Research course


Open University · School of Physical Sciences

Entry requirements

PhD: The normal minimum entrance requirement is an upper second class honours degree or master's degree, relevant to the proposed area of study, from a recognised higher education institution in the UK. You should also have experience of academic research in the previous four years, normally in the form of either a master's degree in research methods, an undergraduate degree with a research element in the final year, or work-related experience with evidence through research reports. If you're not sure if you meet the entry requirements, please contact us ( MPhil: Applicants should normally hold, or be expecting to obtain, a bachelors degree with at least first or upper-second class honours, or an equivalent qualification. However, entry requirements differ between academic areas, and sometimes a taught masters degree is also required. The research topic pages (in the menu on the right of our Research areas page) give details of specific entry requirements, and provide contact details to discuss your suitability for the MPhil with a member of academic staff.

Months of entry

October, February

Course content

We have international programmes of observational, theoretical, laboratory-based and mission-based astronomy research, focusing on all four of the key science questions of European astronomy and aligned with the Science & Technology Facilities Council (STFC) science challenges: Do we understand the extremes of the Universe? How do galaxies form and evolve? What is the origin and evolution of stars and planets? How do we fit in?

Astronomy is one of five research disciplines within the School of Physical Sciences, which also hosts physics and planetary science research and teaching.

Key facts
  • Astronomy is a highly productive, internationally excellent and expanding discipline within the OU, producing typically over 150 research papers a year and financially supported by STFC, the European Commission and other funding bodies.
  • We were part of the Unit of Assessment 7 submission from The Open University, which achieved 6th in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework power ranking (reflecting the quality and cohort size), with 77 per cent of our outputs achieving 3*/4* grades.
  • As part of the Physical Sciences, postgraduate students in astronomy benefit from specific research skills training related to their subject areas (e.g. astronomical computing, statistics) in addition to their individual research project supervision, as well as general research training at faculty and University level.
  • Astronomy is a priority area for OU-funded broadcasting, and there are often opportunities to become involved in BBC television or radio series. We regularly consult on BBC television series funded by the OU including Stargazing Live and Bang Goes The Theory.
  • We also teach more astronomy undergraduates than the rest of the UK higher education sector put together, with over 40 years' experience specialising in distance education, taking students from no previous knowledge to undergraduate degrees and beyond.


We have leading roles in many major international projects and facilities, including JCMT Legacy Surveys, Herschel and Planck and LSST. We run the OpenScience Observatories, a collection of telescopes and other instruments on Mount Teide, Tenerife. The Astronomy Discipline is also a member of the UK SALT Consortium, which owns a 5 per cent share in the 11-metre Southern African Large Telescope. We are a partner in the SuperWASP consortium that operates two robotic sky-patrol camera systems (one in La Palma, one at Sutherland Observatory, South Africa). We are a member of the UK LOFAR consortium, and have important roles on the UK LSST board. We are co-investigators on the forthcoming ESA Euclid space telescope and involvement with the forthcoming ESA PLATO space telescope. We use many international facilities, from ground-based observatories (e.g. ALMA, AAO, ESO) to space telescopes (HST, Spitzer, STEREO), and are involved in the planning and preparation for future international facilities and proposals (e.g. FLARE, SPICA, E-ELT, CHEOPS, POLLUX).

Observational studies are complemented by state-of-the-art laboratories in astrochemistry which are integrated with European and US astrochemistry and planetary science laboratory networks. We lead the EuroPLANET consortium, a €10 million European research infrastructure. We are also a partner institution in the South East Physics Network (SEPNet), ensuring both a coordinated training plan for postgraduate students and rapid dissemination of their research findings to a very broad community.

All this research exploits the University’s IMPACT computing cluster for data analysis and modelling.

Fees and funding

Please see The Open University website for more information.

Qualification and course duration


full time
36 months
part time
72 months
distance learning
variable months


full time
15 months
part time
24 months
distance learning
variable months

Course contact details

Administrative support
+44 (0)1908 858253