Student loans for PhD programmes have been confirmed in the UK government's 2016 Budget announcement.
Following the confirmation of £10,000 Masters loans for 2016, £25,000 doctoral loans will now be introduced in 2018.
This announcement follows a year of speculation and will be welcome news for any prospective postgraduates considering a PhD.
Our updated guide has all the key details of the plans. We've also put together some handy FAQs to help answer any questions you might have about the new PhD loans.
|What?||Student loans for PhD programmes. Currently no restrictions on subjects or modes of study.|
|How much?||Up to £25,000.|
|Who?||English students without full Research Council funding.|
|Where?||Any UK university.|
|When?||Commencing in the 2018-19 academic year.|
|Repayment?||9% of income over £21,000 per year. Combined with Masters loan debt.|
More information about the PhD loans is expected in future. The government will be taking a consultation on repayment plans soon. This may also lead to the clarification of other details.
In the meantime, the FAQs on this page cover everything that's currently known about the scheme (and offer a little help with what isn't!).
PhD loans will definitely be available for PhD study. This is likely to include equivalent qualification titles such as the DPhil. Eligibility for other doctoral programmes hasn't been confirmed, but more detail will emerge in future.
Possibly. Professional Doctorates aren't specifically excluded from the current loan proposals.
However, a Professional Doctorate isn't quite the same as a conventional PhD. These courses include much more taught content and are often delivered in partnership with business, industry or other external organisations.
If the PhD loans are intended to be restricted to postgraduate research, Professional Doctorates and similar qualifications may be excluded. We'll update this guide (and our newsletter) if more information emerges.
Many UK PhDs are now offered within Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTPs), Doctoral Training Centres (DTCs) or Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs). These are consortia of universities that collaborate to fund and support PhD research. They normally do so with the support of Research Council funding.
The PhD loans won't be available to students with full Research Council funding (those that include living allowances as well as money for fees). This means that you won't be able to receive a PhD loan if your doctorate is fully funded within a DTC, DTP or CDT.
However, that doesn't mean you can't study within one of these university consortia and benefit from the structured training, shared facilities and ongoing research aims they provide. It's simply that you won't be able to receive any Research Council funding for your living allowances as well as a PhD loan.
No restrictions on subject areas for PhD loans have been made.
Previous announcements referred primarily to Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) disciplines. However, this is highly unlikely to apply to the loans as they have been confirmed.
The loans are only available to students without full Research Council funding. In practice this will include a majority of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences students.
The Masters degree loans being introduced in 2016 are also not restricted by subject area.
No. The £25,000 PhD loans will be intended for doctoral programmes. Separate loans of £10,000 are available to cover research-based programmes at Masters-level (such as the MRes and MPhil).
Yes. Many PhD students are initially registered for the MPhil (Master of Philosophy) before being 'upgraded' to PhD candidates after a period of time.
This is normal practice and will not affect your eligibility for a PhD loan.
However, you are unlikely to be able to receive a doctoral loan for a standalone MPhil. You should apply for a Masters loan instead.
Probably. The announcement doesn't include or imply any restriction for part-time or distance learning PhDs. Masters loans are already confirmed for flexible modes of study and the government is keen to promote these options at postgraduate level.
No maximum length of study for PhD loans has been announced. Masters loans do include limits on the length of courses, but these are quite relaxed.
The standard length for a UK PhD is three years full time or six years part time. Your PhD may be allowed to exceed this length without any effect on your loan eligibility.
However, the maximum amount you can borrow will still be capped at £25,000, regardless of the length of your course.
Doctoral loans will be available for students who have been accepted for a PhD at any university in the UK. This includes institutions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as England.
It's possible that loans may still be available for PhDs with an overseas placement or for joint-PhDs delivered in partnership with foreign universities.
This would follow the format established for Masters loans. If so, foreign study may be limited to 50% of your programme or less.
In order to receive a doctoral loan you must be an English student, accepted for PhD study at a UK university and not receiving a Research Council living allowance.
Personal eligibility criteria for PhD loans will probably be similar to those for Masters loans. If so, your status as an 'English student' will be based on residency. You will need to be a UK national, ordinarily living in England.
This isn't confirmed, however. We'll update this guide when more information is released.
UK students from other parts of the UK won't be eligible for PhD loans as currently announced. This is because of the way UK higher education funding works in tandem with devolution. Each part of the UK is responsible for its own higher education policy and budgeting.
