Quality Manual

Regulations for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and Master of Philosophy (MPhil)

This page contains the regulations for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and Master of Philosophy (MPhil). Its content is relevant to staff and students across all of the UK, China and Malaysia campuses.

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All teaching and assessment must be in English when students are registered for a University of Nottingham qualification. The only exception is where the subject of study is a language or literature other than English.

These regulations state the minimum requirements for students undertaking a PhD or MPhil. Where any other body, such as a sponsor or collaborative partner, is involved in a student’s study additional requirements may be agreed and must be satisfied in order for the student to be considered for an award.


Admission requirements

1.   Requirements for admission to a research degree are set out in the University of Nottingham’s Quality Manual in the section entitled Admissions, which can be found here:



Course of study

Includes: frameworks; full-time students undertaking paid employment; counting same period of registration; staff submitting publications; Submission by a Staff Candidate for a Research Degree document; part-time students

2.   Periods of registration for these degrees are as set out in the University of Nottingham Qualifications Framework (UNQF). For more information about the UNQF, please consult the following:

University of Nottingham Qualifications Framework

The student’s School may permit up to one year of registration at Nottingham (two years in the case of part-time students) to be replaced by prior study at another institution.

3.   Full-time students may only undertake paid employment with the permission of their School and in accordance with the requirements of any scholarship they hold. In approving a request to undertake such employment, a School must assure itself that such work will not interfere with the student’s programme of study.

4.   A student is not permitted to count the same period of registration for both the degree of MPhil and the degree of PhD. However, a student registered for an MPhil degree may, with the permission of their School, be allowed to transfer their registration to a PhD degree. The procedure for transferring registration is set out below in paragraphs 12 and 13 (of the Annual review and progression section). It is also possible to transfer from a Master’s degree by examination course to the degree of MPhil with the permission of the School.

5.   Members or former members of the University staff submitting publications for a research degree of the University in accordance with the regulations governing staff candidates have no required period of registration and no thesis-pending period but are expected to submit within four years of their application to submit being approved by Quality and Standards Committee (QSC). The staff member’s publications must be submitted at a time when they are a member of the University staff or within a period of three years from the date when they cease to be such a member. There will be two External Examiners but no Internal Examiner for a staff candidate.

6.   For part-time students holding an appointment within the University the minimum period of registration may be reduced to three years.


Annual review and progression

Includes: confirmation review; minimum elements of annual review; final annual review; possible outcomes

7.   All students registered on research degrees lasting more than one year full-time or two years part-time (eg MPhil or Professional Doctorates but not MRes etc) are subject to review annually. The basic principles of Annual Review are common to all research students and all years of their programme. There are specific requirements relating to PhD students and to the Annual Review preceding submission, and variations dependent on the length and stage of the student’s programme of study. In all cases submission must be within four years of first registration unless the student holds an award with terms and conditions that vary this maximum period and the School approves the arrangement.

For more information about the Annual Review of Research students, please consult the following:

Annual review of research students

8.   Confirmation Review

During their first year of registration, the status of PhD students as doctoral candidates is probationary and their Annual Review includes the Confirmation Review of their status. Confirmation Review requires the involvement of an Internal Assessor while the basic Annual Review may be led by the Principal Supervisor.  Annual Review should take place by the end of each completed year of study, though it is strongly recommended that preparations (e.g. submission of the written report) should commence before the student has completed nine months of each year of study and that reviews are held around the nine-month period to allow for any remedial actions arising from the review to be completed within the year.

9.   Minimum elements of Annual Review

Schools must ensure that the following elements are included in their Annual Review process:

For all students:

  • Production of a written report by the student on his/her progress.
  • In response to the student's written report, a commentary by the principal supervisor on the student's progress and attendance.
  • Confirmation by the principal supervisor that the required minimum number of supervision sessions has taken place and that supervision records are available.
  • Where student is sponsored and a report has been submitted to the sponsor during the year the content of that report should form part of the consideration.

