Doctoral Student Loans – A Few Things to Bear in Mind |
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Posted on 12 May '22

Doctoral Student Loans – A Few Things to Bear in Mind

Applications for English and Welsh doctoral student loans are now open. You can borrow up to £27,892 for a PhD beginning in 2022 for an English loan and £27,880 for a Welsh loan.

The system is a little different to undergraduate and Masters loans, so it's worth checking what you can get (and how you'll get it) before you apply. The full details are in our complete guide to doctoral loans, but these are the key points that students sometimes overlook.

By the way, I know that owls may not seem immediately connected with PhD funding and almost certainly aren't eligible for doctoral loans. But they are generally held to be quite knowledgeable. Plus, you don't really need to see another picture of a calculator, do you?

#1 The amount is going up (but it's still for the full PhD)

Not by much, but every little helps: this year doctoral loans will be worth £27,892 (up from £27,265 last year).

It's £27,892 for the whole doctorate though... not £27,892 per year. This isn't likely to cover all of your fees and living costs. You're probably going to need some other funding too.

#2 You don't get any extra for living in London

Or anywhere else. As above, this is just a flat £27,892 to 'contribute' to the cost of your PhD.

#3 You can't have a PhD loan and a Research Council studentship at the same time

If you're lucky enough to have a Research Council studentship you can't apply for a PhD loan as well.

But you may be able to switch from a loan to a Research Council studentship during your PhD. Provided you inform Student Finance, you should be fine to stop your loan payments and receive the studentship instead. You still can't have both forms of funding at the same time - and you'll still need to repay the PhD loan you've received (in the normal way).

#4 But you can combine the loan with other funding

You can still apply for funding from universities or from independent charities. You can also work, provided your employment fits around your PhD research.

#5 You can apply later on in your PhD

One of the purposes of the loans is to provide an option for students who need to access additional support during their doctorate.

For example, you might decide to pay for part of your PhD by working part-time. That's fine and lots of students do it (especially in certain subjects).

But perhaps you get to the third year of a four year PhD and find that there are more demands on your time – teaching, chapter drafts, conference presentations, that sort of thing. You could choose to give up your part-time job and take out a doctoral loan for the last part of your course. And that's exactly what the Government wants you to be able to do.

Just bear in mind that the maximum amount you can receive in any one year is capped at £11,836. So, if you do apply later in a PhD, you might not have time to borrow the full £27,892.

#6 EU eligibility has changed

Since 2021 EU students no longer have automatic eligibility for UK student finance. But, if you already have a settled status in the UK then the loan may still be available to you.

If you're interested, our blog covers more about what else Brexit means for PhD students.

#7 ...but Irish students aren't affected

As we recently explained, the Common Travel Area means that citizens of the Republic of Ireland have the same rights as domestic students in the UK (and vice versa). This means you can still apply for student finance and won't need a visa for PhD study.

#8 It doesn't matter if you start out registered for an MPhil

Lots of PhD programmes initially register students for an MPhil (Master of Philosophy) and then upgrade them to a full PhD after the first year or so. This is fine. Provided your intended 'exit qualification' is a doctorate, you can get a doctoral loan for it.

If you just want to get an MPhil, you'll need to apply for a Masters loan.

#9 Your thesis submission date might be more important than you think

PhDs are funny things. Sometimes they go on longer than you expect: new ideas and directions crop up, unexpected roadblocks (and opportunities) appear.

This is all fine. But the payments for your loan will be tied to your intended submission date - the one agreed when you applied. If your PhD ends up taking longer than this - perhaps with a bit of extra time for 'writing up' – you may find that your loan ends a little bit before your doctorate does.

#10 Loans are available in Wales too (but not Scotland or Northern Ireland, yet)

Eligibility is pretty much the same (just swap 'Wales' and 'Welsh' for 'England' and 'English') and applications are now open.

Elsewhere, Northern Ireland has mentioned PhD loans in the past. Scotland hasn't really. Rest assured that we'll be keeping an eye on this for you.

#11 You could end up repaying your loan during your PhD

You become eligible to repay your loan in the April after your PhD finishes (whether or not you finish your PhD) or in the April four years after you start.

So, if you take out a loan for a PhD that lasts four years or more. . . you could technically be liable to start repaying that loan whilst you're still receiving it. I know, it sounds a bit odd.

Of course, this will only happen if and when you're earning over £21,000 a year so those repayments will be just as affordable as they would be later. Still, it's worth bearing in mind if you're lucky enough to find decent work during your doctorate (hey, you're talented - it could well happen).

#12 You don't need to be accepted for a PhD to apply (but it probably helps)

The application system will ask where you plan to study your PhD and for how long. But it won't ask for proof of this: your university doesn't need to confirm your PhD registration until it's time for you to start receiving your loan payments.

That said, it is worth having some idea of the details for your PhD because the length of your degree will determine how your loan payments are worked out. A PhD application also takes quite a bit of time - beginning one in June / July after already applying for a loan for a September start probably isn't a great idea.

Editor's note: This blog was originally published on 09/05/19. We've checked and updated it for current readers.

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Last Updated: 12 May 2022