Masters by distance learning

What is it?

The programme offers an exciting opportunity to study key philosophers in the European tradition, and to examine fundamental problems, such as the nature of time, the human, knowledge, ethical and political practice, and history. Our courses are designed and run by world-class researchers in philosophy, and represent the cutting edge of education in Continental Philosophy.

Although a taught Masters degree, it is conducted entirely online (by ‘distance leaning’). In a secure online environment, you will find study materials, resources, ‘lectures’, and most importantly a discussion forum where ideas can be debated with your professors as well as students from all over the world. We support you every step of the way, leading to an internationally-accredited Master’s degree. Don’t take our word for it, though: a recent, independent survey of our students showed a high level of overall satisfaction with the course.

The degree can be pursued part-time or full-time. These translate into a weekly time commitment of either 15 or 30 hours, roughly, averaged over each semester.

Who are we?

The Philosophy Department at Staffordshire University is a small department with an intense focus on European/ Continental philosophy, offering both Masters and Doctoral (PhD) level study. The University is located near the centre of England and is fully accredited by the UK government (see also the British Council site). Visit the University’s website at

Through the course of your study you will be supported by senior staff with many years experience of teaching and research. See the ‘About Us’ page on this blog to find out more.

What will you study?

The programme is designed to open up the full breadth of continental philosophy, from Kant, through Nietzsche and Heidegger, to Bachelard, Foucault and more recent figures. Rather than offering a miscellaneous selection of whatever narrow courses happen to be available in that year, this degree is designed so that all its elements speak to and build on one another, providing an unsurpassed, coherent grounding in European thought. It is organised around these taught modules:

  • Transcendence and the Body    This module covers late 18th and 19th Century thought; in the 2015-16 academic year, the course will look at notions of transcendence and immanence in Kant and Nietzsche, and ask what relevance these analyses have to the ancient problem of being and becoming. (Required books to purchase are the full version of the Pluhar translation of the Critique of Pure Reason (Hackett), and the Ansell Pearson & Large collection called Nietzsche Reader (Blackwell). All other directly required reading will be supplied, although depending upon their choice of essay topics, students may wish to buy additional texts.)
  • Phenomenology and Ontology    The focus of this module for Spring 2018 will be on Heidegger, and on responses to his work in existentialism and hermeneutics. (Required purchase is Heidegger’s Being and Time, either the older Macquarrie and Robinson translation or the second edition of the Stambaugh translation. All other directly required reading will be supplied, although depending upon their choice of essay topics, students may wish to buy additional texts.)
  • Knowledge and Politics    This module will examine the relation between epistemology, the philosophy of science, and political thought in the work of figures such as Bachelard, Canguilhem, Althusser, Ranciere, and Foucault. (For this coming semester, there is no required purchase, although Foucault’s Essential Works Volume 1, are recommended – further information will be posted here soon.)
  • Research Seminar. This is a module without a fixed theme — instead, it will be built around the up-to-date research activity of one of your professors, extending the work you have already done in the other modules. Our plans for Spring 2020 are for Professor Burnham to lead the group in a reading of Kant’s third Critique, together with some more recent interpretations. The plans for the year following have not yet been made.

You will complete your degree by preparing a dissertation – a substantial piece of supervised research (of roughly 15 thousand words length).

What is it like?

The typical pattern is this: The academic year is divided into three semesters: September to January, February to May, June to August. We normally only use the first two of these for teaching. You take one module (a module is what other universities might call a ‘class’ or a ‘course’) at a time. The module lasts a full semester (roughly 16 weeks). A semester normally comprises 11 weeks of guided reading and discussion, plus roughly 5 weeks to prepare your end of term assessment. Please note that 30 credits is equivalent to approximately 7 or 8 credit hours on the U.S. system.

For each module, all students will have access to a set of websites containing week-by-week guide to reading, notes to help, occasionally videos or audio presentations, and associated resources. In addition, the digital resources of the University Library will be available. Students are asked to work through these materials at some point during that week, and also to discuss, question or comment upon them in a discussion forum. Because everything is asynchronous, you can choose when in the week to read, study and write in the forum.

Your professors will join the discussion forum too, on a regular basis. Moreover, you can contact your professors by email for additional help or advice. Finally, there will be occasional special events (e.g. a visiting academic giving a paper) which will be available online and for discussion in the forums. These special events are open to doctoral students here in the department too, meaning that several dozen philosophical voices may be in play. It is also possible to communicate with fellow students in an open topic forum: about interests, careers, motivations, travel, family, music, sport, whatever.

Each module is assessed slightly differently. There are no tests or exams. Your discussion forum contributions, or other as-you-go-along bits of writing (e.g. short reports or virtual presentations), form part of the typical assessment pattern. Then, toward the end of the semester, you will have a piece of written work to submit, normally an academic essay of 5000-6000 words. This essay will be double and in some cases triple marked to ensure objectivity, and you will be given professional feedback about your work, both its merits and how to improve.

Your final dissertation project is conducted entirely by supervised research. The topic of that dissertation is open, subject to a few obvious conditions — for example, that it has something to do with Continental philosophy, that we can help you with that particular topic, that time and resources are available for the purpose, etc. In brief: that the proposed topic is feasible. You will be in regular contact with the member of staff who is supervising your work, and he or she will give guidance and advice, and comment on drafts of your work. The dissertation period is normally spread over two semesters, giving you something like eight months to plan, research and write a major piece of work.