Schools have discretion to appoint an Internal Assessor in this process as well as the principal supervisor if they wish to do this.


For PhD students undergoing Confirmation Review (ie normally in their first year of study):

  • An interview of the student by an Internal Assessor and (if the School wishes) other staff who have not previously been closely associated with the student's work. The Internal Assessor must not be the student's supervisor or joint supervisor.
  • Provision of evidence to the Internal Assessor that the student has attended any modules and passed any assessments that form a compulsory part of his/her research programme.
  • In light of the review, a recommendation to the student's Head of School agreed jointly by the Internal Assessor and the principal supervisor as to the outcome.

Where students are on four year PhD programmes containing a substantial taught element, Confirmation Review should take place prior to the end of the second year (and the review processes thereafter on an annual basis). Recommendations on the registration of such students may still occur at an earlier stage (e.g. after one year), depending on the progress with the mandatory taught element of the programme.


For other research students in all years of study and PhD students after their Confirmation Review has been completed:

  • Provision of evidence to the principal supervisor that the student has attended any modules and passed any assessments which form a compulsory part of his/her research programme.
  • In light of the review, a recommendation to the student's Head of School from the principal supervisor as to the outcome.

10.   Final Annual Review

The final annual review of all research students (if they have not already completed their thesis) should include a detailed consideration of progress, including progress made with writing up, and a plan to ensure that the thesis is submitted within a maximum of four years from initial registration.

In addition to the minimum elements of Annual Review the final review before submission should include the following elements:

  • A detailed plan for submission within the maximum period.
  • In light of the review, a recommendation to the student's Head of School from the principal supervisor as to the outcome.

11.   The possible outcomes of Annual Review are:

  • Re-registration in the following academic session on the same degree subject to the length of the programme. In the case of PhD students this would act as confirmation of their doctoral status for re-registration in the following session.
  • Entry of the student to the thesis pending period within the next year, subject to satisfying the requirements for the minimum period of study and having completed the research.
  • With the agreement of the student, transfer of registration to another degree (e.g. from MPhil to PhD). In this instance, an interview of the student by an Internal Assessor as required in the Confirmation Review process should also be held and a transfer form completed.
  • A recommendation by the School to the University that the student be required to transfer to another degree (e.g. from MPhil to MRes).
  • A recommendation by the School to the University that the student's registration be terminated (which should be supported by evidence that the student has received written warnings on lack of progress during the period of study).

12.   In the case of PhD students the following further outcomes are possible:

  • Re-registration as a PhD student in the following academic session but with continuation of the student's probationary status (in which case, the next Annual Review for that student takes the form of a Confirmation Review) with an agreed plan of supportive or corrective action being put in place). However, the maximum number of Confirmation Reviews a student may be permitted is normally limited to two.
  • Re-registration as a PhD student in the following academic session (with a corrective action plan being put in place if this is necessary).
  • A recommendation by the School to the University that the student be re-registered as an MPhil student or on some other degree instead of PhD.

13.   In the case of the Final Annual Review the following further outcome is possible:

  • A recommendation by the School to the University that the student’s registration be exceptionally extended for up to one further year. In such a case submission will still be expected within the four year maximum period.

Thesis-pending period

Includes: exceptional circumstances; Application for an Extension to the Thesis Pending Period document; examples that would/not warrant an extension

14.   Students whose programme of study lasts for less than 4 years (8 years in the case of part-time students) and who have completed their research and the period of registered study as required by regulations may enter the thesis-pending period. In all cases the thesis must be submitted within 4 years (full-time) or 8 years (part-time) of the start of study or within 12 months (full-time) or 24 months (part-time) of the end of registration, whichever is the lesser unless the terms and conditions of a studentship held by an individual vary this. In the thesis pending period the student will be entitled to the use of library facilities and University computing facilities but not to facilities for research. The student will also be entitled to a minimum of 6 meetings (pro rata if the period is less than 12 months full-time or 24 months part-time) either face-to-face or electronically with their supervisor and for the supervisor to read and comment on one draft of their thesis prior to submission.

