What is “HDR”?

HDR stands for Higher Degree by Research. A HDR program is a postgraduate research degree which primarily involves completing a supervised project of original research and creating new knowledge that is innovative, relevant and progressive.

HDR students (known as ‘candidates’) typically enrol in a PhD, but there are several other HDR programs including a Masters by Research (MPhil) and Professional Doctorate programs.

PhD stands for Doctor of Philosophy, and MPhil stands for Master of Philosophy. This does not refer to the modern understanding of philosophy, but instead stems from the Ancient Greek philosophia, meaning ‘love of wisdom’.

The PhD is the highest level of education that can be achieved.

What does a research degree involve?

A research degree differs substantially from coursework or taught degrees. A research degree in Australia has little or no course work, but instead requires a research project that must make an original contribution to knowledge. HDR candidates are therefore required to (a) identify a problem, (b) design a research project to address this, (c) implement this project, (d) analyse the results, and (e) write up this project as a thesis, all the while ensuring they stay within their project budget.

Along the way, they also publish their work and present at conferences. Many HDR candidates gain additional experience through casual jobs undertaken to supplement their stipend such as teaching and assisting on other research projects.

Both PhDs and MPhils are examined by independent experts of international standing.

Qualification definitions

The Higher Education Support Act 2003 defines HDR as:

A Research Doctorate or Research Masters course for which at least two-thirds of the student load for the course is required as research work.

The Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF)1 provides the following definitions:

The purpose of the Doctoral Degree is to qualify individuals who apply a substantial body of knowledge to research, investigate and develop new knowledge, in one or more fields of investigation, scholarship or professional practice.

The purpose of the Masters Degree (Research) is to qualify individuals who apply an advanced body of knowledge in a range of contexts for research and scholarship and as a pathway for further learning.

How long does a research degree take?

A PhD usually takes between 3 and 4 years full-time equivalent. An MPhil usually takes between 1 and 2 years full-time equivalent.


1The Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) is the agreed policy of Commonwealth, State and Territory ministers for qualifications in the Australian education and training system.

full credit logo