If you’re looking to study a PhD, you’ve almost certainly wondered how you’ll fund your project or programme. One of the most attractive sources of funding is a studentship, which will normally cover fees and living costs. Doctoral studentships are offered by universities, government bodies and independent research charities.
We’ve put this guide together to go over exactly what a studentship is, how much funding they can provide, and how to go about applying for one.
What is a PhD studentship?
A studentship is a form of doctoral funding that is often attached to a specific project. Full PhD studentships cover the cost of tuition and materials as well as providing you with a maintenance allowance, or ‘stipend’.
The body awarding the studentship may decide which projects to fund. Some PhDs are advertised with funding in this way.
Alternatively, the body may provide funds to a university or faculty that will then be distributed to projects on a competitive basis.
PhD studentships vs PhD scholarship
PhD studentships and scholarships are both forms of funding for doctoral study and both may be full or partial funding and can include a maintenance stipend.
The difference between the two lies in what the funding is attached to. Whereas studentship funding is attached to a specific project, PhD scholarships are typically provided directly to the student and are awarded based on general academic merit.
Find a funded PhD
If you’re looking for a fully funded PhD programme, why not take a look at our project listings. We have many PhD opportunities available with either full or partial studentships.
Who offers PhD studentships?
There are several sources of funding for PhD studentships. In the UK, the most commonly awarded studentships are those funded by one of the seven Research Councils in the form of Research Council grants. Other sources of funding include universities themselves as well as a number of charitable organisations.
The seven UK Research councils are part of a government body called UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). They award millions in funding doctoral research each year and offer some of the most generous funding for PhD study.
Each Council is responsible for a different subject area and funding is available across all academic disciplines, including Arts and Humanities as well as Social Sciences and STEM.
Most Research Council studentships will provide full funding for your doctorate, including fully covering your university fees and providing a monthly tax-free doctoral stipend.
Most of this funding is allocated to networks of universities, who use it to provide studentships at special Doctoral Training Partnerships or Centres for Doctoral Training.
If you have been a resident of the UK for three years or more, you’ll normally be entitled to apply for a full studentship. Applicants who are residents of an EU country can apply for a partial ‘fees-only’ studentship (with no maintenance stipend).
However, the eligibility criteria is set to change in the 2021-22 academic year, with the UK Government announcing that international students would then be eligible for UKRI funding. Find out more in our blog on Research Council funding for international students.
Research Council Studentships
Our full guide has detailed information on Research Council studentships for PhD study, covering exactly what a studentship from one of the research councils offers as well as the academic requirements for obtaining one. We’ve also looked at the potential impact of Brexit on PhD funding for EU students in the UK.
Most universities offer their own studentships, alongside those they award from government bodies such as Research Councils. The value of university studentships will vary and may cover both tuition, materials and maintenance or only some of these.
The availability of these studentships will be listed on the university’s website. Some university funded studentships are available to international students, but you’ll need to check the eligibility criteria before applying.
Our guide to PhD funding from universities explains what funding is available with a university scholarship as well as how to apply for one, with links to funding pages at all UK universities.
Professional and charitable organisations
There are a number of other organisations that provide PhD studentships. These include large charities such as the Wellcome Trust as well as private companies, industrial firms or public sector organisations.
These non-academic funding sources collaborate with universities and Research Councils to provide Cooperative Awards in Science and Engineering (CASE) studentships. CASE PhD studentships are typically four-years long and will often require the student to spend a period of time working for the collaborating body making the financial contribution.
Often the funding of the awarding body will be directed toward a specific topic or university, with charities investing their money in projects that help their particular cause. Others provide more general funding, preferring to focus on projects that offer the greatest promise to their respective fields of study.
The value of the funding varies from one body to another. Typically, external studentships include full tuition payments as well as a monthly stipend. The stipend amount varies but, in some cases, can be significantly higher than that offered by the Research Councils.
Most external studentship opportunities will be advertised with the project that they are attached to. You can see a list of the most common sources of funding below.
How much is a PhD studentship worth?
Most PhD studentships will ‘fully fund’ a doctorate. At a minimum, they will cover the cost of your university fees. Many will also provide funding for materials that you may require during the course of your studies, as well as a monthly stipend designed to cover your living costs.
Studentships that provide significantly less than this (not covering the full cost of your university tuition for example) may be advertised as partial scholarships. You may need to combine such a scholarship with another source of funding to meet the needs of your PhD.
Most fully funded PhD stipends will provide a maintenance stipend. The value of this stipend will depend on the funding body and, sometimes, the cost of living in the city where you study.
Most studentship maintenance grants are designed to allow you to treat the PhD as a job. This is done so that you don't need to find additional employment to support yourself.
The value of the maintenance stipend will be advertised as part of the PhD studentship. Maintenance grats provided by PhD studentships are normally tax free, meaning that the true value of the grant is greater than it would be if it were a regular salary.