More information on the thesis pending period can be found here:

Thesis pending period (including Policy on extension)

15.   In exceptional circumstances an extension to the thesis pending period may be granted subject to the following conditions.  Requests for extensions will only be considered as a result of circumstances affecting the thesis pending period, and not for the period of registered study. If an extension request is granted, the fee listed in the University's Fees Schedule will be payable.

More information on tuition fees and the University's fees schedule can be found here:

Student fees and finance

(a)   Applications for an extension to the thesis pending period should be submitted to Student Service Centre or equivalent for consideration on behalf of the University, using the application form below:

(b)   Other than in exceptional circumstances applications will only be considered if received by Student Service Centre no less than 3 months in advance of the thesis pending period.

(c)   All applications require the support of the student's School.

All applications should include a plan detailing:

  • which thesis chapters are complete
  • what work remains to be done on incomplete chapters
  • a time-line for the completion of outstanding work and a date for submission of the completed thesis.

16.   Acceptable and Unacceptable Circumstances:

The following circumstances may result in an extension being granted:

  • Exceptional personal circumstances (eg illness, hospitalisation, accident) if significantly impacting on the writing-up process (or resubmission/minor corrections process relating to paragraph 37 below)
  • Maternity
  • Paternity
  • Death of a close relative, or illness of a close relative where the student is the carer
  • Illness or death of a partner
  • Prolonged jury service
  • Expeditions for sport of national significance (providing the extension is acceptable to the student’s funding body)
  • Requirement for a student to undertake military service.

The following are examples of circumstances which would not normally warrant an extension:

  • Taking up employment during the thesis pending period (or resubmission/minor corrections process relating to paragraph 37 (of the Extension to a resubmission period or of time allowed for minor corrections section) below)
  • voluntary service overseas.

Submission of thesis

Includes: after registered study and before conclusion of thesis pending period; notification of submission; softbound copies and electronic versions of thesis; role of proof readers; alternative formats for thesis submission; key documents

17.   Students are required to submit a thesis for examination after their period of registered study and before the conclusion of the thesis-pending period. A student must give formal notice to their School of their intention to submit their thesis. The School should ensure that Student Service Centre or equivalent office is informed so that the procedure for appointing examiners can be initiated.

18.   An electronic version saved as a searchable PDF, should be submitted to Student Service Centre or equivalent (in a form prescribed by the University), which will forward the thesis to the Examiners. Softbound copies may be required. Students are encouraged to publish papers in advance of submission of their thesis and prior publication of papers arising from the research being undertaken should not prejudice the assessment of the thesis.

19.   The thesis must be written by the student and be the result of the student’s own work. It must be the result of work done mainly while the student is registered as a student of this University. This requirement does not preclude a student obtaining limited assistance with proof-reading and with the routine collection and/or processing of data under guidelines and instructions clearly devised by the student. When such help is obtained it should be with the prior approval of the supervisor who must be satisfied that the spirit of the 'own work' requirement is not breached.

The Role of Proof Readers

A proof-reader may only ensure that the meaning of the author is not misrepresented due to the quality and standard of the English used. This can include correcting spelling and basic grammar errors. Inaccuracies in academic content should not be corrected nor should the structure of the piece of work be changed; doing so may result in a charge of plagiarism. 


At UNM, generally, a thesis should have a minimum of 10,000 words. The Senate or the equivalent authority in the University can use its discretion in cases where a thesis does not comply with the word limit but meets all other requirements.  Flag of Malaysia


20.   The thesis should not be more than 100,000 words in the case of PhD or 60,000 words in the case of MPhil (in both cases inclusive of appendices, footnotes, tables, and bibliography); the University may withhold from examination a thesis that exceeds these word limits.

