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Social Work PhD


About the course

Research students are welcomed to Brunel as valued members of our thriving, research-intensive community. A research degree provides the opportunity to investigate a topic in depth, and contribute new knowledge to your discipline.

A PhD involves demonstrating through original research or other advanced scholarship the creation and interpretation of new knowledge, a systematic acquisition and understanding of a substantial body of knowledge at the forefront of an academic discipline or professional practice, the ability to conceptualise, design and implement a project for the general of new knowledge, applications or understanding at the forefront of the discipline. Both full-time (3 years) and part-time (6 years) study routes are available.

MPhil degree option
An MPhil involves the exploration of a research topic and is typically studied over a shorter period of 1 year for a full-time student and 2 years for a part-time student. MPhil students are required to demonstrate a systematic understanding of knowledge and a critical awareness of current problems and/or new insights informed by the forefront of their discipline, field of study or professional practice.

Research profile
Social Work at Brunel enables graduates to make a real difference to the world around them including direct practice, community work and practice aimed at influencing social policy. The Social Work Division has particular strengths in working with the old and the young. A PhD in Social Work aims to enable someone to develop knowledge in a specialist area and offers the opportunity to make a valuable and novel contribution to knowledge in a policy, practice or educational aspect of Social Work.

Brunel Experts by Experience has a long and proud history at Brunel whereby service-users help the delivery of Social Work training to students and staff.

In the Division of Social Work we have members of staff who are:

  • Editor of Ageing and Society, the leading social gerontology journal in the UK
  • Editors of International Journal of Social Work, Gender and Education, Sex Education
  • Fellow of the Faculty of Public Health
  • Academician of the Academy of Social Sciences
  • Core member of the Sex Education Forum
  • Advisor on projects funded by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner
  • Convenor of the British Educational Research Association’s Sexualities Special Interest Group
  • Awarded the Ken Darby-Dowman Memorial Award for post-graduate teaching

The Division of Social Work have:

  • specialism in gerontology
  • specialism in working with children and young people
  • research with practitioners on tackling gender violence
  • commitment to anti-oppressive practice
  • service user perspectives and experiences
  • specialist researchers in gender and sexualities

Applicants are welcome to contact us about their own specialist topics and projects.  However we particularly welcome proposals on

  • Anti-oppressive practice and the development of resilient practitioners
  • Children and young people’s experience of services
  • Elderly and emotional well-being
  • Sexualities and Sexual Violence

Find out more
Department of Clinical Sciences
Division of Social Work
Ageing Studies
Welfare, Health and Wellbeing
Institute of Environment, Health and Societies



All research degrees are administered by the Postgraduate Research Programmes Office in Colleges. Once you have identified your area of research and a potential supervisor, you can complete your application online. Please use the contact details below for enquiries. You may also approach your potential supervisor directly.

College of Health and Life Sciences
Tel: +44 (0) 1895 268161


Dr Claire Donovan,
Department PGR Director
Tel: +44 (0)1895 267651

Professor Christina Victor

Special Features

A training programme will be provided by the College to assist students with achieving targets.  The programme will include the underpinning principles such as philosophy of science, research integrity, ethics and specialist methodology.  Sessions in core, specialist and advanced research methods will prepare students for an independent research career.  The College research methods programme includes sessions from specialists with research expertise in qualitative, quantitative, reflexive, practitioner and insider research, and is aligned with the ESRC research methods expectations. Students will also enrol in the Graduate School Researcher Development Programme that ensures all students are equipped with generic research skills including presentational skills and impact activities.

Facts and Figures

  • In the last REF, ‘Social Work & Social Policy’ was the most improved of all Units of Assessment at Brunel.  Social Work at Brunel was ranked the 4th highest SW training in London in 2015. Brunel University London REF2014 Submission:  Social Work and Social Policy. The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is a system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions. The results of the REF2014 have been made public in December 2014, replacing the previous REF conducted in 2008.  The next REF will be undertaken in 2020. Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014 - A Guide for PhD Students
  • Brunel lead an international research project on gender violence with half a million pounds of European Commission funding and translated the training resources produced for professionals into five European languages (
  • Brunel leads on a million pound international project to improve responses to sexual violence (

Teaching and Assessment


Each student will be allocated a supervisory team consisting of the principal supervisor, second supervisor and a Research Development Advisor. The supervisory team will set teaching and learning targets and advise the student how to achieve them. The progress of each student will be assessed by the supervisory team at regular meetings and by a formal Progress Review Panel at 9 months for full-time students (18 months for part-time students) and then annually. All academic supervisors receive university supported training in the supervision of PhD students.



Social Work is an evidence-based profession.  Research on the efficacy of social work interventions and on service user perspectives and experiences of services are crucial to it.  This research is highly valued by the profession.  PhDs in Social Work are respected in the field and set an academic research-active practitioner apart from practitioners in general.  University departments that deliver social work education expect most staff to have PhDs.

At Brunel we provide many opportunities and experiences within your degree programme and beyond – work-based learning, professional support services, volunteering, mentoring, sports, arts, clubs, societies, and much, much more – and we encourage you to make the most of them, so that you can make the most of yourself.

» More about Employability

Fees for 2016/17 entry

Home/EU students

Full time: £4,121
Part time: £2,060

International students

Full time: £17,200
Part time: £8,600

Fees quoted are per annum and are subject to an annual increase.

Entry Criteria 2016/17

The general University entrance requirement for registration for a research degree is normally a First or Upper Second Class Honours degree and additionally, for a PhD, a Master’s degree or equivalent. All international students must show evidence that they meet the English requirement for their course of study: IELTS 7.0 (with no less than 6.5 in any section). This applies even if English is the native language of your home country. An appropriate level of English language competence is also expected as listed below. Find out which alternative English language qualifications we accept. Applicants may also be required to attend compulsory in-sessional English language support. The Senate reserves the right to assess the eligibility of applicants on an individual basis.

Potential research students are encouraged to contact members of staff in the area of interest to receive guidance on how to focus the research proposal.

Entry criteria are subject to review and change each academic year.

International and EU Entry Requirements

If your country or institution is not listed or if you are not sure whether your institution is eligible, please contact Admissions

This information is for guidance only by Brunel University London and by meeting the academic requirements does not guarantee entry for our courses as applications are assessed on case-by-case basis.

English Language Requirements

  • IELTS: 7 (min 6.5W, 6.5L, 6.5R, 6.5S)
  • Pearson: 64 (58 in all subscores)
  • BrunELT: 70% (65% in all areas)

Brunel University London strongly recommends that if you will require a Tier 4 visa, you sit your IELTS test at a test centre that has been approved by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) as being a provider of a Secure English Language Test (SELT). Not all test centres have this status. The University can accept IELTS (with the required scores) taken at any official test centre or other English Language qualifications we accept as meeting our main award entry requirements.

However, if you wish to undertake a Pre-sessional English course to further improve your English prior to the start of your degree course, you must sit the test at an approved SELT provider. This is because you will only be able to apply for a Tier 4 student visa to undertake a Pre-sessional English course if you hold a SELT from a UKVI approved test centre. Find out more information about it.

Brunel also offers our own BrunELT English Test and accepts a range of other language courses. We also have Pre-sessional English language courses for students who do not meet these requirements, or who wish to improve their English.

Our International Pathways and Language Centre offers a number of foundation and pre-masters courses to provide you with the academic skills required for your chosen course.