African Studies PhD/MA by Research (On-Campus or by Distance Learning)

The Department of African Studies and Anthropology (DASA) offers promising candidates the opportunity to carry out research in a centre of excellence in the study of Africa.

African Studies and Anthropology has been ranked second among all Area Studies departments in the country in the Research Excellence Framework 2014. 

Applications for 2017/18 are now open. Applications must be submitted by midnight on one of the following dates: Tuesday 22 November 2016, Tuesday 7 March 2017, or Tuesday 27 June 2017 to be considered in each recruitment round. Please see 'How to apply' in course details for more information.

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Dr Tom Penfold

Dr Tom Penfold

“I am now doing a two-year post-doc at the University of Johannesburg. I got accepted for the position on the same day as I graduated. I am also working on extending my PhD thesis into a book and a series of journal articles. I know there’s a very real reason directly behind these opportunities and that is the University of Birmingham. Birmingham’s support included the opportunity to go on fieldwork in South Africa where I met my new supervisor.”
Ask Tom a question

The MA by Research programme requires you to prepare a dissertation of up to 40,000 words on a topic of your choice, for which an academic staff member will provide expert supervision.

The PhD - the most advanced research degree – leads to a dissertation of up to 80,000 words on a subject of your choice and under the expert supervision of an academic member of staff.

We give all possible support to our researchers, developing the resources available at the University and encouraging an active postgraduate environment for the exchange of information and ideas.

Distance learning

You can study an MA by Research or PhD programme on campus or by distance learning. Please note that if you are studying with us by distance learning, the programme includes a fully-funded annual visit to campus for each full year of your programme (every two years for part-time students).

For more information on distance learning including answers to frequently asked questions, student experiences and funding opportunities, please see our distance learning website

Profiles of our current African Studies doctoral researchers

At Birmingham you also have the option of studying languages, free of charge. Almost no other UK University offers you the opportunity to learn the intense graduate academic language skills which you may need to pursue your research.

Why study this course

  • African Studies and Anthropology has been ranked second among all Area Studies departments in the country in the Research Excellence Framework 2014: 44% of research at the University of Birmingham for Area Studies was top 4* rated ‘world-leading’. A further 49% was rated 3* ‘internationally excellent’. The first Area Studies department focuses on European Studies, making the department effectively the number one place for African Studies in the UK.
  • We offer a fantastic research environment in our subject area, with weekly departmental seminars (the AFRICA Talks) bringing leading researchers in African Studies to present their work at DASA; frequent international conferences on cutting-edge research topics hosted in our campus; and close collaboration with African universities and scholars. Graduate students play a vital role in these activities, becoming integrated in international research networks.
  • Follow DASA events and research highlights on the Africa Hub Facebook page

Fees and funding

We charge an annual tuition fee. Fees for 2017/18:

  • Home/EU: £4,195 full-time; £2,098 part-time
  • Overseas: £15,210 full-time

Please note: the fee is the same whether studying on campus or by distance learning. The fee for the distance learning programme also includes a fully-funded annual visit to campus for each full year of your programme (every two years for part-time students).

The above fee quoted is for one year only; for those studying over two or more years, tuition fees will also be payable in subsequent years of your programme.

Eligibility for Home/EU or Overseas fees can be verified with Admissions. Learn more about fees for international students.

Tuition fees can either be paid in full or by instalments. Learn more about postgraduate tuition fees and funding.

Funding opportunities

Scholarships to cover fees and/or maintenance costs may be available. To discover whether you are eligible for any award across the University, and to start your funding application, please visit the University's Postgraduate funding database.

International students can often gain funding through overseas research scholarships, Commonwealth scholarships or their home government.

Students applying for the MA by Research programme may be eligible to apply for a postgraduate loan to help finance their studies. For those starting in the 2017/18 academic year, these government-backed student loans will provide up to £10,280 for Masters courses in all subject areas. Criteria, eligibility, repayment and application information are available on the UK government website.

Entry requirements

Our requirements for postgraduate research are dependent on the type of programme you are applying for:

  • For MRes and MA by Research programmes, entry to our programmes usually requires a good (normally a 2:1 or above) Honours degree, or an equivalent qualification if you were educated outside the UK.
  • Applicants for a PhD will also need to hold a Masters qualification at Merit level or above (or its international equivalent).

Any academic and professional qualifications or relevant professional experience you may have are normally taken into account, and in some cases, form an integral part of the entrance requirements.