21.   Alternative formats for submission may apply. For certain doctorates (Music, Creative Writing, Drama and Performance Practice as Research, Translation Studies) an appendix detailing submission requirements is available. For more information, please consult the following:

Alternative formats for thesis submission

Submission by Published Works may also be permitted.

22.   Students may offer performance work for assessment alongside the thesis as supplementary evidence for the ideas and arguments put forward in written form. Where such evidence is submitted, a permanent record of that evidence should be included with the version of the thesis that is lodged in the University Library.

23.   If a thesis includes work which is politically, commercially or industrially sensitive, the student’s School may apply to the University for access to the thesis in the University libraries to be restricted. The restriction may be for a period not exceeding two years in the first instance with the possibility of an extension of that period up to a maximum of five years.

More information on the assessment of research students can be found here:


24.   In circumstances where it is appropriate to the student’s discipline, students are required to submit all data collected during the period of study as a research student of this University to their School prior to arrangement of the viva voce examination. Failure to do so may mean that the thesis is withheld from examination.



Includes: examiner submission of independent report; viva voce examination; alternative forms of examination; attendance

25.   The Examiners should submit independent reports on the thesis to Student Service Centre or equivalent or Head of School before the viva voce examination takes place. The reports should contain a full and frank assessment of the merits and weaknesses of the thesis. In the case of MPhil students, the reports should indicate whether a viva voce examination is necessary. If it is found not to be necessary, the Examiners should provide a recommendation as set out in Regulation 35 (in the Outcomes of Examinations section) below on a Joint Report Form.

More information on examiners can be found here:

Role and appointment of examiners

26.   The School should seek to ensure that the viva voce examination takes place within 3 months of the submission of the thesis. The viva voce examination will normally take place at the University and in person. However, the Head of School or delegate may give permission in appropriate circumstances for the viva voce examination to be held in another location or through digital means, provided agreement of the Examiners and the student is obtained and the proposed location/format is one that is deemed by them all to be suitable for the purpose. The Head of School (or delegate) will confirm that the necessary conditions for a remote or online viva have been met when signing the ‘nomination of PGR examiners form’.

27.   If circumstances allow or demand it, a viva voce examination may be organised in another form (e.g. by a video conference/other online platform). Before agreeing such an arrangement the School must check that appropriate facilities for an online viva voce examination are available to all participants, and shall ensure they have written confirmation that the student and the Examiners have agreed to the proposal. 

Hybrid viva conditions with some participants together and some remotely situated should be avoided where possible. If this format is required, if and where possible, the candidate should be co-located with either the internal examiner or Independent Chair. Vivas with only the candidate located remotely are not permitted. If an online format of the viva voce is agreed by all parties, this cannot subsequently be used as grounds for a subsequent appeal. No evidence based on recordings of the viva will be permissible in any appeal process.

28.   An independent chair is not a requirement for a viva voce examination unless specific circumstances apply, such as conducting the viva online. The candidate or Head of School may request the appointment of an independent chair. An independent, non-examining chair must be appointed to preside over proceedings when specific circumstances apply, including at the request of the PGR.

If the PGR requests an Independent Chair on grounds of equality and diversity, they may also request that the appointment made takes the diversity of the examining team into consideration.  

When appointed, the Independent Chair will lead the viva, be present throughout and will provide a short report on the conduct of the viva. They will not take an active role in the examination or decision making other than supporting examiners to reach a decision with reference to the University of Nottingham Qualifications Framework/ QAA Framework for Higher Education Qualifications Award Descriptors.

Where the appointment of an independent chair is not required or requested, Schools should find alternative ways of assuring fairness and consistency which are acceptable to the student.

29.   The Head of School has a right to attend the viva voce examination of any research student in their School, as an observer, unless they are the student's Supervisor when a deputy may be appointed to attend in their place. Before the viva voce examination takes place the Head of School should first inform the Examiners, the independent chair (if appointed) and the PGR that they wish to attend. The Examiners may request that the Head of School attend a viva voce examination. 

