Studying for a PhD at the Refugee Law Initiative, School of Advanced Study

The Refugee Law Initiative (RLI) is a leading interdisciplinary academic centre concentrating on international refugee law, policy and practice. As a PhD student at the RLI, you would be studying at a national focal point for leading and promoting cutting edge research in these fields. 

With guidance from our expert supervisors, you’ll carry out extensive independent research culminating in a thesis of up to 100,000 words. This research 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.

PhD study at the RLI

Choosing to start a PhD requires careful consideration as it can be a challenging and lengthy under-taking. The University of London and specifically the School of Advanced Study (SAS), where the RLI is based is, however, an excellent and supportive environment which will support you on your new academic journey. Indeed, SAS is the UK's national research hub in the humanities and offers a world-class research environment to our research students.

Doctoral students at the RLI benefit from the RLI’s distinctive refugee law and policy expertise in the UK and globally. Important career-progression opportunities are available through access to the RLI’s established academic and practitioner networks and annual series of refugee-focused academic events.

The RLI hosts extensive global networks of research affiliates, and senior research associates and practitioners, which provide a unique infrastructure for doctoral scholars to pursue innovative, practice-focused research which aims to provide real impact in legal and policy responses to refugee and forced displacement issues.

As part of this scholarly community, doctoral students also have the opportunity to participate in shared training events and seminars dedicated to interdisciplinary reflection on the refugee and forced migration theme. These include discussion groups and work in progress sessions (in which students present their own research from the second year onwards). 

At the RLI, doctoral students are offered valuable publication and editing experience as part of the RLI’s International Refuge Law book series (Brill) and Working Papers Series, and benefit from the RLI’s specialist doctoral training on refugee research, and the University of London doctoral training programme in legal research methods. 

For those working on internal displacement, the RLI hosts a dedicated Internal Displacement Research Programme and runs the Researching Internal Displacement platform online.

Doctoral Centre 

In addition, the dedicated Doctoral Centre [] at the School of Advanced Study supports researchers in the humanities in the School, across the UK, and internationally. It provides a freely-accessible and wide-ranging programme of research training in skills for humanities researchers of all sorts and wherever they may be located. 

It also co-ordinates and facilitates paid-for short courses and summer schools run by the institutes and other centres and departments at the School. Internally, it oversees the academic experience of MPhil and PhD students in the School and provides expertise and support in learning technology for all teaching and learning across the School.

Key Information

Programme structure

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. 

The primary activity of the PhD 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 regular seminars 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 are also encouraged to participate in the regular seminars held at the RLI 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.

Doctoral research at the Refugee Law Initiative is primarily campus-based, but distance-based doctoral research is also possible.


To view the current prospectus for the MPhil/PhD at the Refugee Law Initiative, click here.

Subject Areas and Supervisors

The Refugee Law Initiative offers doctoral research supervision in broad areas relating to law and policy applicable to refugees and other displaced persons.

Specific areas of particular interest to current RLI academic staff reflect our projects and include:

Professor David Cantor
Professor of Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies 

  • Refugee and human rights law at the international and national levels 
  • Protection practice in displacement contexts 
  • Refugees fleeing war 
  • Disasters, environment and mobility 
  • Refugee protection in Latin America 
  • Internal displacement 
  • Criminality as a driver of displacement

Professor Sarah Singer
Professor of Refugee Law 

  • Refugee law and rights in domestic and international law 
  • Undesirable but unreturnable migrants 
  • Asylum, criminality and terrorism 
  • Detention and reception conditions for asylum seekers and refugees 
  • Humanitarian accountability in displacement situation

Dr Nicholas Maple
Lecturer in Refugee Studies 

  • Accessing protection and solutions in Africa 
  • The Global Refugee Regime 
  • Refugee Camps and Urban Displacement

Submitting an application

Before submitting an application, you are advised to contact a member of the Refugee Law Initiative academic staff who has interests in your proposed field of study to discuss your proposal. 

Your application to the School will require you to submit a research proposal, so it is advised to have one drafted ahead of contacting RLI academic staff and submitting your formal application. Guidelines on drafting your research proposal are available here.

We would normally expect candidates for the doctoral programme to hold the equivalent of a UK first or second-class undergraduate degree and a distinction-level Masters degree. They would usually be in subjects relevant to the proposed field of doctoral research.

For the current application deadline information and modes of study, please visit the School of Advanced Study website.

Please be aware that the application deadlines for funding schemes may differ.  

Fees and Funding

Fees are set annually and cover registration, tuition, and (in the case of research students) supervision. For the current MPhil/PhD tuition fees, please visit the School of Advanced Study website.

Please visit the MPhil/PhD Funding page for a list of scholarships, bursaries and fellowships, as well as government loans and postgraduate loans.