Finding an international scholarship or studentship to study a PhD in the UK can seem challenging. You may already have noticed that some funded projects aren’t open to international students.
But this doesn’t mean support isn’t available to you. In fact, part of the challenge of finding international PhD funding lies in making sense of a wide range of options. It’s also important to understand how UK PhD funding works in the first place.
This page will help you do both of these things.
If you’re searching for PhD opportunities, you’ll notice a wide variety of projects and programmes available. Some of them have funding attached and some of them don’t; some of the funded projects will be available to international students and some won’t.
What’s going on?
This potentially confusing situation occurs because of the different ways UK doctorates are funded.
Many PhDs are created with funding already ‘attached’ (either as a partial fee waiver, or a full studentship covering tuition and living costs). This is very common in Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine (STEM) fields, but can also occur in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.
Applying for one of these PhDs is a lot like applying for a job: the university or department will define what it is they expect the student to research and what kind of candidate they’re looking for. Successful applicants will then be accepted to do the PhD and receive the funding.
Pre-funded projects are sometimes available to international students, but there may be a catch, depending on the source of the funding involved. If a project is funded with money from a Research Council (or a similar source of UK public funding) it may only be open to applicants from the UK or EU.
Some PhD opportunities expect to be funded, but haven’t confirmed this. Often, these projects are competition-funded. This means that they are competing for a ‘pot’ of funding, with the most promising project (and student) being allocated support.
Other projects may be awaiting funding. This may mean that a funding decision has yet to be made, or that the supervisor expects to receive funding once they find a student.
International eligibility for these projects is the same as for funded PhDs: provided the source of the funding is available to non-UK / EU students, you should be eligible to apply.
You can use FindAPhD to search for funded projects available to international students? Why not take a look?
A large number of PhDs in Arts, Humanities and Social Science subjects are self-proposed projects, put forward and defined by a student as part of their research proposal. These PhDs don’t have funding attached to them in advance. Instead you’ll need to apply for funding separately from your PhD application.
Some funded (or potentially funded) projects also include an option for students to self-fund. This means that you could potentially apply for a PhD as an international student, despite not being eligible for its funding – provided you can find some alternative support.
The rest of this page will explain where to look for that.
It's possible to work whilst studying a PhD abroad in the UK, but there are restrictions on the amount of employment you can undertake. Our guide to Tier 4 visas for PhD study provides more information.
So, where should you look for financial support as an international PhD student in the UK? Let’s start with public funding from the UK Government.
But it’s not all bad news. The UK Government actually runs – or supports a range of doctoral funding schemes that are specifically intended for international students. Let’s take a look at some of them.
This Government-funded programme provides over 800 international scholarships for postgraduate study in the UK each year. You may be able to apply for PhD support through one of the following routes:
As well as offering generous funding, the flagship scheme also confers significant prestige on successful applicants. The Commonwealth Scholarships are supported by the UK Department for Education (DFE) and Department for International Development (DFID) and maintain a high-profile alumni network.
The Newton Fund is a partnership between the UK and selected countries, designed to improve their economic development through innovative research and training.
Two schemes provide support for PhD students:
In order to be eligible you must be a citizen of one of 17 countries: Brazil, Chile, China, Colombia, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Philippines, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam.
This scheme is offered by the Scottish Government, to international students from Canada, India, Pakistan, USA or China (including Hong Kong) for postgraduate study at universities in Scotland. Support for PhD students is available (along with Masters degrees).
A Saltire Scholarship can provide up to £4,000 towards your PhD, provided you are studying in Scotland for the first time.
The main way the UK Government funds doctoral research is through Research Council studentships. Most of these aren't open to international candidates, but some exceptions apply to awards with an 'open call'. It can be worth checking with universities to see if this is the case.
As you've probably realised by now, international PhD funding is a very broad category, with no 'one-stop' solution for all students. However, there is a simple way to make your search simpler and that's to investigate funding for students from your country.
A wide range of scholarships are 'targeted' in this way. Some are the result of partnerships between the UK and other countries. Others are part of wider exchange schemes, encouraging students to study internationally.
