PhD​ at AKU-ISMC ​​


​​Established in 2002, the Aga Khan University Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations (AKU-ISMC) is a non-denominational, research-driven liberal arts institute. It has gained international recognition for its impactful research, education, and outreach initiatives. Notable achievements include the creation of a Master of Arts (MA) in Muslim Cultures, a dual MA degree in collaboration with Columbia University, extensive faculty publications, and the development of respected book series and other scholarly endeavours. ​

Building on its established strengths, AKU-ISMC, in 2022, secured approval from the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan to offer PhD Programmes in History and Political Science. The institute is eligible for grants from the United Kingdom Research & Innovation (UKRI), including those from the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Economy and Society Research Council, as well as funding opportunities from the European Research Council and other institutions. 

PhD Programme Details ​

AKU-ISMC's PhD programme aims to admit two students annually, specialising in either History or Political Science. Each student will benefit from dual supervision, with first supervisors being AKU-ISMC faculty members. Additionally, second supervisors may be selected from external universities at no additional cost.


The PhD in History and PhD in Political Science degrees are accredited by the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan and validated by the UK Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) and are the equivalent of a UK PhD degree. 

Aim & Objectives

The aim of the PhD programme is to train researchers in the fields of history or political science to enable them to conduct independent research in either discipline with a focus on Muslims cultures.  

Students will develop an advanced understanding of the diversity of Muslim cultures and their historical and contemporary significance, along with expertise in methodologies of research in the social sciences and humanities, in order to conduct independent research in either discipline. 

Learning Outcomes

​Upon completion of the programme, students will have demonstrated a thorough knowledge of the literature and a comprehensive and critical understanding of scholarly methods and techniques applicable to their own research through the original application of knowledge in their field. 


The PhD programme normally takes 3-8 years (10 years maximum) and comprises taught and research components. Students must complete three semesters (16 weeks per semester) of coursework followed by supervised independent research and a doctoral thesis. 

Programme structure and credits​

Students must complete 24 credits coursework in total, comprising five core courses (15 credits in total) and three electives (9 credits in total). Each course counts for three credits. The core courses are: 

  • Research in Humanities and Social Sciences 

  • Research Methodology and Thesis Planning I & II  

  • Readings in Arts and Social Sciences 

  • Publishing in Arts and Social Sciences  

The choice of electives will depend on what is being offered that year under the MA in Muslim Cultures programme.

​Examinations ​

Upon completion of the coursework, students will be assessed on course work through a comprehensive exam with a written and an oral component and must pass (60% and above) to progress to the research and dissertation stage. The PhD dissertation will be defended (viva) and evaluated by at least two international external experts, an additional country-based reviewer, and an AKU faculty from any of its campuses. 


The tuition fee for the PhD programme is £7,000 per year for home students and £21,000 per year for international students, plus a £600 admission fee and £146 graduation fee. The tuition fee is only applicable if there is third-party funding (e.g. a grant or external scholarship) and is otherwise waived (e.g. for self-funded students). ​

​Equipment and facilities 

​The PhD programme is provided by AKU-ISMC, located in the Aga Khan Centre in Kings Cross. Students will be provided with a laptop, desk and use of AKU-ISMC facilities (e.g. printing, telephone, internet) and have access to the Aga Khan Library (AKL) which, as a member of the M25 Consortium of Academic Libraries, provides access to over 50 libraries. PhD students will have the chance to present their ongoing research at AKU-ISMC’s three weekly research seminars, and conferences, seminars and workshops. 



​The PhD in History and Political Science degrees prepare students for a wide range of career destinations. Graduates will benefit from interdisciplinary cultural, historical, economic, political and linguistic training provided at AKU-ISMC that is widely sought after in the business and public sector. It is suited for those seeking careers in academia, management consultancy, policy advisers in government and the civil service, think tanks, charities, NGOs, as well as journalism and media related openings, more broadly in the culture industries. 