Additional funding and requirements
Often studentships will provide funding for training and events surrounding the PhD. A travel allowance for attending academic conferences is a typical example, though some studentships may also cover costs of related training or internships completed during the course of the PhD.
Many studentships also come with certain requirements that must be completed in order to continue to obtain funding. These requirements can include the completion of external courses, regular updates on the progress of your research or a number of teaching hours at the university.
What are the eligibility criteria?
Most PhD studentships are highly competitive and as a result, will usually require you to demonstrate excellent academic merit before awarding funding. Many studentships are also restricted by residency. Full Research Council studentships, for example, are usually only available to UK students.
PhD studentships are merit-based and funding will be awarded to the best candidate applying for the project.
The selection process is most often down to the university advertising the project, with the funding body playing no direct role. The eligibility will therefore differ between universities but in general you will require the following
- Undergraduate degree — this needs to be a 2:1 or higher to be eligible to apply for a PhD studentship
- Masters degree — Some universities will require you to have a Masters degree in a field related to the PhD project you have applied for. Even when not required, such a qualification is highly desirable.
You may find that there are additional restrictions imposed by the university or faculty that you're applying to.
Detailed requirements are often listed with the project, or can be provided by the university on request.
Many PhD studentships are restricted to residents of certain countries or occasionally students belonging to a limited set of socio-economic backgrounds.
You should take time to find out about any potential restrictions for the studentship you're looking at.
If you are an international student looking for PhD funding, you might be interested in our guide on international funding. Here you’ll find information on what options are available and how to apply for them.
Many studentships will also carry restrictions on finding additional sources of income. These restrictions commonly include
- Restrictions on further funding — Some studentships are not compatible with other sources of funding (for example, you can't have a Research Council grant
a doctoral student loan).
- Restrictions on outside work — Most studentships will include a restriction on the number of hours of paid employment you're allowed
You should be able to find out about any additional restrictions the studentship has through the funding body
How to apply for a PhD studentship
A PhD studentship, unlike a scholarship, is attached to a specific PhD project. For this reason, you cannot apply directly to the funding body for a studentship.
If you're looking for a PhD project with funding attached this is straightforward. If you're looking to propose your own research project this can be a little more complicated.
Finding a funded PhD project
Applying for a pre-set PhD project with attached funding is quite a streamlined procedure in most cases.
You should start by looking for a research project that interests you. You won't get far with your PhD if you don't enjoy what you're studying. Nor is it likely that you'll demonstrate the required passion to secure funding.
You can use our PhD search to find projects that have funding attached.
Once you have found a suitable project, you can simply follow the application guidelines detailed by the university. Your application for funding will be processed alongside this and often requires no additional input from you.
Proposing your own research topic
Applying for a studentship when proposing your own research topic requires a little more input on your part.
You should first check what studentship options are available at your university. If you are thinking of applying to an independent funding body, you should make sure that they are willing to fund research in that area. There are several organisations out there and it's worth investigating the projects that they fund.
You'll need to develop a detailed research proposal, which can be done in collaboration with your prospective supervisor. Your next step should be to successfully apply for a PhD position at the university.
Once you have been accepted onto a PhD programme you can submit an application for studentship funding. This can be made directly to the university for public funding or made to the independent funding body of your choice.
Applications to private funding bodies generally need to be made with your supervisor. If this is the case, you should discuss this with your supervisor before applying for a PhD position.
Applications for Research Council or university funding can be made directly to the university at which you've been accepted for a PhD.
PhD funding options
Want to find out about other funding options for your doctorate? We’ve written guides to Research Council studentships, university scholarships, charity funding and doctoral loans.
For those of you looking for a quick answer, we've collated a number of the most frequently asked questions regarding PhD studentships.
How competitive are PhD studentships?
Depending on the level of funding on offer, a PhD studentship application can be very competitive. In order to be considered for a PhD studentship, you'll need to demonstrate exceptional academic merit as well as dedication to your chosen topic.
Are PhD studentships tax free?
You'll be glad to hear that yes, here in the UK, the maintenance grant you receive as part of a PhD studentship is normally tax free. Also, because you are classified as a student you will be exempt from council tax for the duration of your studies.
Are there studentships available for international students?
Some funding bodies do offer studentships to international students. Research Council studentships are normally restricted to UK or EU students, although international students will be able to apply for them beginning in the 2021-22 academic year. Find out more in our blog on UKRI funding for international students.
If you want more information on finding funding as an international student, why not take a look at our guide on the subject.
When are PhD studentships advertised?
PhD studentships are advertised at the same time as the project that they are attached to. You can find PhD projects with attached funding using our PhD search tool.
If you are looking to propose your own research topic you will need to check funding deadlines with the organisation you wish to apply to. Some will accept applications year-round while others will only have one or two application windows per year.
How do you get a PhD studentship?
To receive PhD studentship funding, you need to either: successfully apply to a research project that has already been granted studentship funding or, propose a research project that is then accepted for funding by an organisation offering studentships.
Last updated - 24/08/2020