Here are some of the countries with their own PhD funding options available:
The following funding is available for Australian PhD students in the UK:
The following funding is available for Canadian PhD students in the UK:
The following funding is available for Chinese PhD students in the UK:
The following funding is available for Hong Kong PhD students in the UK:
Note that students from Hong Kong may also be eligible for some of the international funding for Chinese students, listed above.
The following funding is available for Indian PhD students in the UK:
The following funding is available for Israeli PhD students in the UK:
The following funding is available for Kuwaiti PhD students in the UK:
The following funding is available for Russian PhD students in the UK:
The following funding is available for American PhD students in the UK:
Some international PhD scholarships have broader eligibility criteria and are available to students from neighbouring countries or regions. Examples include:
The information above is accurate to the best of our knowledge, but it does't claim to be complete. We welcome any suggestions for other funding opportunities we might include.
Can’t see a scholarship for your country in the list above? That doesn’t necessarily mean support isn’t available. Try contacting your ministry of education and checking whether they offer support for students to study a PhD abroad.
You may also be eligible for international funding from other sources, including universities, charities and trusts. Let’s take a look at those, starting with universities.
The funding you need to study a PhD at a UK university could actually be available from that university itself.
We’ve already looked at funded projects - and explained how you can search for these on FindAPhD. But universities also offer more general PhD scholarships for students who are applying for a project without funding, or looking for support with their own PhD topic. Many are specifically designed to attract and support international students.
Unfortunately, we can’t list every university scholarship here, but we’ve done the next best thing: our guide to PhD funding from universities shows you where to look for scholarships and studentships offered by institutions across the UK.
Another way to investigate funding opportunities at a specific university is to talk to them at a postgraduate study event. Funding shouldn’t be the only thing you ask about, but, if you’ve a genuine interest in doing your PhD at a particular institution, its advisors may be able to show you where to look for funding.
What kind of PhD funding can you get from a university and how do you go about finding it? Our guide explains what to look for and where.
A wide range of other organisations also fund PhD research. These include large scholarly trusts, business and commercial groups as well as small, specialist charities. Many of them will support PhD students, but you’ll need to know where to look.
The following may offer support for international students in the UK:
The Leverhulme Trust is an independent charity that provides funding for research in all subject areas.
At PhD level, this includes a programme of Leverhulme Doctoral Scholarships, which are potentially available to international students. These provide full support for tuition fees and maintenance during a three-year PhD.
You cannot apply directly for a Leverhulme scholarship, but your university may have some of this funding available. Opportunities are often listed on FindAPhD.
The Wellcome Trust is another substantial charity, providing support for research in areas related to health. This can include Humanities and Social Science subjects as well as Medicine and Health Sciences.
Its Wellcome Doctoral Studentships provide full funding (including fees and maintenance) for up to three years and are available to international PhD students in the UK.
The British Heart Foundation funds cardiovascular research and raises awareness of heart disease and related public health issues in the UK.
It provides a range of funding opportunities, including some PhD studentships. You will normally need to apply along with your supervisor.
Set up by the founder of Microsoft and his wife, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provides a specific Gates Cambridge scholarship. This is open to students from outside the UK looking to complete a PhD (or other postgraduate degree) at the University of Cambridge.
The Rhodes Trust is one of the world’s oldest international funding schemes. Its Rhodes Scholarships are available for students from specific countries to study a postgraduate degree at the University of Oxford.
Established by the Helena Kennedy Foundation, Article 26 provides support for refugees and asylum seekers to study in the UK. This includes support for some postgraduate courses at partner universities.
There are a wide range of charities and trusts out their with funding available for doctoral students. Find out where to start.
Hopefully this page has helped demonstrate that funding is available to you as an international PhD student (and help you find some!).
If you’re looking for more information and advice, we recommend the following:
Finally, don’t forget the other resources here on FindAPhD. These provide advice on funding opportunities such as the EU’s Marie Sklodowska Curie Actions (MSCA) as well as information on other aspects of PhD study in the UK.
Last updated - 01/03/2018