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Third-cycle (PhD) programmes


7.Higher education

7.5Third-cycle (PhD) programmes

Last update: 27 November 2023

University of Malta

Admission requirements

Students who have obtained a Master degree from the University of Malta or any other recognised university in an area of study that is related to the research to be conducted are eligible to apply. Course Bye-laws may provide the possibility to applicants who are in possession of a First Class Honours or Second Class Honours (Upper Division) and also have a strong background in the area of study related to the proposed area of research to apply. In this instance, the Faculty Doctoral Committee is required to  submit a clearly motivated recommendation for acceptance to Board of the Faculty for eventual consideration by the Doctoral Academic  Committee and Senate.

Applicants for the Ph.D. degree are required to provide:

•    the provisional title for the thesis

•    a detailed research proposal, normally of approximately 1000 words

•    a statement on whether the studies will be undertaken on a full-time or a part-time basis, and, in the latter case, the number of hours that shall be dedicated to this research work

•    a statement by a member of staff of the University who has agreed to act as Principal Supervisor

•    a recommendation from the head of department or the division coordinator that the research topic is acceptable

•    where appropriate, a request to present the thesis in a language other than English

•    where appropriate, a request to undertake the research outside the University.

Applicants are interviewed by the Faculty Doctoral Committee with the participation of the applicants’ designated Principal Supervisor in order to assess the applicants’ ability and potential to reach doctoral level. The result of the interview shall be made available to the Doctoral Academic Committee  and Senate together with the Board’s recommendation. 


Applications may be submitted at any time of the year.  However, students are registered with effect from one of the following dates: 1 October, 1 December, 1 February, 1 April and 1 June. Accepted applicants shall be expected to enrol by the date indicated to them.

Transfer from M.Phil. to Ph.D.

Senate may allow a transfer of registration from the M.Phil. Degree to the Ph.D. Degree with the same research proposal if the following conditions have been satisfied:

•    after 12 months of full-time study or 24 months of part-time study have elapsed, an ad hoc board appointed by the Board for the purpose, composed of a chairman, the Principal Supervisor and another member, shall assess the student’s work

•    the student has successfully completed a programme of study, if applicable; and

•    a satisfactory progress report from the student’s Faculty Doctoral Committee has been received; and

•    the quality of the research work presented by the student has the potential to reach the standard appropriate to that required of a doctoral degree.

There may be instances where the ad hoc board may establish that:

•    (i) the student has not successfully completed the programme of study; or

•    (ii) determine that the student’s work has not reached a sufficient standard to warrant recommendation of the transfer and advises re-submission within a specified period; or

•    (iii) advise that the student be given up to 12 months in order to complete his/her studies for the award of an M.Phil. Degree;

In all cases, the ad hoc board shall inform the Doctoral Academic Committee, through the Faculty Board.  If the transfer is allowed by the Senate, then work done for the M.Phil. degree will be applicable towards the requirements for the Ph.D. Degree.

Status of doctoral students/candidates

Full-time doctoral students may be required to support the Faculty’s teaching activities and/or provide laboratory demonstration service for up to a maximum of 100 hours a year, provided that these duties do not conflict with their research work. Doctoral students involved in teaching shall be assigned a mentor to whom they may turn for advice so that effective teaching is ensured.

Supervision arrangements

When a Ph.D. application has been accepted, the Senate on the recommendation of the Board and the Doctoral Academic Committee appoints a Principal Supervisor from among the members of the academic staff. Such a member of staff usually has appropriate qualifications with extensive knowledge and research experience in the broad subject area of the student.  A co-supervisor may be appointed to provide a link if research is of an interdisciplinary nature and/or if research is being undertaken in collaboration with another organisation. However the Principal Supervisor retains ultimate reasonability of leadership in the supervision.

The University Ph.D. regulations specify  that a principal supervisor  should not be related to a student by consanguinity or by affinity to the third degree inclusive or have a dual relationship with the student.

The role of the principal supervisors, co-supervisors and advisers is one which requires responsibility in providing guidance to students under his/her care in the following areas:

•    offering ideas and providing guidance and encouragement on the planning and progress of research, submission of the thesis and publication of the results;

•    providing or arranging for instruction in research methodology, including use of information technology; and

•    guiding students in acquiring and improving appropriate generic skills, including written and oral communication, numeracy, decision-taking, and organisational and management skills.

•    ensuring that the students are aware of the manner in which research results are reported and that they understand the implications of plagiarism and other unbecoming academic practices.

Regular meetings need to be held so that progress is reviewed. These meetings shall occur at least six times a year for full-time students. Other means of communication may be employed if necessary.

Principal Supervisors, co-supervisors and advisers are not responsible for proof-reading theses. Neither is it their responsibility to ensure that theses do not contain plagiarised parts. However if plagiarism is detected in a draft or in the final version of a thesis prior to the formal submission for examination, the Principal Supervisor, depending on the gravity of the offence, will use discretion as to what corrective measures if deemed appropriate are taken.

Once the thesis has been submitted for examination, the supervisory role ceases. This role will be re-assumed if the thesis is referred back for significant correction pending final acceptance.


Doctoral degree examination is through a written thesis written in a prescribed format and which should not exceed 100,000 words excluding bibliography, appendices and abstract. The work presented shall conform to the established scholarly standards of the appropriate discipline.

