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PhD Loan – A Guide for 2020


You may be able to get a UK PhD loan of up to £26,445 from Student Finance England or Student Finance Wales for a doctoral degree in any subject. The money only needs to be paid back when you earn over £21,000 a year.


PhD Loan - At a Glance
What? Student loans for PhD-level qualifications lasting up to eight years in all subjects.
How much? Up to £26,445 in 2020-21 (not means-tested).
Who? English- or Welsh-resident UK and EU students, and EU students moving to England or Wales for a PhD, aged 59 or under without Research Council funding.
Where? Any UK university
Repayment? 6% of income over £21,000 per year. Combined with Masters loan.
Applications? Now open for 2019-20 students. Opening in May / June for 2020-21.

Amount

You can borrow up to £26,445 for a PhD starting in 2020-21 (students who begin in 2019-20 can borrow up to £25,700). All of the money is paid directly to your bank account for you to use for PhD fees, research expenses, maintenance or other costs.

Doctoral loans aren't means-tested and the amount you can borrow isn't affected by your income or savings.

It's up to you to decide how much you want to borrow (up to the maximum). Whatever you request will be divided evenly across your PhD and paid in three instalments per year.

  • 33% for your first payment (once your registration is confirmed)
  • 33% for your second payment (four months into your course)
  • 34% for your third payment (seven months into your course)

You can apply later in your doctorate. However, you can only borrow up to £11,222 per year. This means you might not receive the full amount if you apply after the first year of your course.

For example, if you applied for a doctoral loan in the second year of a three-year PhD, you could receive £11,222 per year for a total of £22,444, not £13,222 per year for a total of £26,445.

Writing up

The timing of your loan payments will be based on your intended submission date. This means that your loan payments may already have finished if your PhD takes longer than you expect, or you spend extra time 'writing up' your thesis. You should bear this in mind as you plan your project and budget for it.

Student eligibility

You can apply if you're a UK or EU student and you meet the following eligibility criteria:

  • Nationality - You'll need to be a UK citizen (or have settled status) or an EU citizen. PhD loans aren't affected by Brexit yet.
  • Residency - UK applicants will need to have been living in the UK for the past three years and be ordinarily resident in England or Wales. EU applications will need to have been living in the EU, EEA or Switzerland for the past three years and be either ordinarily resident in England or Wales or coming to study at an English or Welsh university.
  • Age - All applicants must be under 60 (59 or younger) on the first day of their course. This will normally be 1 September if your PhD begins in Autumn or 1 January if your PhD begins in Spring.
  • Existing qualifications - You can't already have a doctorate.
  • Other funding - You can't combine a PhD loan with a Research Council studentship or other government funding (like NHS bursaries).

You may be eligible if you aren’t a UK or EU national, but one of the following applies:

  • You are the child of either a Swiss national or Turkish worker
  • You or a family member are an EEA or Swiss national working in the UK
  • You or a family member have been granted refugee status or humanitarian protection in the UK
  • You are 18 or over and have lived in the UK for at least 20 years and / or half of your life

Doctoral loans haven't yet been announced for Scotland or Northern Ireland, but our newsletter will let you know if this changes.

Course eligibility

The PhD loan is available for all types of doctoral degree, in any subject. This includes academic doctorates such as a PhD and DPhil, as well as professional doctorates such as a DBA (Doctor of Business Administration) or EdD (Doctor of Education).

UK students can study at any UK university. EU students who normally live outside the UK can use the doctoral loan to study at any English or Welsh university.

You can study full time or part time provided your PhD lasts between 3 and 8 years. You will be able to choose from different course lengths when you apply. These will be set by your university based on the intended submission date for your thesis.

Applications

PhD loan applications are now open for 2019-20 students. Applications for 2020-21 students will be available in May or June 2020. Make sure you apply to the correct student finance provider. This will be:

  • Student Finance England for English-resident students or EU students coming to study in England
  • Student Finance Wales for Welsh-resident students or EU students coming to study in Wales

If you have an existing student finance account and Customer Reference Number (CRN) you should use this to apply for your PhD loan. The application system will also ask for details about your PhD (or other doctoral degree), residency status and how much you want to borrow.

The application deadline is fairly relaxed – you have to apply within nine months of the first day of the final academic year of your doctorate. Depending on when you start your PhD during the year, there are four possible ‘first days’, which you can see in the table below.


Course begins First day of academic year
1 August - 31 December 1 September
1 January - 31 March 1 January
1 April - 30 June 1 April
1 July - 31 July 1 July

As an example, if you start a three-year PhD on 22 October 2020, you should apply for a doctoral loan before 31 May 2023.