Admission to our PhD programme is competitive yet accessible. We seek individuals who demonstrate exceptional academic prowess and a passion for pushing the boundaries of knowledge. To qualify, applicants must hold a minimum CGPA of 3.0 (out of 4.0 in the Semester System) or 60% (in the Annual System) in a MA/MS/Equivalent degree. ​

​Application process: Deadline 

Applications for our PhD programme are open year-round, providing you with the convenience to apply at a time that suits you best. However, please note that as part of our curriculum, students are required to complete a course component. Therefore, admissions are scheduled twice a year to align with the start of Semester 1 in September and Semester 2 in January. Deadline for applications has been extended to Friday 3rd May 2024 (12 noon BST).

You can submit your application through the provided link: Apply Online. This portal will guide you through the application process efficiently.​

Application process: CV 

As you embark on the path to pursuing your PhD with us, we're eager to learn more about your educational journey, work experience, and scholarly contributions. To ensure that we have a comprehensive understanding of your background and qualifications, we kindly request that you upload your Curriculum Vitae (CV) as a PDF file. 

Your CV should provide a detailed overview of your educational career, highlighting your academic achievements, degrees earned, and any relevant coursework or research projects. Additionally, please include a thorough listing of any essential work experience, emphasizing positions that have equipped you with valuable skills and insights applicable to your future academic pursuits. 

For those who have made significant contributions to their field through scholarly publications, we encourage you to include a list of publications. Please limit the CV section to a maximum of two sides, excluding the list of publications, to ensure that we can review your materials thoroughly and efficiently. 

Your CV serves as a crucial component of your application, allowing our admissions committee to assess your qualifications and potential as a doctoral candidate.

​Application process: letter of motivation

You would also need to prepare a motivation letter, expressing your motivation for selecting AKU-ISMC as the nurturing environment for your doctoral studies. Furthermore, please provide insight into your selection of supervisors. Explain how their expertise, mentorship style, and research interests complement your own, and illustrate how you envision collaborating with them to advance your research agenda. Demonstrate a clear understanding of how their guidance and support will enhance your academic journey and contribute to the success of your doctoral project. Lastly, elucidate your chosen discipline and its significance within the broader academic landscape. Share your passion for your field of study, highlighting key research questions, methodologies, and theoretical frameworks that drive your scholarly pursuits. Articulate how your research aligns with the interdisciplinary ethos of AKU-ISMC and contributes to advancing knowledge and understanding in your chosen discipline. Please limit it to two pages. 

Application process: outline of dissertation project 

As part of the application process, candidates are required to submit a comprehensive research proposal outlining a coherent and feasible project suitable for supervision by an AKU-ISMC faculty member. The outline of your proposed dissertation project should adhere to the following specifications: 

  • ​​Maximum word count of 2,500, excluding the reference list. 
  • ​Proper formatting including your name and page numbers. 

Address the following key points: 

  • Summary (Maximum ½ Page): Provide a concise overview of your proposed dissertation project, highlighting its significance and potential impact. 
  • ​Research Questions and Objectives: Clearly articulate the research questions and objectives of your project, demonstrating a clear understanding of the scope and focus of your study. 
  • ​Current State of Research and Envisioned Contribution: Discuss the existing state of research in your field and elucidate how your project aims to contribute to advancing knowledge and addressing gaps in the literature. 
  • ​​Tentative Theoretical Framework and Research Methods: Outline the theoretical framework guiding your research and detail the research methods you intend to employ, ensuring coherence and alignment with your research questions and objectives. 
  • ​​​Source Material: Provide an overview of the primary and secondary source material you plan to utilise in your study, demonstrating the breadth and depth of your research resources. 

Additionally, please submit a separate document detailing the timeline for your proposed dissertation project, outlining key milestones and deadlines to ensure timely completion. 

These guidelines are designed to assist you in preparing a comprehensive and well-structured research proposal that will facilitate the evaluation process and demonstrate your readiness for doctoral study at AKU-ISMC​ ​

Application process: letters of recommendation 

​Candidates are required to submit two letters of recommendation from academic scholars typically affiliated with a university or college. We strongly recommend selecting scholars who are familiar with your previous academic achievements and/or your dissertation project. 