Supervisors may not attend the viva voce examination. If concerns on process or PGR support or performance are raised, an Independent Chair or the Head of School should attend.  

If the viva voce is held online, the candidate may request that they have a supporter/observer present with them either for the entire viva, and/or for the communication of the decision. This individual must not contribute to or participate in the viva in any way and must be introduced to all participants on camera at the start.

30.   The viva will include questions and discussions that determine whether the candidate has achieved the required doctoral outcomes.

For more information about the UNQF, please consult the following:

University of Nottingham Qualifications Framework

This will normally include questions and discussion designed to: ascertain that the thesis embodies the candidate’s own research; clarification of aspects of the research presented in the thesis to ensure understanding; test the candidate’s general comprehension of the field of study within which the subject of the thesis falls; test the candidate’s acquaintance with the general literature of the subject, knowledge of the relation of the work to the wider field of which it is a part, and determine the respects in which the work advances, modifies, or otherwise affects the wider field of scholarship.


Outcomes of Examination

Includes: completion of joint report form; frameworks; possible outcomes; resubmission; successful candidates

31.   Following the viva voce examination the Examiners should complete and sign the joint report form and come to agreement on the recommendation on the award (or not) of the degree. The student should be given immediate informal feedback on the recommended outcome of the examination and should be advised that more formal details will be transmitted later in writing. If the Examiners recommend that the degree should not be awarded and/or that the student should also be required to resubmit for the same or a different degree, the student should be provided with copies of the Examiners' reports. The Internal Examiner should also write to the student formally conveying the joint views of the Examiners on the submission, describing in detail the academic and presentational reasons for their recommendation, and (if appropriate) providing clear advice about what matters should be addressed in any resubmission. 

32.   Research degrees will be awarded at Masters or Doctoral level to students who have demonstrated that they satisfy the relevant qualification descriptors contained in the University of Nottingham Qualifications Framework (UNQF). For more information about the UNQF, please consult the following:

University of Nottingham Qualifications Framework

33. The Examiners may recommend to the University the following outcomes of examination:

  • Award of degree for which the student is registered, or
  • Award of the degree subject to correction of typographical errors within one month
  • Award of the degree subject to minor amendments to be completed within three months*, or
  • Require the candidate to attend for a second viva voce examination and resubmit the same thesis (which may be subject to minor amendments to be completed within three months*), or
  • Resubmit the thesis in a revised form within twelve months with/without attending a second viva voce examination, or
  • That no degree be awarded and that the candidate is not allowed to present him/herself again for examination for the degree for which the thesis was submitted.

34.   Where a thesis has been resubmitted and/or a second viva voce examination has occurred, the Examiners may recommend to the University the following outcomes of examination:

  • Award of degree for which the student is registered, or
  • Award of the degree subject to correction of typographical errors within one month, or
  • Award of the degree with minor amendments to be completed within three months to the satisfaction of the internal examiner*, or
  • (in the case of PhD students) Award of degree of MPhil without further conditions, or
  • (in the case of PhD students) Award of the degree of MPhil with minor amendments to be completed within three months*
  • No degree awarded and no further examination opportunity.

* Exceptionally, where a student has been previously registered as a part-time student and it has been demonstrated that circumstances exist such that it would be in the best interests of that student, the examiners may recommend that the degree be awarded subject to minor amendments being completed within six months. 

35.   The joint report form is forwarded by the Examiners to the Head of School and s/he shall forward the independent and joint report forms to a Student Service Centre for approval by the University. Student Service Centre or equivalent will inform the student of the University's decision.

36.   Successful candidates will be eligible to graduate once their thesis has been uploaded to the University’s etheses service and approved by the Internal Examiner or, in cases where there are two external examiners, the lead External Examiner.


Extension to a resubmission period or of time allowed for minor corrections

37.   In exceptional circumstances an extension to the resubmission period or of time allowed for minor corrections may be granted using the procedure in paragraphs 15-16 (in the Thesis pending-period section) above.
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This content was last modified on 23 September 2022

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