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What Indian Students Need to Know About PhD Study in the UK

The UK has long been a hotspot for international study and is the fourth most popular destination in the world for Indian students! According to the most recent data from the OECD, over 18,640 postgraduate Indian students were enrolled at a UK university in 2019.

With the relationship between the UK and Indian higher education systems going from strength to strength this number can only be expected to rise. This year, for example, the governments of the two countries announced a landmark agreement to automatically recognise each other’s qualifications. This means it will be easier for Indian students to apply for PhDs at UK universities and to seek work post-graduation!

In this post, we’ll cover everything you need to know if you’re thinking about PhD study in UK, including universities, applications, funding and more.

You can also browse PhD projects in the UK with our course finder.

UK universities

The UK is home to some of the world’s oldest and most prestigious higher education institutions including world-renowned universities of Oxford and Cambridge, founded in 1096 and 1231 respectively.

In total, prospective PhD students can choose from over 150 universities across the country. Most receive funding from the UK government, apart from a small number of private universities, often specialising in certain subjects such as Law or Business.

UK universities are fond of forming alliances. Perhaps the most well-known is the Russell Group, an association of the UK’s top 24 research institutions. It is true that Russell Group universities award the majority of doctorates, so you could certainly do worse than to begin your PhD search here. However, there are plenty of excellent universities that don’t belong to this (or any) alliance – so make sure to keep an open mind!

PhD study in the UK

PhD study in the UK is fairly similar to in most other countries. Under the guidance of an expert supervisor, you’ll work towards an extended dissertation that will make an original contribution to your field. Your PhD will usually take 3-4 years (or 6-8 years if studied part-time).

Most PhD students in the UK are initially registered for a Master of Philosophy (MPhil) before being ‘upgraded’ to the status of full PhD candidate. Somewhat confusingly, the MPhil is also available as a standalone degree – but this doesn’t bear much resemblance to the first stage of a PhD. You’ll usually spend the MPhil stage of your PhD writing an upgrade report, which will flesh out your research topic and your objectives going forward, before undergoing your upgrade viva.

Most PhDs in the UK are pure research degrees, meaning your main task will be to research and write your thesis according to your own timetable. Don’t think this means you’ll spend all your time locked away amongst precarious towers of books, however! Life as a PhD student also involves many other activities such as undergraduate teaching and presenting at conferences.

Applying for a PhD in the UK

How to apply for a PhD in the UK depends on the type of programme you choose.

If you’re applying for a PhD in Arts, Humanities or Social Sciences, you’ll usually design your own project. This means you’ll set out your objectives in a research proposal which you’ll submit to the university. You’ll also need to find an academic with expertise in your field who is willing to supervise the project.

Most STEM PhDs are advertised projects. This means that the university has already identified a research question and is seeking the right candidate to answer it. You won’t need to write a research proposal in this case – you simply apply for the advertised position as you would a job.

The minimum entry requirement for a PhD in the UK will usually be a Bachelors degree at grade 2:1 or equivalent (which is an Indian CGPA of approximately 7.7). However, some programmes may require a Masters degree – and even if postgraduate study isn’t a requirement, it can often be an advantage.

Due to the recent agreement between the UK and Indian governments, you won’t have to jump through any extra hoops to have your degree(s) recognised in the UK!

PhD fees and funding in the UK for Indian students

A PhD in the UK will generally cost between £15,000 and £20,000 per year for international students. Luckily, there are lots of funding options available to help you cover the costs.

Many advertised projects have funding attached. This often takes the form of full studentships from the UK Research and Innovation Council (UKRI), which cover tuition fees and living costs.

Indian students are eligible to apply for UKRI funding, but it’s important to note that studentships will only cover tuition fees at the domestic rate (which is around £4,000-5,000 per year). This means you’ll have to cover the remainder of your tuition costs via other means.

Full studentships are also very competitive and it’s common for students (especially in Arts and Humanities subjects) to self-fund their PhD.

Here are a few examples of other funding opportunities available for Indian PhD students in the UK:

  • The Inlaks Shivdasani Foundation offers scholarships worth up to $100,000 (INR 78 Lakhs) for Indian students doing PhDs abroad.
  • Commonwealth PhD Scholarships are provided by the UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). They include a tuition fee waiver and a monthly living stipend of £1,113 as well as other benefits.
  • The Charles Wallace India Trust provides various grants for Indian doctoral students in the UK.

Travelling to the UK

All Indian students need a visa to study a PhD in the UK. Applications are made through the new Student Route (previously Tier 4) system. It costs £348 (0.3 Lakh) to apply for a visa from within India, or £475 (0.4 Lakh) if you apply when already in the UK.

There are no longer any coronavirus restrictions for people entering the UK from abroad.

Post-study work visas

The UK is keen to encourage talented international students to stay in the UK post-graduation. The Graduate Route Visa allows PhD students to stay in the UK for three years after finishing their programme. You don’t need to be employed to stay in the UK on the Graduate Route and there are no restrictions on the kind of work you can do.

All Indian qualifications are automatically recognised in the UK, which should also make it easier for you to seek employment.


Ready to begin your UK PhD journey? Check out some of the UK doctoral projects we list on FindAPhD.com or read our full guide to PhD study in the UK.




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Last Updated: 28 September 2022