Remember though, that applying later in your PhD could limit the maximum amount you can borrow (you can't receive more than £11,222 in a single academic year).

Repayments

Doctoral loan repayments are income contingent. You only repay your PhD loan when you are earning over £21,000 a year (£1,750 a month or £404 a week) and you only repay 6% of what you earn over that threshold.

You'll begin repayments in the first April after you leave your course or in the April four years after your PhD starts (whichever is sooner). This means that you can be eligible to start repaying the doctoral loan during your PhD, but only if you're earning enough.

How you repay depends on your employment status:

  • If you are employed in the UK HMRC will automatically deduct repayments from your salary on behalf of the Student Loans Company. This will usually happen monthly.
  • If you are self-employed you will need to make repayments to HMRC as part of your annual tax return.
  • If you are working outside the UK you will need to make repayment arrangements with the Student Loans Company. You should do this before you leave the UK.
  • If you are unemployed you won't make repayments. The same applies if you are ever earning less than £21,000 a year.

You may also need to repay other student loans along wth your PhD loan:

  • PhD and Masters loan repayments are combined – you will make one repayment of 6% of your income over £21,000 towards a single postgraduate loan debt
  • All postgraduate loan repayments are concurrent with those for undergraduate loans – you will repay 6% of your income over £21,000 towards your Masters and / or PhD loan and 9% of your income over £25,725 towards your undergraduate loan

Interest is charged on a PhD loan at the same rate as Masters loans: RPI (the Retail Prices Index) +3%. The current rate is 5.4%.

Any remaining PhD loan debt (including interest) is cancelled after 30 years from the point at which you begin repayments.

Welsh PhD loans

Wales offers its own PhD loan for Welsh-resident UK students (and EU students coming to study in Wales).

Welsh PhD loans work the same way as English PhD loans. The only difference is that you should apply to Student Finance Wales, not Student Finance England.

Scotland and Northern Ireland don't offer a doctoral loan yet.

FAQs

Here we've put together a comprehensive list of PhD loan FAQs. If you do have further questions, get in touch with us by emailing editor[at]FindAPhD.com and we'll do our best to help.

Is the value of the loan linked to my course fees?

No. You can borrow the same amount with a doctoral loan regardless of how much your PhD project or programme costs.

Can I borrow more than the cost of my PhD?

Yes. Any extra loan can be used to help with living costs or other expenses.

Do I have to borrow the full amount?

You can borrow anything between £1 and £26,445 (for a 2020-21 PhD). Whatever you request will be divided equally across your PhD, but you can't receive more than £11,222 in any one year.

Can I combine a loan with a Research Council studentship?

No. Unfortunately you can't apply for a PhD loan if you're also receiving any form of Research Council funding from UKRI – including a 'fees-only' award.

What counts as being ordinarily resident in England or Wales?

To be eligible for a doctoral loan as a UK student you must be ordinarily resident in England or Wales. This means that you normally live in England or Wales and you haven’t moved there just to go to university.

You will normally count as being ordinarily resident in England or Wales if any or all of the following are true:

  • You lived in England or Wales before you went to university for your Bachelors degree
  • You received an undergraduate student loan from Student Finance England or Student Finance Wales
  • You have lived and worked in England or Wales after graduating from university

Can I combine a loan with other PhD funding?

You can't combine a PhD loan with other funding from the UK Government, including Research Council studentships or NHS bursaries. However, you can potentially top up your PhD loan with other PhD funding, including:

Can I get a loan now and apply for Research Council funding later?

Potentially. Some Research Council awards allow students to apply again for the second year of their PhD. Having had a PhD loan may not stop you doing this, provided you cancel it before receiving your Research Council funding.

Note that this still doesn't work the other way around: you can't apply for a PhD loan once you've been awarded Research Council funding.

Where can I study?

If you are ordinarily resident in England (or Wales) before your course, you can use your loan to study any UK PhD.

If you are an EU student and are ordinarily resident outside the UK, you can only use your loan to study in England or Wales.

Are extra loans available for maintenance?

No. You can use some of your doctoral loan for living costs, but there isn't any separate PhD maintenance loan.

Can I change the amount I borrow?

Yes. You can change your PhD loan amount later by submitting a PhD loan request form (PDF). You can't do this online.

Why can't I borrow more than £11,222 per year?

Capping the annual amount for a PhD loan at £11,222 is designed to match the Masters degree loan system: it means that doctoral students and Masters students can borrow the same amount per year.

Will the loan value increase?

Yes. The maximum value of a doctoral loan will increase from £25,700 to £26,445 for students starting in 2020-21. This will only apply to degrees that begin after 1 August 2020.

Should I apply at the beginning of my course, or wait?