Please note the following guidelines: 

  • ​​Letters of recommendation must be written by academic scholars. 
  • Recommendations sent via email will not be accepted. 
  • Ensure that letters of recommendation are submitted in a timely manner to avoid any delays in the application process. 

We accept recommendation letters that have been written to support more than one application. 

These guidelines aim to ensure that your application is supported by credible endorsements from academic experts, enhancing the strength and credibility of your candidacy for our programme.

Application process: language skills 

​​At AKU-ISMC, English serves as the primary language for both instruction and communication. Thus, advanced proficiency in English is a fundamental requirement for admission to our PhD programme. Proof of English proficiency is a formal prerequisite for consideration. 

Please note the following exceptions to this requirement: 

  • Native English speakers 
  • Applicants who have completed their education at an English-speaking university in a country where English is an official language (refer to the list below) 
  • Please provide one of the following certificates as evidence of your English proficiency: 

          - C1 CEFR (Common European Reference Frame) 

          - ETS TOEFL certificate (minimum score of 95) 

          - Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English, CPE (any grade) 

          ​- Cambridge Certificate in Advanced English, CAE (grade A or B) 

          - UKVI Approved ​​IELTS Academic test (minimum level 7.0) (mandatory for applicants requiring a UK visa)​

If you are unable to submit your test results with your initial application due to pending score reports, kindly notify us of the results as soon as they become available. 

Additionally, please specify the language(s) relevant to your dissertation project (e.g., Arabic, Farsi/Persian, Turkish, Swahili/Kiswahili, Urdu, etc.). You may provide proof of proficiency by submitting a transcript of records from your university, a certificate from a language school, or by indicating that your research will be conducted in your mother tongue.

​Application process: original or certified copies of degrees 

​As part of your application, please provide certified copies of the following degrees: 

  • Bachelor's degree certificate (BA) 
  • Master's degree certificate (MA) or its equivalent: If you are unable to submit your MA degree certificate along with your application due to pending receipt of the document or being in the final stages of exams or thesis completion, you may still submit your application. In such cases, please include an official confirmation from your university indicating the expected date of completion of your MA studies. The admission and grants committee will review your application to determine if it can be assessed. Please note that a PhD in our programme cannot be pursued without possessing an MA degree. 
  • Certified copies of your degrees can be obtained from your university. 
  • Transcripts for the following degrees are also required: 

          - Bachelor's degree transcript (BA) 

          - Master's degree transcript (MA) 

Please ensure to submit your MA transcript even if you have not completed the degree yet. 

If you are unable to submit your MA thesis with your application due to ongoing work or if your MA programme did not require a thesis, you may still submit your application. Please include an official confirmation from your university indicating the expected date of completion of your MA studies and whether the degree requirements include a thesis. The admission and grants committee will assess your application accordingly. Please be aware that admission to our PhD programme is contingent upon possessing an MA degree.

Application process: language ability test 

Candidates applying to the PhD Programme may be exempt from the English language proficiency requirement if they have completed their undergraduate studies in any of the following countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Ireland, Jamaica, New Zealand, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, or the USA. 

However, applicants from these countries who are not nationals are required to submit a Statement of Comparability Report provided by UK ENIC. 

For applicants from all other countries, valid proof of English proficiency is mandatory. The recognized qualifications are as follows: 

  • IELTS UKVI (mandatory for applicants requiring a UK visa)/ Pearsons Academic UKVI ​
  • Overall band score: IELTS 6.5 (with a minimum of 5.5 in all four components) / Pearson 58 (with a minimum of 42 in all four components) 

Please ensure that you meet the specified English language proficiency requirements when submitting your application.

Application process: admission test 

The Registrar's Office will administer a subject test, with a minimum passing score of 60% required. 

Additionally, please include: 

  • Copy of your MA thesis (if completed) ​
  • A published scholarly publication, a paper accepted for publication, or a writing sample.​ 

Contact Us:​


Phone: +44 (0)20 7380 3810

Fax: +44 (0)20 7380 3830 ​