University of Otago PhD Admission

University of Otago PhD Admission

Admission to the PhD degree

In order to engage in study towards a PhD, it is necessary both to be admitted to the programme and enrolled as a student of the University. Admission occurs once, at the beginning of a candidature. It involves an academic decision about the prospective student’s eligibility for PhD study. Enrolment follows admission and is a University requirement which occurs each year (or part year) until the thesis is submitted for examination.

A student may usually be admitted as a candidate for a PhD by one of two means: direct admission, or upgrading from a current University of Otago research Master’s degree or (in special circumstances) a Bachelor of Medical Science with Honours.

Direct Admission

This is the normal category of admission to PhD study. Applicants should apply for direct admission once their thesis topic, preliminary outline (approximately 500 words) and supervisory arrangements have been finalised, and once a department has informally agreed to support their candidacy.

In order to be considered for direct admission into the PhD programme, applicants should apply online via the PhD qualification page ( Click on the Apply Now button and this will take you through to the eVision application. Required documents will need to be uploaded in PDF format as part of the process. You need to provide:

  • Certified copies of all tertiary-level academic transcripts and grading schemes
  • Curriculum Vitae (CV)
  • Preliminary research outline. PhD applicants wanting to present a nominated creative component as part of their thesis must include details for this component in their initial research proposal prior to admission into the University of Otago PhD programme. This would include a brief description of the expected creative outputs for examination (e.g. performance, exhibition, design, novel, film, carving, etc), expected resources required by the research, and an indication of how theoretical and practical components will be integrated.

Depending on your circumstances, you may also need or wish to provide:

  • A part-time statement indicating that you have sufficient time and intellectual and social support to complete your PhD in a timely manner.
  • An off-campus statement if your research will involve substantial periods of time off-campus.

Upgrade from Master’s to PhD

In certain exceptional circumstances, students enrolled in a University of Otago research Master’s degree may be permitted to upgrade their studies to a PhD degree. An upgrade may only occur if it is fully supported in writing by the student’s supervisor and approved by the Head of the Department, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor and the Graduate Research Committee.

In order to be considered for an upgrade, applicants should apply online via the PhD qualification page, click on the Apply Now button and this will take you through to the eVision application.

Objective evidence of the candidate’s ability to satisfactorily complete a PhD degree will be required from the primary supervisor who must complete an assessment in eVision of the candidate’s ability to perform at doctoral level. The most robust evidence is the publication of a paper in a journal, however a presentation at a conference or an address at a departmental seminar can also be used in the upgrade application. Where a presentation or seminar is used, an independent assessment of the quality of the work should be included in the application. In other words, for a transfer to occur, while the opinion of a supervisor is highly valued, there does need to be additional support.

See also  University of Otago

In assessing an application for an upgrade, the Graduate Research Committee will consider whether the applicant has:

  • chosen an appropriate PhD research topic of sufficient scope
  • gained satisfactory knowledge of the background literature and is able to relate the project to existing scholarship and research in the field
  • started to work at a PhD level, especially in terms of theoretical insights and conceptual frameworks
  • the ability to exercise independent critical powers
  • the ability to make a significant contribution to subject knowledge in the research field
  • adequate training in research techniques and methodology
  • planned a suitable research programme likely to achieve a PhD conclusion

Master’s upgrades will not normally be considered until at least 8 months of Master’s thesis work has been completed. When a candidate upgrades from a Master’s degree to a PhD, it is expected that the work already completed on the Master’s will contribute towards that PhD. Upgrading student’s receiving a University of Otago Master’s Scholarship (or equivalent named scholarship) will have their scholarship upgraded automatically to a doctoral-level scholarship; other students may apply for a doctoral-level scholarship at the point of upgrade. In either case, completed Master’s thesis work will be factored into the tenure of any doctoral scholarship offer, with the tenure not exceeding three (full-time equivalent) years from the start of the thesis Master’s. For example, a student who has completed twelve months of Master’s thesis study will receive a maximum of 24 months of doctoral scholarship funding from the point of upgrade.

Following an upgrade, if a candidate submits their thesis prior to 2.5 equivalent full-time years of combined Master’s and PhD enrolment, the supervisor(s) and the Head of Department need to argue a case for early submission to the Graduate Research Committee.


In addition to the specific requirements for entrance into the PhD programme, the normal entrance requirements of the University as stated in the University Calendar apply.

All applications for admission must be endorsed by the relevant Head(s) of Department, Dean and/or Pro-Vice-Chancellor. Applications are then considered by the Graduate Research Committee, which meets once a month. Once approval for admission has been granted, and the candidate confirms their start date with their supervisor, the candidate’s enrolment as a student of the University will be processed. The official PhD start date is normally the first of the month after the application is approved by the Graduate Research Committee unless a later date is requested.



Enrolment involves:

  • Completion of online course enrolment via eVision
  • Payment of Tuition Fees

A candidate is required to be enrolled continuously for the entire period of the candidacy, up to the submission of the thesis, unless approval has been given for temporary withdrawal (known as a deferral).


Initial Status of PhD Candidates

Once admitted as a candidate for a PhD, students are granted provisional status. This means that they must demonstrate during the first six months to one year of their candidature that they have made sufficient progress to have their admission confirmed. Note, that many departments do not confirm candidates earlier than one year; so failure to be confirmed as six months should not be seen as a sign of poor progress. Confirmation, which is granted on the basis of satisfactory progress reports, must not be considered as automatic. The University retains the right to terminate candidature where sufficient progress has not been achieved.

See also  University of Otagouni Cross Credit


Off-Campus PhD Study

The Regulations for the degree state that normally at least six months of study and research shall be carried out at the University. If a candidate cannot meet this requirement, special permission should be sought at the time of admission. There is provision for this in the application process.

For any candidate who will be based primarily outside any of the University’s various campuses, there should be an explanation of the reasons why the candidate needs to work off-campus. The supporting statement must also include:

  • The name of any other institution in which the candidate will be based for substantial periods of time
  • The intended periods of residency at the University
  • The arrangements which will be made to ensure adequate supervision at a distance during periods of non-residency at the University

In certain circumstances candidates may be permitted to travel overseas for reasons relating to their research. The link to a “Change of Research Details” eVision form is available on the PhD website for requesting permission to study overseas for longer than two months (study of less than two months does not require permission). All candidates other than New Zealand Citizens should be aware that there are time limits on total overseas study, beyond which international study fees may be charged. For international candidates and those who are New Zealand Permanent Residents, up to one year (equivalent full-time study) can be approved for overseas study provided the study is research-related i.e., involves field or laboratory work that could not be done in New Zealand. Note, candidates may not return to their home country to write-up without incurring international fees.

For more details see Changes to Admission Details or Circumstances.


Full-time and Part-time Study

A candidate may apply to enrol as a full-time (1 EFTS) or part-time (0.5 EFTS) candidate, but may, with approval, change that status at the start of first semester or second semester in a calendar year.

The University will not normally enrol candidates part-time unless it is satisfied that: (a) the candidate has access to substantial blocks of time to devote to the PhD; and (b) access to sufficient social and intellectual support, so as to make the completion of the PhD likely within a reasonable time-frame.

The University expects that full-time candidates will devote the majority of their working time to their studies.

See Also: University of Otago Admissions