Postgraduate Funding – What Financial Support May I Get?

Funding is available for people with a very good academic record.

  • It can come from a range of organisations – from public bodies, charities and institutions – but competition for it is intense, so it is by no means guaranteed.
  • Postgraduate loans are available from the government for eligible students.
  • If you are applying for a postgraduate course from within a higher education institution you should talk to your tutors and your proposed supervisor about funding. They will be able to recommend sources.

The main sources of research funding for UK-based applicants are the seven research councils.

  • They award about 6,000 grants or "studentships" each year to universities to fund students undertaking postgraduate research or masters courses.
  • If you get a studentship, your tuition fees are paid and you get a cost of living grant of up to around £15,000 a year, tax free, that you don’t have to pay back.

Research Councils in the UK

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

You cannot apply to one of these councils without the support of your supervisor and institution. You will need their help with filling in your application form. Sometimes the institution will do the whole application for you. Find out about the research councils and their work.

  • Humanities PhDs are harder to secure funding for than science and technology PhDs and some institutions, such as Warwick for Engineering, are remarkably successful at winning funding for their graduates.
  • If you are unsuccessful in your application to a research council, you could try other sources. Universities themselves offer scholarships and awards but there are restrictions on who can apply, so consult your supervisor. Sometimes these are jointly-funded with a research council.

Charitable foundations are an often untapped source of funding for postgraduate students.

  • As well as the ideas below, read about Lucy Atkinson's experience of funding postgraduate study through charity, and the Alternative Guide to Graduate Funding.
  • Look in your local library at the Educational Grants Directory, Charities Digest, Grants Register and Directory of Grant Making Trusts.
  • Small awards are sometimes available to fund trips to conferences or archives or libraries, so keep your eye out for these. Subject bodies, for example, the Royal Historical Society (www.rhs.ac.uk), give small amounts of money to scholars who need it (a few hundred pounds at a time).

Government funding for social work, medicine, dentistry, healthcare, and teaching.

  • If you want to become a social worker, you can get a bursary for postgraduate-level courses in England, Wales and Scotland and if you are interested in medicine, dentistry or healthcare, you can get some funding from bursaries. 
  • If you want to become a qualified teacher you may be able to get the full package of student support from the government in England, Wales or Northern Ireland to study for a PGCE. Scotland has different rules and they are more generous.

Employer sponsorship or a part-time job.

  • If you work, your employer might sponsor you to take a part-time postgraduate course especially if the qualification will help you to progress at work.
  • You should ask your employer whether this is an option or whether you could take flexible study leave or flexible working arrangements.
  • Alternatively, you could fund your course by working part-time as almost one-half of all postgraduate students do. Most universities know that many students need to take paid work during their studies, but recommend a limit of 10–15 hours a week during term time. Not all universities allow you to work during your course.

Professional and Career Development Loans.

  • Professional and Career Development Loans from the government can be used for courses or training that help you with your career.
  • These are bank loans of between £300 and £10,000 that you can take out to pay for courses and training. The loans are usually offered at a reduced interest rate and the government pays interest while you are studying.
  • Find out which banks offer the loan and order an application pack by calling the National Careers Service on 0800 100 900. You should apply three months before the course begins to give the bank time to process your application.

Graduate teaching and research assistants.

  • Some postgraduates particularly PhD students get jobs as graduate teaching or research assistants to help fund their courses. This can involve a lot of work – marking essays, giving lectures and taking seminars – and the pay is hourly. But it does enable postgraduates to get valuable teaching experience.
  • You should be careful to ensure that the hours you work on a part-time job are clearly agreed in advance and adhered to by the department to give you enough time for your PhD.
  • Research assistants work in a wide range of different fields in the sciences and social sciences. They are usually based in university departments and work on projects alone or with colleagues. The hours are flexible and sometimes long. They are usually on temporary contracts and the starting salary is £20–£25,000 a year.
  • These jobs can be intensely sought after, so do fill in your application forms carefully with no spelling mistakes and explain how your experience equips you for the job.