Differences between postgraduate funding schemes

Financial help for funding a Masters course or PhD project is really important. It can make the difference between realising your dream of postgraduate study or having to choose an alternative path. This article explains the basic differences between postgraduate funding schemes.

Loans for postgraduate study

The UK Government introduced postgraduate loans to help students with tuition fees back in 2016, followed by loans for postgraduate researchers in 2018. Entry onto both schemes depends on factors such as where you live, where you are going to study, as well as your age (with exceptions).

The devolved Government in Scotland calculates loans differently. They also include full-time PG Diploma courses in their scheme (which at this time are not available in England).

In England the maximum loan amount on offer for a Masters degree is currently £11,836 and this figure rises each year to take account of inflation. For PhD students the maximum loan available is £27,892. If inflation continues to rise as it is doing then it would be surprising if the Government did not make adjustments to the scheme in the future.

You can apply for a masters loan in the late spring/ early summer. The service opens around May/June time.


The money is paid directly to the student. In Scotland the amount is split into a portion for the tuition fee and another portion for living costs, but the overall amount is up to £5,500 for tuition and up to £4,500 for living.

Tuition fees are generally lower in Scotland than England, but it depends on the university and the course.

The most important change in recent times is the nationality of the student. Prior to 2019, EU students could apply for both schemes, but since the UK has exited from the EU only those students who have received Settled Status as an EU citizen can take advantage of the scheme in the future.


Students who have already been through the student loan system at Undergraduate level will be aware how the system works. The loan will be added to any outstanding debt that the student has already accumulated. It starts to get complicated when the repayment system for the loan kicks in.

At the moment a student will start to repay a Masters or PhD loan once your earnings has met the salary threshold. The repayment contribution for English and Welsh postgraduate finance is 6% of your income, on earnings above £21,000 per year. Given that most graduate jobs in the UK start at around £24,000 per year then students can expect to start paying as soon as they get their first pay cheque.

This is not the same for Undergraduate students, so again if you have already taken out a tuition loan for your previous degree then the payback will depend on the scheme you were on before, and the salary band and interest payments are different.

Scholarships for postgraduate study

Before Government loans were introduced, students applied for a Masters or PhD through scholarships.

Today these are still offered to applicants based on a range of criteria. Though they may not cover the full cost of your masters university experience, they bring extra rewards in the form of contacts and networking from the organisations that provide them.

The three main providers that support students from overseas are Chevening, Commonwealth and the GREAT scholarships offered by the British Council. All three have connections to the UK Government and are available depending on your country of origin. Students have to be high achieving, academically strong performers.

University offered scholarships

Universities will offer their own scholarships and postgraduate funding schemes targeting academic students from around the world, as well as from underrepresented groups in the UK.

Country based scholarships are another version of the same system. Each year a university will make available a number of places, but these are mainly open to undergraduate rather than masters students. University student recruitment teams will advertise these scholarships through local agents in the student’s home country.

Universities encourage students from across the world to study in the UK because lots of overseas students bring amazing cultural experiences with them.

Friendships and collaborations forged between students of different nationalities help to make the university experience such a valuable one for all masters students.

Charities and Trusts

Charities and Trusts offer a unique source of support for masters students, particularly if you plan to study a PhD. A charity such as Cancer Research UK has its origins in 1902, with the aim of raising funds to invest in discovering treatments for all types of cancer, leading to effective treatments.

Some Trusts are even older and are linked to industries and traditional crafts that were established many years ago.

Postgraduate Studentships includes an index of charities and trusts offering financial support in the form of bursaries, as well as specific research scholarships for students that are qualified to study in specific areas.

Apprenticeship scheme

This is a UK taxpayer scheme that helps employees to study a masters degree at a UK university, with all the teaching costs of the course paid for. Masters Apprenticeships are very popular in a number of universities, and the programs on offer focus on leadership and management qualifications.

UK businesses of all sizes can benefit from the Apprenticeship scheme, from large multinational companies down to SME’s. This system has replaced sponsorship by an employer as the preferred method for training staff on the job, as the scheme offers qualifications from short courses and certificates right up to masters degrees at Level 7.

Graduate Route visa

This was introduced by the UK Government during 2020 in response to the shortage of skilled graduates from international countries. Part of the changes brought about by Brexit was a realization that the UK needed to provide more opportunities for foreign skilled workers to study in the UK and then stay on to fill skills gaps, particularly in STEM fields.

Remember that there are variations between types of visa. This is important if you plan to stay in the UK after graduation. Your eligibility for part time work while you study could be effected, so keep up to date with the differences between postgraduate funding schemes.

Details of the Graduate Route visa are in our blog. Graduates currently studying in the UK can apply for an extended work visa after completing their period of study.

Funding for PhD/Masters Research projects

Our advice article explains how the funding for research projects is supported by finance from the UK Government. Research projects are administered through a central funding body the UKRI.

This organisation agrees the priority study areas that universities can bid for and supports the research proposals that are awarded. In addition, successful PhD candidates are supported by the offer of a stipend, which is a contribution to living and study costs. This is separate from a PhD Loan.

Universities also award their own funding, particularly for Masters students. Institutions such as Sheffield University, The University of Birmingham and University of Leicester make annual awards for PhD and Masters scholarships, and this can be as many as 100 places at a time.

They also support their own annual postgraduate funding schemes that are opened up for candidates each year. These awards are often in collaboration with long term industrial partners who may have been working with a university for a period of time. Note that most university sponsored PhD or Masters scholarship schemes have a fixed opening window, and most of them close in April or May each year.

How do I get help with funding?

  • There are a number of sources of financial assistance but be aware of the differences between postgraduate funding schemes.
  • Contact the university admissions team to see what help they can offer you. This may be conditional on your subject of study or family circumstances.
  • Some universities create dedicated pages for individual countries. These will give details where you can get in touch with local or regional contacts, as well as explaining all the requirements for English language standards and study visas.
  • Check the latest available study funding opportunities on Postgraduate Studentships
  • Postgraduate Studentships includes a comprehensive selection of Charities and Trusts. These organisations can be very generous with their financial assistance.
  • Keep yourself up to date by registering to receive our regular newsletters or follow us on our social channels.