This is up to you and depends on your funding circumstances.

The PhD loan is meant to be flexible though: you could apply for a loan to help support you throughout your doctorate, or use it to bridge gaps between funding or replace income from a part-time job as you focus on the later stages of your project.

Are PhD loans means-tested?

No. You can borrow the same amount regardless of your income, savings or credit rating.

The only exceptions concern outstanding arrears to the Student Loans Company (for repayments you were eligible to make, but didn't). However, you may be able to apply for a loan if you clear these.

Will a PhD loan affect my benefits?

Potentially, yes. Because the loan is paid directly to you it may be regarded as a form of income by the Department for Work and Pensions. You should check this if you are concerned about your benefit entitlement with a PhD loan.

Can I also apply for Disabled Students' Allowance?

Yes. You can have a PhD loan and receive Disabled Students' Allowance (DSA) during your PhD.

Can I have a PhD loan as well as a postgraduate Masters loan?

Yes. You can have a postgraduate doctoral loan and postgraduate Masters loan. However, you can't be receiving them both at the same time (you'll need to finish your Masters before you begin your PhD).

When will I receive my first instalment?

You'll receive the first payment for your PhD loan once you start your PhD and your university confirms that you have registered on your project or programme.

When will I stop receiving my loan?

Your payment schedule will be based on the intended submission date for your doctoral thesis, agreed with your university at the start of your degree.

Will I receive a loan whilst I'm 'writing up' my PhD?

Only if you are still ahead of your submission date. Your university may allow you extra time to finish writing up your thesis, but you won't receive any extra payments if you've already had your full loan by that point.

Can I apply for a loan for a PhD I've already started?

You can apply after the beginning of a PhD, but it must have started after 1 August 2018.

Can I get a loan if I've previously begun a PhD, but not completed it?

Yes, provided you haven't earned a doctoral qualification and you are starting a completely new doctorate (not continuing or resuming your previous programme or project).

However, you can't normally apply for a second doctoral loan, even if your first loan was for an incomplete qualification. Exceptions may apply if you can demonstrate compelling personal reasons for exiting your first doctorate - Student Finance England will consider your case if so.

Can I get a loan if my doctorate begins as an MPhil?

Yes. You can still apply for a doctoral loan for a programme that initially registers students at MPhil level before upgrading them to PhD candidacy.

However, if you are only enrolling for an MPhil, you should apply for a Masters loan instead.

Can I get a PhD loan for a professional doctorate?

Yes. All types of doctorate are eligible for PhD loans, provided the qualification is awarded for a programme of work at a UK university.

Can I get a loan for a PhD by publication?

No. You can't apply for a loan if you're submitting a PhD by published work (based on a portfolio of research you've already completed). In this case there would be no new project or programme for the loan to pay for!

Can I apply for a loan for a PhD that includes a Masters degree?

Yes. You can still get a loan for a PhD that also awards a Masters degree, including an integrated doctorate or a '1+3' programme. However, you must be registering to graduate with the doctorate, not the Masters.

Can I get a loan for a joint doctorate?

Yes, provided the UK university is the lead institution for your PhD and you spend at least 50% of your course in the UK.

Can I study my PhD part time?

The loans don't actually distinguish between full-time and part-time students. Your PhD can last between 3 and 8 years, however you study.

In practice, most UK universities will regard a 3-4 year PhD as 'full time' and a 6-8 year PhD as 'part time'. You will agree the exact length of your programme with your university.

Can I get a loan for a doctorate by distance learning?

Yes, provided you are living in England on the first day of the first academic year of your PhD and living in the UK for the entire course. EU students who are coming to the UK to study will need to be living in England for their entire course.

You can't get a PhD loan to study by distance learning and live outside the UK.

Can I apply if I already have a PhD?

No. The new doctoral loan is intended to help new students progress to PhD-level study. Unfortunately, you can't apply for this student finance if you already have a doctorate (even if you paid for it yourself).

Can I apply for a loan to 'top up' an existing qualification to PhD level?

No. To be eligible for a loan your project or programme must be a complete doctorate, begun after 1 August 2018. You can't get a loan to extend or 'top up' and existing MPhil or other qualification.

What if I have moved from England or Wales to another part of the UK for previous study?

You will still count as an English- or Welsh-resident student if you have studied your undergraduate degree or Masters in Scotland or Northern Ireland and want to continue straight on to a PhD. This means you will be able to apply for a doctoral loan.

What if I have moved to England or Wales from another part of the UK for previous study?

Because you only moved to England or Wales to study, your residency status won’t have changed. You will still count as being ordinarily resident elsewhere in the UK and, unfortunately, won't currently be able to apply for the PhD loan.