Three months prior to the intended date of submission, students shall signify their intention to the Faculty Doctoral Committee to present their thesis stating its exact title. The Faculty Doctoral Committee shall advise the Board to recommend to Senate the appointment of a Board of Examiners. Along with the thesis being presented for examination, students are required to submit a signed declaration that the thesis is their own personal work and that the greater portion of their work has been done after their registration for the Ph.D. Degree. The Principal Supervisors shall confirm on the appropriate form that they are aware that the student is submitting the thesis for examination by the Board of Examiners.

A Board of Examiners is appointed by the Senate and on the Board’s recommendation shall include a Chairperson, an external examiner, and at least another member, provided that the oral examination of the thesis shall be conducted by at least three examiners including the external examiner. All members appointed shall be academics experienced in research in the general area of the student’s thesis and where practicable shall have experience as specialists in the topic. When the student is an assistant lecturer at the University a second external examiner (normally non-visiting) must be appointed. Principal Supervisors, co-supervisors and advisers shall be precluded from being examiners.  However the Principal Supervisor shall be invited to attend as an observer but must withdraw prior to the final deliberations of the Board of Examiners.

The examination of the Ph.D. thesis takes place in two stages. Stage one is the submission of the thesis by the student and the preliminary assessment by the Board of Examiners. Stage two is the oral defence of the thesis.

When assessing a thesis the Board of Examiners require:

•    evidence that it represents a significant contribution to knowledge in a particular field of study; 

•    evidence of originality; 

•    evidence of the ability of the student to relate the subject matter of the thesis to the existing body of knowledge; 

•    evidence of the ability of the student to apply research methods appropriate to the subject; and 

•    a satisfactory level of literary presentation.

An independent preliminary report is written by each examiner and sent to the Chairperson of the Board of Examiners. Each examiner shall consider whether the thesis satisfied the requirements for the award of the Ph.D. degree and where possible make an appropriate provisional recommendation subject to the outcome of the oral examination. The Board of Examiners then decides whether to admit the student to an oral examination after either approving the Ph.D. thesis unconditionally or subjecting the thesis to the correction of minor errors. If the Board of Examiners is not satisfied with the quality of the thesis, it will not admit the student to the oral examination and

•    refer the thesis back to the student for major revision and resubmission within a minimum of six months and a maximum of twelve months in revised form to the satisfaction of the Board of Examiners; or 

•    not permit the student to resubmit in a revised form but admit the student to an oral examination for the award of the M.Phil. Degree instead; or 

•    refer the thesis back to the student for major revision and resubmission within six months in a revised form to the satisfaction of the Board of Examiners for the award of the M.Phil. Degree instead; or 

•    not grant permission to resubmit and state that no degree be awarded, provided that permission as in sub-paragraphs (b) or (c) of this paragraph is granted once only.

The oral examination, which covers the subject of the thesis and other relevant matters, is held at the University of Malta. Students defending their thesis are informed three weeks prior to the scheduled date. Following the oral examination, the Board of Examiners submits a final collective report (together with the examiners’ individual report) to Senate.

The collective report will recommend that:

•    the Ph.D. Degree be awarded if the thesis satisfies the criteria set out in paragraphs (1) and (2) of regulation 5 of the Ph.D. regulations; or


•    the Ph.D. Degree be awarded subject to minor amendments being carried out to the satisfaction of the Chairman of the Board of Examiners within three months of the official notification to the student by the Board of Examiners; or 

•    the Ph.D. degree be not awarded and that the student be either awarded the M.Phil. Degree or be declared to have definitively failed.

If the examiners are not in agreement, the procedures established within the University assessment regulations are followed.


Malta College of Art, Science and Technology (MCAST)

Professional Research Doctorate (DRes) on the Competitive Behaviour of Small Organizations

The research-based ‘Professional Research Doctorate on the Competitive Behaviour of Small Organizations’, or DRes, addresses a very specific, much needed, and purposely narrow area of research focus, and through applying a powerful mixed-methods research methodology that is based on Grounded Theory and that runs on MCAST’s MAXQDA platform. It focuses on building usable, substantive theories for small organizational behaviour, using the grounded theory method of enquiry. It looks towards understanding the patterns of decision-making behaviours, and best-practice models adopted, in both business-oriented small firms and in non-profit oriented small organizations.

Entry requirements

A relevant first degree and a relevant master qualification at 60 ECTS, with at least 5 years relevant industry or research experience. 

Other Entry Requirements 

A relevant first degree and a relevant master qualification at 90 ECTS, with at least 2 years relevant industry or research experience or   A master qualification in the MCAST MVEAR at 120 ECTS, with at least 2 years’ relevant industry or research experience   or   A relevant master qualification at 90 ECTS, and at least 10 years’ relevant industry or academic experience.

The Unique Value Proposition for the MCAST Professional Research Doctorate 

The MCAST Professional Research Doctorate (DRes) on the Competitive Behaviour of Small Organizations is a predominantly research-based EQF/MQF Level 8 qualification that takes on a specific remit to understand and build applied theories of small organization competitive behaviour within small island states, using the grounded theory method of enquiry and adopting qualitative and mixed methods techniques. It is argued that a knowledge of applied, substantive models of small organizational actions and behaviours, as these organizations seek to utilize resources more effectively and to remain sustainable within their environments, will allow for a vital mapping of best practice and usable behavioural theories that can be adopted by other small organizations.  

Outline of DRes Schedule/Course Duration

The DRes runs over a minimum of 5 years on a part-time basis, and is generally aimed at professionals that hold relevant first and Masters degrees. The main component of the programme is a research endeavour of PhD level, taken on after following a successful journey through four taught modules relating to the MCAST Post Graduate Certificate in Research Methods (PG. Cert. Research Methods) qualification.