Postgraduate study
Edinburgh: Extraordinary futures await.

Centre for Doctoral Training - Sensing, Processing, and AI for Defence and Security PhD with Integrated Study

Awards: PhD with Integrated Study

Study modes: Full-time, Part-time

Funding opportunities


The University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University jointly host a Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) Programme focusing on generation after next technologies for information processing in defence & security, spanning the entire range from hardware development to algorithmic AI development.

The SPADS doctoral programme is designed to train the next generation of defence scientists. This includes engineers, computer scientists, and mathematicians. These professionals will lead the way in pioneering information and communication technologies. Such advancements are set to revolutionise not only defence and security but also wider society.

The programme will address the underpinning interconnected technology and sensing modalities working across multiple sensing domains, leveraging advances in autonomy, embedded systems, and AI across both software/algorithms and hardware.

SPADS graduates will leave with substantial knowledge and experience:

  • a solid understanding of fundamental concepts from hardware and sensing and processing to software (provided via an intensive taught course)
  • cutting-edge knowledge in a specialisation of their choosing
  • practical experience of research

    • a solid understanding of the ethics of research & development
    • invaluable contacts with UK industry
    • connections with an entire cohort of future leaders in research & development

SPADS offers a cohesive, 4-year training package centring around a PhD research project and including integrated studies (taught component), at the end of which you are awarded a joint Univ. of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt PhD degree. In particular:

  • the taught component is critical to welcome and develop applicants from different STEM backgrounds to build up key skills and to benefit from being training as part of a diverse and inclusive cohort

    • the research component starts from day 1 and becomes increasingly dominant in your PhD over the years
    • opportunities for formal “continuous professional development (CPD)” are open throughout the project, with more choice in elective courses in later years

We offer 3 to 6 month placements and co-supervision with key-stakeholder representation, either industry or government organisations, preparing students for post their post-PhD career.

The CDT in Sensing, Processing, and AI for Defence and Security (SPADS) will provide world-class training for students with the breadth and depth of expertise needed to innovate generation after next technology crucial to defence and security challenges related to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, providing practical experience and a skills-programmes to increase UK talent in defence.

SPADS is co-designed with the defence sector including the MoD to address the need for training graduates from a diverse range of STEM backgrounds, forging them into capable researchers and developers through training on industry, government, and academia-led defence projects.

SPADS will deliver an innovative programme consisting of 180-credits of mandatory integrated study. The University of Edinburgh leads with Heriot-Watt University as a partner with 50+ academic supervisors from Engineering, Informatics, and Maths.

The training program covers all 4 years of the PhD with integrated study (a part-time option is offered in the first 3-years.

SPADS CDT staff, students and partners have access to unrivalled expertise, experience and facilities to ensure the delivery of a world-leading PhD training program. Information on these facilities can be found on our website.

SPADS seeks to build a lasting and sustainable talent pipeline for supplying UK defence contractors and government institutions (Dstl, AWE) and academic research facilities with major defence activity.

It is co-designed with the defence and security industry to address the need for training graduates in a diverse range of engineering techniques and research, forging them into capable researchers and developers through training on industry, government, and academia-led defence projects.

Students will do placements and all students will have strong post-PhD employment opportunities.

SPADS will have a close relationship with the MoD and Dstl, who wish to maximise the benefit of the Centre through engagement with their Research Portfolio, and are invested in achieving our training aspirations in SPADS through placements in Dstl’s labs and wider, building research networks, developing training opportunities.

Please also read this Additional Information on a research degree in the School of Engineering.

These entry requirements are for the 2024/25 academic year and requirements for future academic years may differ. Entry requirements for the 2025/26 academic year will be published on 1 Oct 2024.

A UK 2:1 honours degree, or its international equivalent, in computer science, mathematics, physics, engineering, or in an appropriate subject or a related discipline.

Students with significant industrial experience, or with relevant professional qualifications, who have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in an appropriate subject will be given due consideration on a case-by-case basis.

