contribution the doctoral thesis will make to existing knowledge about the topic.
  3. Articulation of a Research question. Proposals must include a research question, or at minimum, explicitly indicate the aims and objectives of the doctoral research, as is relates to the research problem.
  4. Statement on a proposed conceptual and/or theoretical framework: Proposals must include, as part of a survey of academic literature, reference to a conceptual or theoretical framework to be considered for use in the research
  5. Description of a research design/methodology to guide the collection and analysis of sources. Proposals must include a preliminary research design/methodology to explain ‘how’ primary and secondary sources will be collected and analysed.
  6. Ethical implications of the proposed research, proposals must indicate if the research will involve human subjects as respondents, and if so, how will the participation and interests of respondents be secured, managed and protected
  7. Proposed timeline, proposals should seek to provide an estimated (recognising that this could change) timeframe for completion, or indicative milestones for the completion of each section of the research

Also to include

Your transcript (the official marks from institutions attended, together with an explanation of the marks structure, if needed)

A sample of your academic writing - this should be a chapter of your Masters thesis or an academic article you have written

Your curriculum vitae

All of the above requested documents must be provided in order for a proper assessment to be made.

Should these documents not be provided, your application will not be reviewed. 

Presenting your Proposal

If your documentation and proposal have been approved for potential registration, as well as a suitable supervisor assigned, the next step is to present your proposal to a panel of staff within the department for approval.  This will take place either before official registration or, if you are accepted for provisional registration, within 6 months of registering.

Once proposals receive departmental approval, these are sent through to the faculty for submission to the DDB and final approval.

Provisional registration

The department's postgraduate committee may recommend registration on the understanding that this period of enrolment will be spent doing further work to the proposal, under supervision, to prepare the proposal for departmental, faculty and final Doctoral Degrees Board approval.  If the revised proposal is not completed within six months of registration, or is not approved, there will be no continued registration into a second year of study.

Presentation of your proposal will be required during this period of provisional registration.

During this first period of registration, the annual registration fee is levied as per normal, as well as any other required UCT fees such as the annual fee for International students.  See the UCT Fee handbook for details.

Contacting Potential Supervisors

It is preferred that applicants lodge a formal application with UCT before any personal dialogue is opened with potential supervisors.    The appointing of a supervisor will depend on whether there is relevant expertise in the department and whether staff have expressed interest in supervising the proposed topic.