This means that the PhD loans being put forward by the Westminster government won't benefit students in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. (The same is true for the Masters degree loans).
However, the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments may put forward their own PhD loan plans. You can stay up to date with any new developments by signing up to our newsletter.
No plans to make PhD loans available for EU students have been announced yet. This may change as the scheme is developed and finalised.
Prior to the introduction of doctoral loans, the main source of funding for PhD study in the UK has been the seven UK Research Councils. These distribute public money for academic research and part of their role is to support the training of future researchers and scholars (that's you!).
Research Council funding usually takes the form of a full studentship. This pays all of a student's fees and provides a separate living allowance for accommodation and maintenance.
However, this funding is limited and highly competitive.
The PhD loans are designed to change this by providing another means of support for students who wouldn't otherwise receive funding. As such, the loans aren't available for those with full Research Council funding.
Note that this doesn't mean you can't combine a PhD loan with any Research Council funding. Some students receive partial support, or other assistance (such as Disabled Students Allowance) from Research Councils. PhD loan restrictions only apply to students with full Research Council funding (including a living allowance).
In most cases these students won't require any additional funding and the loan restriction won't be an issue for them.
No age limit has been announced for the PhD loans. Masters loans are only available to applicants under 60 (revised from an initial cap of 30). This may also be applied to loans for doctoral study, but no such restriction has been made so far.
Probably not. The Masters loans being introduced in August 2016 aren't available for any students who began a postgraduate course before that point. This could also apply to PhD loans.
The PhD loans aren't be introduced until the 2018-19 academic year. This means that most current full-time students will already have completed their doctorates before loans are available.
Students planning to begin a PhD in the intervening years may be able to take out a loan later in their studies, but shouldn't begin a doctorate on this basis. We'll update this page as soon as we know more.
Yes. Other student loans won't affect your eligibility for PhD loans. Repayments for your PhD loan may change slightly if you also have a Masters loan. Undergraduate debt will remain separate.
PhD loans will have a maximum value of £25,000. Further details are subject to confirmation.
Almost certainly not. As with the £10,000 Masters loans, £25,000 is simply the maximum amount you can borrow with a PhD loan. You will probably be able to apply for less than this, but you won't be able to borrow any more.
This should allow you to tailor your loan according to your personal circumstances and take account of any other PhD funding you have.
No. Your eligibility for a PhD loan won't depend on your financial circumstances and all students will be able to borrow up to the full £25,000 amount.
In most cases, yes. You cannot take out a PhD loan if you also have full Research Council funding (which includes a living allowance). However, you should be able to combine the loan with Disabled Students' Allowance, funding from your university, or other support.
As with the Masters loans, the PhD loans are intended as a general contribution to the costs of postgraduate study. This means that they aren't tied to the specific cost of a doctoral programme or the living costs incurred by PhD students.
In practice, both of these amounts will vary depending on factors such as the fees charged by your institution and the cost of living in your local area.
£25,000 should significantly reduce the financial burden of PhD study, but it won't necessarily cover full fees and living costs for a three year doctorate.
PhD loans will be income-contingent, with repayments made at 9% of income over £21,000 per year. Repayments will be combined with those for a Masters loan (if you have one). Full details of the repayment terms for the loans will be finalised following a technical consultation.
Postgraduate loan repayments are intended to be combined. This means that you will repay a single debt amount of up to £35,000 if you have both a Masters and a PhD loan.
However, the rate at which you repay will also be adjusted. Instead of making two repayments at 6% (for your Masters loan) and 9% (for your PhD loan) you will only make one 9% repayment.
This should help ensure that graduates with undergraduate, Masters and PhD loan debt are not faced with excessive salary deductions.
Full details of these repayment plans will be finalised following a public consultation.
Yes, PhD loans will be subject to interest in the same way as other student loans. Exact rates haven't been confirmed yet, but will probably be the same RPI+3% charged on Masters loans. This is particularly likely, given that Masters and PhD debt will be combined.
Confirmation of PhD loans for 2018 has answered several of the questions that previously hung over the scheme. More information is expected over the coming months as the government finalises its plans and clarifies details of eligibility criteria and repayment terms. We'll continue to keep this page updated with the latest details.
The best way to stay up to date with new information about the PhD loans scheme is to sign up to our newsletter.
Last updated - 16/03/2016