What if I have stayed in another part of the UK to work after university?

Living and working in a different part of the UK means you aren’t just there to go to university. This can change your residency status.

For example:

  • You live in Scotland but go to university in England. After graduating you settle and work in England. If you eventually decide to study a PhD, you will now count as being ordinarily resident in England and can apply for a doctoral loan, even though you were once resident in Scotland.

The same would be true for an English student who had lived and worked elsewhere in the UK after graduating – it's possible that this could mean you are no longer classed as English-resident for student loan purposes.

If you aren’t sure about your residency status, check with Student Finance England.

How will my residency be checked?

You’ll be asked to provide at least three years’ address history during your postgraduate loan application. Student Finance England may query any details that might affect your eligibility.

Can I get a doctoral loan if I’ve lived outside the UK in the last three years?

In order to apply for a student loan as a UK citizen you must have lived in the UK for three years prior to your course. You can travel abroad for holidays or other periods of ‘temporary absence’ during this period, but you shouldn’t have become ordinarily resident in another country.

How does the Welsh PhD loan work?

Welsh doctoral loans work the same as English PhD loans. The only difference is that you will need to apply to Student Finance Wales instead of Student Finance England.

Are EU students eligible for doctoral loans?

Yes. You can apply for a postgraduate loan to begin a PhD in the UK as an EU student in 2019-20 or 2020-21.

Some of the eligibility criteria for EU students are slightly different:

  • You do not need to have been living in the UK for three years; instead you must have been living in the EU, EEA or Switzerland
  • If you are moving to the UK to study your PhD you must live and study in England or Wales (this also applies to distance learning courses)
  • If you are already ordinarily resident in England or Wales, you can apply for PhD loan to study anywhere in the UK

The amount you can borrow and your repayment terms are the same.

Are EEA or Swiss students eligible for doctoral loans?

Students from the EEA (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) or Switzerland may be eligible for a PhD loan if the following apply:

  • You or a family member are working in the UK
  • You have lived in the EEA or Switzerland during the last three years

If so, you will be eligible for the loan on a similar basis to EU students.

Will Brexit affect doctoral loans?

EU eligibility for all postgraduate loans is guaranteed for courses beginning in 2019-20 or 2020-21. Provided you start your course in time you will continue to receive loan payments for the rest of your degree (including after Brexit).

There’s more information in our guide to Brexit and postgraduate study.

Are doctoral loans available for international, non-EU, students?

Citizens of countries outside the EU, EEA and Switzerland aren’t normally eligible for UK student loans.

Exceptions may apply if you have lived in the UK legally for a very long time, have been granted humanitarian protection or have refugee status.

For more information on UK fees and finance as a postgraduate student we recommend you check the resources produced by the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA).

And, if you can't get a loan, you might still be eligible for other international PhD funding in the UK.

Can I study at a private university?

In order to receive a doctoral loan you must be doing your PhD at a university with Research Degree Awarding Powers (RDAPs). Most established UK universities have these powers, but your institution should be able to confirm if you aren't sure.

Can I get a loan to study a doctorate abroad?

You can't get a PhD loan to study your entire doctorate abroad. However, you can spend part of your degree outside the UK, provided this does not exceed 50% of your programme and your UK university is the lead institution awarding your PhD.

When do repayments begin?

You will become eligible to start repaying your doctoral loan on one of the following dates:

  • 6 April after your PhD ends
  • 6 April four years after you begin your PhD

Note that this is slightly difference to repayments for other student loans, which only ever begin after graduation.

It means you could begin repaying your loan whilst you're still studying for your doctorate (and potentially still receiving loan payments). However, you will only ever make repayments when you're earning over £21,000 a year.

What is the interest rate for doctoral loans?

The current rate for postgraduate doctoral loans is 5.4%.

When can I apply for a PhD loan?

You can online or by post (PDF)for a PhD that started in 2019-20. Applications for 2020-21 will open in May / June 2020.

Can I use an existing student finance account?

Yes. If you have already have an account with Student Finance England you must use it to apply for your doctoral loan.

Do I have to reapply in each year of my PhD?

No. You only have to apply for a doctoral loan once.

Do I need to be accepted for a PhD before I apply for a loan?

No. You will need to state which university you intend to research your doctorate at (and how long for) but you don't need to prove you've been accepted before you can apply for a PhD loan. However, you will need to register for your PhD before you receive any actual loan payments (your university should confirm this for you).

Got another question?

We're always looking for useful details to add to this FAQ. If you’ve got a PhD loan question we haven’t covered, please let us know by emailing editor[at]findaphd.com. We’ll do our best to find the answer for you and then we'll add it here.


Last updated - 11/12/2019

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