Only dissertation supervision occurs during the summer months. So, someone enrolling on the degree in September will take two taught modules in the two semesters of their first year (starting in September and February respectively), have the period June to August off, then take another two taught modules the following academic year, and finally commence their dissertation approximately in May, submitting it in January. Total time to completion is thus 28 months. It is also possible to start the degree in the semester that begins in February, doing the modules in a different order, and completing at the end of the summer, 32 months later.

“This program exceeded all possible expectations!  Despite the fact that all of the instruction takes place in written lectures and online forum, there is significant interaction that helps to develop the difficult concepts of some of the most complex thinkers in modern philosophy.  I am so glad that I chose to enroll!” –W. Yzaguirre

“Joining the postgrad philosophers at Staffs is much more than just signing up for a degree: the people you’ll be studying with are serious about learning and knowledge for their own sake.  They’re also rather nice and a lot of fun.  It’s a different – demanding but much more worthwhile – way of doing things than much modern education.” — C. Lee

Who is it for?

Some students will be pursuing this degree just because they are passionately interested in philosophy. Others will see it as a way of moving into philosophy from another social science or humanities subject, or getting an additional qualification that will help them with their career. Still others will see it as a stepping stone to a doctoral degree (with us — we now offer doctoral supervision programme by distance learning — or elsewhere). All of you are welcome! Generally, the aims of the degree are to offer in-depth consideration of key moments within European philosophy, and to support high levels of attainment in academic or professional skills such as:

  • clear, careful and organised writing;
  • perceptive and sensitive reading;
  • critical thinking;
  • problem-solving;
  • research;
  • time-management;
  • guide participants towards the ability to carry out independent, scholarly research in philosophy.

Our students come from all over the world. Some of you are young, fresh out of an undergraduate degree; others are older, mid-career perhaps with families; others are retired. Again, all are welcome!

In order to be successful, you need a number of qualities: an enthusiasm for continental philosophy; an ability to motivate yourself independently, and also to organise your time and work flexibly; a willingness to get stuck into intellectual issues in greater depth than usual; an open mind to new ideas, though without losing your critical sense; the nerve to post your views on to the discussion forum, regularly, and thereby converse with people who you will come to know, but probably never meet.

How do I apply?

You can apply for the MA on-line using the application form links here. (Important note: If you can’t see your preferred year of entry, this is merely a software error. Apply for the closest match, but then specify in the ‘personal statement’ part of the application your choice of start date.)

  • You can specify either a September or January/February start; the overall course is the same, but you take the modules in a different order.
  • Normally, in terms of minimum admissions requirements, we ask for a good first (undergraduate) degree in philosophy, or a cognate subject such as social science or literature. However, many applicants have studied philosophy in other ways, perhaps independently, and we examine each application on its merits. We are looking for ability, open-mindedness, and sustained enthusiasm.
  • Instruction is in English, so for those of you for whom English is not the first language, we will need an internationally recognised English language proficiency score (the most familiar of these is called IELTS; on this test, we need at least a 6.5 overall, and at least 6.5 in each of the reading and writing sub-scores).
  • You will need images of transcripts from previous higher study.
  • You will need a couple of people willing to supply you with a letter of reference (preferably professors/ teachers from your previous study; however, if you have been out of education for a long time, then choose people who can offer an objective appraisal of the qualities listed below; perhaps an employer). The letters of reference should address themselves to things like:
    • your general suitability for postgraduate study and particular online/distance learning study;
    • your experience in the area of philosophy, or cognate subjects;
    • your motivations and enthusiasms;
    • your intellectual abilities, particularly with relative abstract or theoretical issues, and also your written communication skills;
    • and any personal qualities that make you a good candidate (given the nature of online study, ability to motivate oneself, stay organised, and long-term resilience are all virtues!).
  • A personal statement sketching, in a couple of hundred words, the background to your interest in studying philosophy, particularly Continental European thought, and why you feel this course and distance learning would be a good ‘fit’ for you.

All the supporting documentation mentioned above can be uploaded onto the admissions site.

There is no deadline for applying. However, even after you have gathered together all your application materials and submitted, it can take up to a month to process an application. So, for practical purposes, the deadline would be a month prior to your chosen start date. We will attempt to deal as quickly as possible with applications that come in after this date, but there may be a delay.

If you have studied philosophy at a postgraduate level before, either some time ago or recently (and you have become disenchanted with your course), you can transfer your credits to us.

How much does it cost?

Fees are displayed on the application page here. They are given ‘per year’, so for the total cost of the course, for all students (whether domestic or international), multiply by three. This is the total fee for the whole degree (not an annual fee), and represents excellent value in higher education. You can pay this fee in instalments over the period of your study. There is no charge for making an application. If you are a previous Staffordshire University student, you may qualify for a discount, and there may also be a discount if you pay the full year’s quota of fees early. The fee does not include expenses such as buying course books, or ordering off-prints of papers. For our Masters course, these additional expenses are relatively small (unless of course you love getting books!): perhaps £200 per year.

(Please note that although we maintain a listing with, we are no longer receiving enquiries from them. You will have to contact us directly.)

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If you have any questions about this MA, please contact David Webb at