One of the conditions of funding is for all those who have accepted offers to undergo basic recruitment checks in keeping with the core principles of the UK government’s Baseline Personnel Security Standard screening (BPSS). For further information about this process, please see the CDT SPADS website.

International qualifications

Check whether your international qualifications meet our general entry requirements:

English language requirements

Regardless of your nationality or country of residence, you must demonstrate a level of English language competency at a level that will enable you to succeed in your studies.

English language tests

We accept the following English language qualifications at the grades specified:

  • IELTS Academic: total 6.5 with at least 6.0 in each component. We do not accept IELTS One Skill Retake to meet our English language requirements.
  • TOEFL-iBT (including Home Edition): total 92 with at least 20 in each component. We do not accept TOEFL MyBest Score to meet our English language requirements.
  • C1 Advanced (CAE) / C2 Proficiency (CPE): total 176 with at least 169 in each component.
  • Trinity ISE: ISE II with distinctions in all four components.
  • PTE Academic: total 62 with at least 59 in each component.

Your English language qualification must be no more than three and a half years old from the start date of the programme you are applying to study, unless you are using IELTS, TOEFL, Trinity ISE or PTE, in which case it must be no more than two years old.

Degrees taught and assessed in English

We also accept an undergraduate or postgraduate degree that has been taught and assessed in English in a majority English speaking country, as defined by UK Visas and Immigration:

We also accept a degree that has been taught and assessed in English from a university on our list of approved universities in non-majority English speaking countries (non-MESC).

If you are not a national of a majority English speaking country, then your degree must be no more than five years old* at the beginning of your programme of study. (*Revised 05 March 2024 to extend degree validity to five years.)

Find out more about our language requirements:

Academic Technology Approval Scheme

If you are not an EU, EEA or Swiss national, you may need an Academic Technology Approval Scheme clearance certificate in order to study this programme.

AwardTitleDurationStudy mode
PhD with Integrated StudySensing, Processing and AI for Defence and Security4 YearsFull-timeTuition fees
PhD with Integrated StudySensing, Processing and AI for Defence and Security8 YearsPart-timeTuition fees

A SPADS studentship has the following advantages beyond typical doctoral scholarships that might be appealing to students:

  • enhanced annual stipend of £20,716 tax-free
  • research training and support grant (RTSG) over the 4-year PhD, which is a substantial uplift on most PhD scholarships
  • funding for access to key facilities, such as the Edinburgh International Data Facility, the National Robotarium, and the Scottish Microelectronics Centre
  • access to a wide variety of cohort training events, from summer schools to specialised theme meetings, innovation & commercialisation sandpits, and knowledge transfer meetings with Dstl

    • access to our industry partners and academic network, which will provide numerous opportunities for placements, data access, and career development

Search for scholarships and funding opportunities:

  • SPADS CDT Administrator
  • Phone: +44 (0)131 440 1316/5172/1390
  • Contact:
  • Graduate School of Engineering
  • Sanderson Building
  • The King's Buildings Campus
  • Edinburgh
  • EH9 3FB
Round Application deadline
1 10 June 2024
2 24 July 2024

A small number of places remain. If these places are filled, applications will close early.

(Revised 12 July 2024 to update application deadline)

You must submit two references with your application.

You must submit an application via the EUCLID application portal and provide the required information and documentation. This will include submission of:

  • a cover letter
  • a Curriculum Vitae (CV)
  • degree certificates and official transcripts of all completed and in-progress degrees (plus certified translations if academic documents are not issued in English).
  • two academic references

Read through detailed guidance on how to apply for the SPADS CDT programme:

Find out more about the general application process for postgraduate programmes:

Further information

  • SPADS CDT Administrator
  • Phone: +44 (0)131 440 1316/5172/1390
  • Contact:
  • Graduate School of Engineering
  • Sanderson Building
  • The King's Buildings Campus
  • Edinburgh
  • EH9 3FB