Political Studies

We have a lively community of doctoral students under the supervision of members of staff in the department. Our PhD students participate fully in the postgraduate life of the department.


Completing a Ph.D in politics from Wits can open up a range of career opportunities, including academic positions, research roles in government and non-governmental organisations, and roles in think tanks and policy institutes. 

The Department of Political Studies is one of the oldest and most respected departments of political science in South Africa. It has a diverse faculty with expertise in a range of fields, including political theory, African politics, development studies, public policy, human rights, social movements, transitional justice, gender and sexuality, and religion and politics. 

Practical advice regarding the application process 

Start with the department before making a formal application to the university 

We strongly encourage people who are considering applying to get in touch with the departmental Ph.D Coordinator, Prof Joel Quirk (joel.quirk@wits.ac.za), before taking the step of submitting a formal application for admission through the Wits online system. 

To be accepted into our Ph.D programme you need to have a Ph.D supervisor confirmed as part of the application process. This is frequently the most challenge step for admission. Prof Quirk coordinates this process at a department level by trying to match applicants with suitable supervisors (but applicants can also approach potential supervisors directly as well). We cannot secure a suitable supervisor for everyone who applies, so we are sometimes obliged to turn down applications with strong marks due to a lack of suitable supervision. 

To help place candidates with supervisors we ask people who are considering submitting an application to send the following documentation to Prof Quirk via email: 

  • A short research proposal (aim for roughly 3,000 words, and try and include your research questions, a brief account of the relevant literature and your place within it, and a short sketch of your proposed research methods)
  • A sample of your academic writing (usually your MA dissertation, but can also be an essay from a postgraduate course).
  • Complete academic transcript(s).
  • A current CV.

Potential supervisors read these proposals and work samples in order to decide whether or not they are in a position to supervise, so you should try and ensure that the proposal is as strong as possible in terms of displaying your research plans to best effect. 

Information regarding the kinds of topics which members of staff are available to supervise can be found here. Some staff members already have a large cohort of students to supervise, so not everyone is available.  

The formal application process 

Once you have a suitable supervisor lined up you will need to move to the formal application process. This needs to include the following elements, which get uploaded onto the Wits online system.  

  1.      All Graduation Certificates (everything needs to be recently certified) 
  2.      Mark Transcripts (the mark for your MA thesis mark must be identifiable within the overall coursework marks transcript)
  3.      A current CV
  4.      A writing sample.
  5.      PhD Mini-Research Proposal (aim for around 3,000 words)
  6.      SAQA Evaluation for non-South African degrees (this increasingly takes longer than it should, and there are currently provisions in place to apply and be provisionally accepted while waiting for SAQA certification to come through). 

You will find information for online applications at Wits here: https://www.wits.ac.za/applications/portal/index 

Please do note that we do not usually accept PhD applications which have less that the following: a) the average mark for your Masters degree (thesis and coursework) must be a minimum of 70%  AND b) the research thesis must also have a minimum of 70%. Applicants with non-South African degrees are evaluated on an equivalence basis. We also take professional experience into account in determining admission.  

There is funding available through the National Research Foundation, Post-Graduate Merit Awards, and a number of other options. However, the vast majority of available funding options require you to have an offer of admission (which in turn requires having a supervisor lined up), so we generally suggest prioritising the admissions process before moving to the funding issue. Admissions at Ph.D level are accepted on a rolling basis, but the funding cycle and academic calendar are structured around the expectation of a February start date. The South African Department of Home Affairs can make things challenging for international students, so it can sometimes take a while to secure a student visa following admission. There are provisions for full-time and part-time studies. It is expected that the full-time programme will take three years, but it is not uncommon for students to take four to five years. Part-time is expected to be five years, but six or seven years is not uncommon here. 

Entry Requirements

All PhD applicants must have 70% or above in their Masters course work or Masters by Research. 

 Also see the overview. 

University Application Process

  • Applications are handled centrally by the Student Enrolment Centre (SEnC). Once your application is complete in terms of requested documentation, your application will be referred to the relevant School for assessment. Click here to see an overview of the Wits applications process.
  • Please apply online. Upload your supporting documents at the time of application, or via the Self Service Portal.
  • Applicants can monitor the progress of their applications via the Self Service Portal.
  • Selections for programmes that have a limited intake but attract a large number of applications may only finalise the application at the end of the application cycle.

Please note that the Entry Requirements are a guide. Meeting these requirements does not guarantee a place. Final selection is made subject to the availability of places, academic results and other entry requirements where applicable.

International students, please check this section.

For more information, contact the Student Call Centre +27 (0)11 717 1888, or log a query at www.wits.ac.za/askwits.

University Fees and Funding

Click here to see the current average tuition fees. The Fees site also provides information about the payment of fees and closing dates for fees payments. Once you have applied you will be able to access the fees estimator on the student self-service portal.

For information about postgraduate funding opportunities, including the postgraduate merit award, click here. Please also check your School website for bursary opportunities. NRF bursaries: The National Research Foundation (NRF) offers a wide range of opportunities in terms of bursaries and fellowships to students pursuing postgraduate studies. External bursaries portal: The Bursaries South Africa website provides a comprehensive list of bursaries in South Africa.