Undertaking doctoral research allows you to develop in-depth knowledge, while making a meaningful contribution to your chosen field.
With guidance from our expert supervisors, you'll carry out extensive independent research culminating in a thesis of up to 100,000 words. Broadly speaking the focus of research degrees has increasingly been on the humanities and cognate social sciences, particularly on the subjects of human rights, globalization and development, politics, and Commonwealth history.
This degree presents the opportunity to gain expertise in your area of interest while also honing a range of transferable skills. On completing this course, you'll be well prepared for specialist career paths both within academia and beyond.
The Institute of Commonwealth Studies
The Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICwS) is the only postgraduate academic institution in the UK devoted to the study of the Commonwealth. The Institute has been supervising interdisciplinary doctoral degrees for over half a century.
The focus of research degrees has increasingly been on the humanities and cognate social sciences, particularly on the subjects of human rights, globalization and development, politics and Commonwealth history.
You'll pursue academic interests in the friendly and supportive environment of the Institute, where your research will be enhanced by the outstanding libraries of the University of London, including the Institute’s own prestigious collection. The Institute offers a unique scholarly environment and you'll be able to draw on the wide-ranging expertise of our staff.
The degree can be taken full time over three years (or a maximum of four) or part time over five years (or a maximum of six), with entry in either October or January.
You'll initially be registered for our MPhil and then, providing your progress has been satisfactory, be upgraded to our PhD programme.
The primary activity of the PhD programme is the writing of a thesis of up to 100,000 words. There is no formal coursework, but you will be expected to participate in a weekly seminar on Work in Progress and to present a paper every year from your second year onwards. In your first year you are required to attend a weekly class on Techniques of Scholarship. You're also encouraged to participate in the regular seminars held at the Institute during the academic year.
After submission of the thesis, you will attend an oral examination conducted by an internal examiner, from the University of London, and an external examiner, normally from another British university. Graduates are awarded a University of London degree.
The School of Advanced Study offers students with an appropriate topic and level of local resource the opportunity to undertake a PhD by distance learning. These students are required to attend our London campus at set intervals to complete an intensive research training module, for upgrade, and for the viva but will otherwise study at their own location. This option is available to UK, EU and international students on the same basis as our on-campus PhD programmes (three years full time, six years part time). Fees are the same as for our on-campus PhD programmes. Please note that not all institutes and supervisors offer this option, and that some topics are not appropriate to be studied this way.
• Ecocide, environmental destruction and human rights
• Genocide studies
• African politics, governance and development
• Ethnicity: conflict and accommodation in plural societies
• Protection of refugees
• Minority and Indigenous rights protection
• Dynamics of armed conflict and forced displacement
• Twentieth-century British and Commonwealth History
• Globalisation, security and conflict
• The Commonwealth as an international organisation
• British Imperial history, including decolonization
• European colonialism in comparative perspective
• Post-colonial legacies in the Commonwealth and beyond
• Non-governmental public actors, civil society and development
• British and Commonwealth intelligence communities
Before submitting an application you are advised to contact a member of the Institute's academic staff who has interests in your proposed field of study to discuss your proposal. A list of academic staff and their interests can be found here.
Dr Sue Onslow, Director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies & Reader
Human rights and development and human rights-based approaches to development
UN human rights mechanisms
Transnational social mobilisation and norm entrepreneurship
Indigenous peoples' rights
Afro-descendants in Latin America
Dalits and caste-based discrimination
Roma in Europe
BA (McMaster), MA (Essex), MSc, PhD (LSE)
Research interests include: human rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples; civil society mobilisation; human rights and development; social mobilisation of Afro-descendants in Latin America; Dalits and caste-based discrimination; international relations and human rights; the role of international organisations in the protection of minority and indigenous rights.
Professor Damien Short, Co-Director of the Human Rights Consortium
Sociological and anthropological approaches to human rights
LLB (University of Wales), MA, PhD (Essex)
Dr Damien Short is Director of the Human Rights Consortium (HRC) and a Reader in Human Rights at the School of Advanced Study. He has spent his entire professional career working in the field of human rights, both as a scholar and human rights advocate.
He has researched and published extensively in the areas of indigenous peoples’ rights, genocide studies, reconciliation projects and environmental human rights. He is currently researching the human rights impacts of extreme energy processes (e.g Tar Sands and Fracking - see our designated HRC website http://extremeenergy.org) . Dr Short is a regular academic contributor to the United Nation’s ‘Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’ and an academic consultant for the ‘Ethical Trade Task Force’ of the Soil Association.
He is also Assistant Editor of the International Journal of Human Rights (Taylor and Francis) and Editor-in-chief of the Journal of Human Rights in the Commonwealth (University of London) and convenor of the British Sociological Association’s Sociology of Rights Study Group and an active member of the International Network of Genocide Scholars.
Dr Short has also worked with a variety of NGOs including Amnesty International, War on Want, Survival International, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs; and with a range of campaign groups including Eradicating Ecocide, Biofuelwatch, Climate Justice Collective and the UK Tar Sands Network.
He currently advises local anti-fracking groups in the UK and county councils on the human rights implications of unconventional (extreme) energy extraction processes such as fracking.
The Institute registers students for MPhil/PhD study only when principal supervision is offered by the staff listed below. It is, however, possible to arrange co-supervision with particular experts in the Colleges of the University of London, and, on occasion, with experts from institutions outside the University of London (e.g. the British Library) when such experts are also Teachers of the University of London. In cases where it is more appropriate for MPhil/PhD students to be registered at a College of the University, the Institute is happy to offer informal advice.
Opportunities and facilities
The Human Rights Consortium (HRC) at the School of Advanced Study brings together multidisciplinary expertise across a range of areas within human rights, including environmental justice, ecocide and genocide studies, indigenous rights, international refugee law, and securing rights for LGBTI people worldwide. The HRC acts as a national and international collaborative centre to support, promote and disseminate academic and policy work in human rights and hosts a number of seminars and research-led conferences on different themes in human rights throughout the academic year.
How to apply
Before submitting an application you are advised to contact a member of the academic staff who has interests in your proposed field of study to discuss your proposal. A list of academic staff and their interests can be found here.
Candidates will normally receive an initial response to their application within 28 working days. Those who have been formally interviewed will normally be informed within one week as to whether they are to be offered a place.
Note: in accordance with regulations research students will be registered for the MPhil degree in the first instance. Upgrading to PhD will be considered in the second year for full-time students and in the third or fourth year for part-time students.
Contact the Institute
The School of Advanced Study is a unique environment in which to study the humanities. The School strives to reflect the latest developments in thinking across the humanities disciplines it supports and to ensure that its programmes reflect this. We are also aware that the needs of our students are constantly changing. With that in mind, the School continually reviews the its programmes and, as part of that process, reserves the right to alter or discontinue them.
We assure you that we carry out these exercises at no detriment to any enrolled students. Students enrolled on any programme that we discontinue will be able to complete that programme within a reasonable timeframe and with all the necessary resources at their disposal. The School will communicate any anticipated changes with students as early as possible.