Find your way to PhD funding

Written By

Think Postgrad

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does a fully funded PhD mean?
  • What does self funded PhD mean?
  • How much is a PhD?
  • How competitive is PhD funding?

If you have set your heart on completing a PhD subject, then the last thing you need is confusion over how the funding works. The differences between studentships, scholarships and loans can seem confusing. But don’t worry, here are some pointers to help find your way to PhD funding.

First things first, what is PhD funding?

UK universities are complex organisations requiring a lot of money to keep their operations functioning. They employ a lot of people and provide facilities for teaching and research. Most of this comes from the Government one way or another.
There are five different sources of funding for PhD’s in the UK:

  • The Government, through organisations such as the UKRI
  • Postgraduate Research Loans, available to individual PhD students
  • Universities offer their own funded PhD courses which are termed Studentships
  • Charities and Trusts support individual PhD students through the award of Scholarships and Bursaries
  • Companies seek answers to business-critical problems by investing in research and partnering with a relevant University.

When you start looking for a PhD, you'll find the significance of these different sources will become clear.

What do I do first?

The simplest way to find PhD funding is to look for existing projects with your current university, or from another that specializes in the same area. Make time to consider your options as the course progresses. You could be preparing to step into work once you have completed your masters degree. Or you could have already considered the possibility of staying on to continue your studies.

Remaining within the structure and support network of your current university offers the most security. This is because you can draw upon the knowledge of your academic colleagues and potential supervisors to consider the routes that you could take with them.

However, if you have been working and are considering a change of direction by stepping back into study then you will have to start from scratch. This involves researching which location and research academic team would be best placed for your particular specialty.

Where does the funding come into it?

If your current/previous university is a research-intensive institution it is likely they will be actively bidding for research grants from bodies such as the UKRI each year. A successful bid means recruiting for PhD students.

These new PhD students will be awarded funded studentships. These individuals will conduct the research, under supervision, and the results will be peer reviewed. Postgraduate Studentships lists the details of these from leading universities all year round.

Most of the research funding in the UK is for STEM subjects. This is because the physical sciences are a Government priority for trade and employment. However, research funding in the social sciences is widely available. Arguably they contribute as much to the economy through the service sector.

Many will also include a stipend, which is an additional living cost allowance. UKRI sets the rate and in 2023/24 the minimum amount is £18,622, paid in regular instalments.

University Studentships

In addition, your university may fund PhD studentships. You can find these from universities that have a well-established expertise in a specific area.

They can be organized around a specific facility or named academic who has a recognised reputation in a subject. Studentships are usually offered once a year in a block. Applicants are invited to apply in advance with the successful candidates usually selected in the early spring .

Sometimes these are awarded based on a competition because the demand for places will be high. Tuition fee discounts and Alumni bursaries can help to entice current masters students to remain (or return) to their previous universities.

Companies seeking answers to problems through research

Universities that have connections to industry are able to develop funded studentships that have direct applicability to a specific service. These can offer some of the most interesting opportunities because they are directly contributing to the discovery of new knowledge of significance to global challenges.

Explore PhD funding through scholarships from Charities and Trusts

You can search through a large number of charitable organisations that distribute funds to assist with postgraduate study. You may find that these are usually based on academic results. International students seeking a place at a UK institution often use these sources of funding.

These are Merit Scholarships, and while they probably won’t cover all the costs associated with a PhD, they are nevertheless a very useful additional sources of support. You can explore funded PhD opportunities on Postgraduate Studentships.

Government Doctorate Loan

The UK Government Doctoral Loan scheme opens each summer to cover the costs of your course. You will receive the loan directly. You can use it for your course fees and living costs.

Remember that this sum is divided into the length of your programme. So if you are thinking about a part time PhD that lasts over 3 years, the amount paid will be equivalent to the costs for each year. This will be on top of any existing student loan, and you have to start paying some of it back when you get a full-time job.

You can mix and match any scholarships with a loan. This could very useful if you are not able to secure a studentship for your PhD when you start your course.

International access to research funding

Recent changes to the UK Study Visa scheme have come into effect so that international students can stay on beyond the end of their study period while they pursue a career. This means international students are now eligible to apply for studentships offered by the UKRI. This is a real help when you want to find PhD funding.

Don’t forget tuition fees

Tuition fees vary from course to course. All universities must charge students these fees.

The fees for these are set in line with the Research Council rates, and for 2022/23 the cost is £4,596. International students pay much higher fees. Look out for advertised studentships that include tuition fees is you can.