How to secure funds for your postgraduate research in the UK

SOURCE: Oli Scarff/AFP
There are plenty of options to fund postgraduate studies in the UK.

By U2B Staff 

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There are various ways to fund your postgraduate research besides sponsorship from your employer.  If you’re not planning to self-fund your studies in the UK, here are some alternatives to consider in financing a postgraduate journey. 


#1 Research Council Funding 

The UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) organisation provides non-repayable studentships through its various research councils to qualifying postgraduate research students. 

The research councils involved are based on different fields of study. 

  • Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
  • Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council (BBSRC)
  • Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
  • Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
  • Medical Research Council (MRC)
  • Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
  • Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC)

These research councils aim to provide grants to train new researchers who are undergoing their PhD or Masters studies. 

Funding for a doctoral programme for the 2020/21 intake amounts to £15,285 for a minimum stipend to cover living expenses and £4,407 for tuition fees. 

These funds may be slightly higher for students in London due to the higher cost of living. The relevant council can also provide additional allowances for specific research-related costs and will pay for Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) if applicable. 

These funds are distributed through the universities themselves based on their research aims. Thus, it is the university’s decision to make if you receive the funding or not based on your research proposal. 

#2 Postgraduate Loans 

You can apply for a government loan for financing your postgraduate studies. These loans differ between Masters and PhD applicants as well as where applicants are currently residing in. 

These government loans are provided by the governments of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively. They are not means-based which means that how much you are allowed to borrow does not depend on your financial background. 

Applicants eligible for these loans should be residing in the respective locations; either England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland throughout the period of study. 

They should also be studying full taught programmes in any field for the Masters loan and most PhD programmes including professional doctorates and PhDs upgraded from MPhil programmes for the PhD loan. 

Furthermore, PhD applicants need not submit their research proposal to gain a loan approval. The term of study should be limited to at least three years and no longer than eight years. 

These loans will only need to be paid back once a student gains a certain amount of yearly salary which will then be automatically deducted from their accounts in certain cases. 

Prospective postgraduates can visit the government website to apply for the loan which can be done even after the commencement of their studies. 

Postgraduate candidates can check with their universities if there are any scholarships available. Source: Leon Neal/AFP.

# 3 University Scholarships

Each graduate school will also offer their own form of scholarships as a means for financing postgraduate students. Depending on the university itself, a range of scholarships may be offered to address different needs. 

Whether merit-based, means-based or fully or partially sponsored, there are a variety of options for funding from these universities. Prospective postgraduates are always advised to check with the university first on what scholarships they may be eligible for prior to applying for the programme of their choice. 

Most universities also offer special scholarships catered to international students. Universities such as the University of Birmingham and the University of Edinburgh offer scholarships, especially for postgraduate students. 

Besides university-awarded international scholarships, the Chevening scholarships also offer a range of opportunities for financing professionals across the globe who are seeking to further their studies.


#4 Graduate Teaching Assistantship (GTA) 

PhD applicants can opt to apply for a graduate teaching assistantship (GTA) as a way to fund their studies. 

This is a unique experience the universities provide where PhD candidates will provide pastoral support and serve as teaching assistants in undergraduate programmes. This is done while conducting research and building their doctoral thesis. 

This opportunity provides fee waivers as a form of financial support for these PhD candidates who will become Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs). 

Availability of this opportunity, however, is subject to the particular university’s needs. Universities will often post ads for available GTA positions and this is often very field or even research area-specific.