Postgraduate study
Edinburgh: Extraordinary futures await.

Social Work PhD

Awards: PhD

Study modes: Full-time, Part-time

Funding opportunities

Programme website: Social Work

Our social work researchers lead the field in a range of key social work research domains including mental health, children and their families, forced migration and refugees, and criminal justice. We have excellent links with leading professional bodies, policy-making organisations and professional and social work services in statutory and voluntary sectors throughout Scotland, the UK and internationally.

Specifically, we also have a number of partnerships with agencies and organisations providing social work in the Global South.

The research interests of staff cover the full range of applied service specialisms, theoretical issues and research methods. This includes expertise in:

  • longitudinal research

  • documentary analysis

  • discourse analysis

  • narrative and biographical methods

  • qualitative enquiry

  • evaluation approaches.

Our work is enriched by the perspective of both international students and UK/EU students, including individuals who are experienced professionals studying part-time while working.

Social work research offers a wide variety of methods and topics, often geared at understanding the experiences of those who are disadvantaged, alongside exploring challenges in social work practice, or contemporary social problems.

While many of our students are qualified social workers, we also have a large number of students who are not social workers, but study issues relevant to society, and policy and practice related to social work.

Many research students collaborate with practitioners or policy-makers in the development or undertaking of their research, embedding their work in the realities of professional practice.

The potential to undertake cutting-edge research on contemporary real-world problems makes this programme an exciting opportunity to generate knowledge that may offer solutions to the challenges faced by individuals, families and communities.

Together with students in all disciplines across the School, you will undertake research methods courses in first year (and second year if part-time) before proceeding with your thesis.

Each student has two supervisors with the possibility of the second supervisor coming from an outside discipline.

There are weekly group seminars for our PhD community which include staff, students and visiting scholars. Students are also invited to take park in method workshops and have opportunities to link into special interest groups in the wider School of Social and Political Science (see for example the RaceED and GenderEd). Staff also play leadership roles in a range of innovate research hubs and Centres (see for example the Binks Hub and the ACRC), bringing opportunities for PhD students to be involved in other research projects and knowledge exchange initiatives.

During the year you will also have the opportunity to participate in the annual University of Edinburgh Social Work Research Conference.

For more information about the range of courses on offer to our PhD students, go to:

You can take advantage of our world-class library resources and can also access the National Library collections.

There are shared working spaces for PhD students within the School of Social and Political Science.

We promote the work of our students on social media.

You can follow our department on Twitter, and read about some current research projects on our subject area blog.

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, and a UK masters degree with an overall mark of 65% or its international equivalent.

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 7.0 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 100 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 185 with at least 169 in each component.
  • Trinity ISE: ISE III with passes in all four components.
  • PTE Academic: total 70 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:

Tuition fees

Featured funding

For specialised guidance on submitting a competitive scholarship application, please follow the requirements and recommendations and how to contact relevant academic staff as advised here:

(Revised 10 November 2023 to update featured funding opportunities)

UK government postgraduate loans

If you live in the UK, you may be able to apply for a postgraduate loan from one of the UK’s governments.

The type and amount of financial support you are eligible for will depend on:

  • your programme
  • the duration of your studies
  • your tuition fee status

Programmes studied on a part-time intermittent basis are not eligible.

Other funding opportunities

Search for scholarships and funding opportunities:

  • Graduate School of Social & Political Science
  • Chrystal Macmillan Building
  • 15A George Square
  • Central Campus
  • Edinburgh
  • EH8 9LD

We encourage you to apply at least one month prior to entry so that we have enough time to process your application. If you are also applying for funding or will require a visa then we strongly recommend you apply as early as possible.

You must submit a research proposal demonstrating your knowledge of your field of research, which will be closely scrutinised as part of the decision-making process. We request that PhD research proposals are no more than four A4 typed pages in Times New Roman, 12pt font. This includes charts and figures but does not include references or a bibliography.

We require PhD applicants in particular to contact potential supervisors before applying to discuss their research proposal so we can ensure there is adequate supervision.

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

Further information

  • Graduate School of Social & Political Science
  • Chrystal Macmillan Building
  • 15A George Square
  • Central Campus
  • Edinburgh
  • EH8 9LD