Postgraduate or master's loans, research funding and scholarships – discover your options for funding postgraduate study.
While there may be many reasons to study a postgraduate degree, you may be concerned about how you’ll finance your studies. With fees from a low of £2,520 at AECC University College to a high of £59,490 for a one-year MBA at Oxford, it’s a valid question. International students typically face paying postgraduate tuition fees of £12,000–£20,000.
Fortunately, a range of postgraduate funding options is available. From postgraduate loans for UK-resident students, to research and government funding, to postgraduate scholarships – we cover each of these below.
Each UK nation operates a postgraduate loan system for different levels of study, with differing loan amounts. This may be a simple postgraduate tuition fee loan or could cover additional living costs. England and Wales also have a doctoral loan scheme.
UK-resident students can apply for a loan from the nation in which they 'normally reside'. If you moved there to study, it doesn't count – unless you stayed on after your degree to work. Currently EU-resident students can also apply for postgraduate finance, but not for any course that starts from 2021–22 onwards.
In some cases, a postgraduate loan may not be enough to cover the tuition fee a university charges. In this case, you'll need to fund the remaining amount yourself.
Apart from in Wales, postgraduate loans don't take your household income into account. In Wales, for master’s study you'll still get the same amount of funding but your income determines whether this is in the form of a grant (which doesn't need to be repaid) or a loan (which does).
In all cases, you’re eligible to repay a postgraduate loan from April after your course finishes, but only if your earnings are over a certain amount. Repayments will begin when you're earning over £21,000 (for master’s loans taken out in England or Wales), or £19,390 (for postgraduate loans from Scotland or Northern Ireland). The repayment thresholds in Scotland and Northern Ireland are due to rise from April 2021 to £19,895 (Northern Ireland) and £25,000 (Scotland). The loans are also subject to interest.
The main sources of research funding for UK-based applicants are the seven research councils:
- Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)
- Medical Research Council (MRC)
- Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
- Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
- Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
- Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
- Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
They award about 6,000 grants or 'studentships' each year to universities to fund students undertaking PhD research or (rarely) master’s courses. If you get a studentship, your tuition fees are paid at the UK rate and you get a cost-of-living grant of up to around £15,285 a year, tax-free, that you don’t have to pay back.
To get the funding, you need to be accepted onto a PhD programme where funding is available. You then apply to your university for a studentship. If you’re unsuccessful, you’ll need an alternate means of financing your studies. Application deadlines vary, so be sure to check these. As well as a good funding application and research proposal, you’ll need to prove your academic credentials. Normally a 2:1 degree or above is expected, and you may also need additional experience in your field of study or a master’s qualification.
Currently you also have to be a UK resident. EU nationals can only get tuition fee support, unless they’ve been living in the UK and meet the residence requirements to get a full award.
However, from August 2021 international students will also be eligible to apply for full research council funding, including living costs. The tuition fee award will be at the UK rate and international fees may be higher, but they’ll be given flexibility to fund the difference from other sources. EU nationals who start a course after August 2021 will be treated as international students unless they're UK residents registered with the EU Settlement Scheme.
Students can’t get research council funding if they also have other UK government funding (other than Disabled Students’ Allowance). Full-time work isn’t allowed but part-time work often supplements PhD student income, particularly in graduate teaching or research assistant roles (see below).
The section below is for UK residents. Student loan finance is from the nation where you live but some incentives may also depend on the nation in which you study.
If you want to become a qualified teacher, postgraduate students are eligible for undergraduate student finance (loans) to study a PGCE in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, or a PGDE in Scotland. Financial incentives may be available for certain subjects (e.g. STEM). In England and Wales there are also schemes where you’re employed while working towards qualified teacher status. To check for funding incentives, see Get Into Teaching (England), Discover Teaching (Wales), Teach in Scotland (Scotland) or Initial teacher training if you’re from Northern Ireland.
If you want to become a social worker, you can get a bursary for postgraduate-level courses in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
If you're interested in medicine, dentistry or healthcare, you can get some funding from bursaries or undergraduate student finance/loans.
If you’re an international student, you should first investigate funding opportunities in your own country and contact your local British Council office.
High-profile schemes for international postgraduates include the Chevening Scholarships, funded by the UK government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office. These are very competitive (only one in 25 applicants is successful) and are aimed at international students whose studies will enable them to take part in development work in their home country.
The Shell Centenary Scholarship Fund offers scholarships at some UK universities, and you need to apply well in advance of your start date. There’s also the Commonwealth Scholarships and Fellowships, and Commonwealth Shared Scholarships for students from certain Commonwealth countries.
Note that as an international student, you’re unlikely to be offered funding in the form of a teaching or research assistantship from your university, especially for a taught postgraduate course. However, at PhD level you might be able to apply for an externally funded scholarship. International students will also be able to apply for research council funding from August 2021 (see above for details).
Many universities offer postgraduate scholarships for students, often in particular subjects. You’ll need to have achieved good grades at undergraduate study, whether you’re a UK or international student. Awards may come in the form of a tuition fee reduction rather than cash. Find the details on our university profiles.
As well as university scholarships, there may be charitable or educational awards available.
If you’re considering postgraduate study at your former university, it’s worth seeing if they offer a discount or reduction on the tuition fees for graduates. Sometimes a time limit may apply – for example, you may need to move straight from undergraduate to master’s-level study. Discounts may also be restricted to certain subjects or levels of study.
In some cases, loyalty discounts are available to friends and family of alumni. Here, ‘family’ generally means a sibling or close relative like a child – worth considering if your parents graduated from a UK university.
The above will also depend on whether university alumni discounts are for UK or international students. Students whose study is sponsored or who receive public money towards their postgraduate course are unlikely to be eligible.
If you work, your employer might sponsor you to take a part-time postgraduate course, especially if the qualification will help you progress at work.
Or, you could fund your course by working part-time as almost 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.
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, taking seminars and acting as demonstrators in laboratory classes – and pay is by the hour. But it does enable postgraduates to get valuable teaching experience.
You should be careful to ensure the hours you work for a part-time job are clearly agreed in advance and adhered to by the department to give you enough time for your PhD.
Tuition fees for postgraduate courses depend on factors such as the institution you choose, type and level of course, and whether you’re a UK or international student. Tuition fees for courses that run more than a year may increase annually, in part due to inflation. MBAs are particularly expensive at high-ranked universities.
While some students may have to choose a postgraduate course at an institution close to home, do thoroughly research the alternatives. Distance learning or online courses can be taken wherever you live, and part-time postgraduate courses or research master’s may be feasible as a commuter student to a university some distance away. Tuition fees do vary widely, as can be seen from our survey of average postgraduate tuition fees in the UK, and even if you can get a postgraduate loan it makes sense to keep your costs low, so long as the course and university meet your requirements.