If you are applying for distance learning research programmes, you will also be required to demonstrate that you have the time, commitment, facilities and experience to study by distance learning.

If your qualifications are non-standard or different from the entry requirements stated here, please contact the admissions tutor.

International students

Academic requirements

We accept a range of qualifications; our country pages show you what qualifications we accept from your country.

English language requirements

You can satisfy our English language requirements in two ways:

How to apply

Application deadlines for 2017/18 entry

Applications for 2017/18 are now open. Applications must be submitted by midnight on one of the following dates: Tuesday 22 November 2016, Tuesday 7 March 2017, or Tuesday 27 June 2017 to be considered in each recruitment round.

Before you make your application

Please refer to our six step process on applying for PhD, MA by Research and MRes opportunities for Arts subject areas.

You may wish to register your interest with us to receive regular news and updates on postgraduate life within this Department and the wider University.

Additional Guidance for applicants to the PhD Distance Learning study mode.

Making your application


When clicking on the Apply Now button you will be directed to an application specifically designed for the programme you wish to apply for where you will create an account with the University application system and submit your application and supporting documents online. Further information regarding how to apply online can be found on the How to apply pages

Apply now

The following summary indicates our principal areas of research expertise. Please view our staff profiles for further possible research topics.

Popular culture; religion, oral literature and performance; Yoruba culture and society. Contact: Professor Karin Barber - Tel: +44 (0)121 414 5125; Email:

Livelihoods, nature-society interaction; rural energy. Contact: Dr Reg Cline-Cole - Tel: +44 (0)121 414 5132; Email:

Society, religion and politics in Nigeria. Contact: Dr Insa Nolte - Tel: +44 (0)121 414 5129; Email:

History and politics with particular focus on southern Africa, but also more generally. Contact: Dr Keith Shear - Tel: +44 (0)121 414 2288; Email:

Contemporary history of Ghana and Togo; social change and education. Contact: Dr Kate Skinner - Tel: +44 (0)121 414 6218; Email:

Labour, slavery and sexual slavery, migration, and development in West Africa and Africa more generally. Contact: Dr Benedetta Rossi - Tel: +44 (0)21 414 7343; Email:

Labour, trade, migration and development with special reference to southern Africa Contact: Dr Maxim Bolt - Tel: +44 (0)121 414 8444; Email:

Yoruba culture, cultures of travel, print culture, literature. Contact: Dr Rebecca Jones - Tel: +44 (0)121 414 2885; Email:

The University has been recognised for its impressive graduate employment, being named ‘University of the Year for Graduate Employment’ in The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2016.

Your degree will provide excellent preparation for employment and this will be further enhanced by the employability skills training offered through the College of Arts and Law Graduate School. The University also offers a wide range of activities and services to give our students the edge in the job market, including: career planning designed to meet the needs of postgraduates; opportunities to meet employers face-to-face at on-campus recruitment fairs, employer presentations and skills workshops; individual guidance on your job applications, writing your CV and improving your interview technique; and access to comprehensive listings of hundreds of graduate jobs and work experience opportunities.

University of the Year for employability

Our African Studies graduates develop a range of skills including oral and written communication, analysis and evaluation, problem solving, independent working and research skills, which can be used in a variety of occupations. A snapshot of graduate destinations over a five-year period has identified a variety of career paths, including lecturing and paid research. Over the past three years, 100% of African Studies students have been in employment or further study within six months of graduating.

Birmingham has been transformed into one of Europe's most exciting cities. It is more than somewhere to study; it is somewhere to build a successful future.

Get involved

In addition to the student groups hosted by the Guild of Students, each school runs its own social activities, research fora, seminars and groups for postgraduates.


Coming to Birmingham to study might be your first time living away from home. Our student accommodation will allow you to enjoy your new-found independence in safe, welcoming and sociable surroundings.

Support in your studies

We offer an Academic Writing Advisory Service, which aims to help your transition to postgraduate research. The service offers guidance on organising your ideas and structuring an argument, referencing and avoiding plagiarism, being clear and coherent and editing your work for academic style and linguistic accuracy. Individual support is provided by a professional academic writing advisor via tutorials or email, as well as through the provision of online materials.

The City of Birmingham

One of Europe's most exciting destinations, Birmingham is brimming with life and cultures, making it a wonderful place to live, study and work. Our students fall in love with the city - around 40% of our graduates choose to make Birmingham their home.