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PhD Loan – A Guide for 2021


You may be able to get a UK PhD loan of up to £27,265 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.


Coronavirus information: Student Finance England and Student Finance Wales are providing doctoral loans as normal. See our FAQ for general information about coronavirus and postgraduate study.



PhD Loan - At a Glance
What? Student loans for PhD-level qualifications lasting up to eight years in all subjects.
How much? Up to £27,265 in 2021-22 (not based on household income).
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? Open now for 2020-21 (applications for 2021-22 will open in summer).

Amount

You can borrow up to £27,265 if your degree will start in 2021-22 (the amount is slightly lower if you've already begun your PhD). All of the money is paid directly to your bank account. You can use it for PhD fees, research expenses, maintenance or other costs.

Doctoral loans aren't based on household income or means tested, so 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, of course). This amount will then be spread evenly across your PhD, in three instalments per academic year.

The most you can get in any one academic year is £11,560. This means you won't necessarily be able to receive the full loan if you apply after the first year of your PhD.

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 national and:

  • You've lived in the UK for at least three years (not including time abroad for short-term travel or study)
  • You are ordinarily resident in England or Wales (you don't just live there to study)
  • You will be aged under 60 (59 or under) on the first day of the first academic year of your PhD (usually 1 September for degrees beginning in the autumn)
  • You don't already have a PhD or other doctorate
  • You won't be receiving UKRI funding for your PhD (and haven't been funded by a Research Council in the past)
  • You won't be receiving other UK public funding for your doctorate, such as a Social Work or Educational Psychology bursary
  • Your doctorate isn't eligible for NHS funding (if it is, you should apply for this instead)

PhD loans for Scottish and Northern Irish students

UK doctoral loans are currently only offered by Student Finance England and Student Finance Wales. You won't normally be eligible to apply for their support if you are resident in Scotland or Northern Ireland.

Student Finance Northern Ireland and Student Awards Agency Scotland may offer doctoral loans in the future. We'll let you know as soon as that happens.

PhD loans for EU students

You can apply for a UK doctoral loan as an EU student if:

  • You began your PhD in the 2020-21 academic year or earlier

or

  • You applied to the EU Settlement Scheme before 31 December 2020

EU students who are coming to study in the UK from 2021-22 onwards will count as international students (see below).

PhD loans for Irish students

Irish students can still apply for a UK PhD loan to study in either England or Wales. This right is guaranteed by the Common Travel Area and isn't affected by Brexit.

PhD loans for international students

International (non-UK) students aren't normally eligible for UK doctoral loans, but an exception may apply if:

  • You have settled status in the UK
  • You are an EU national and have applied to the UK's EU Settlement Scheme (see above)
  • You are an Irish national (see above)
  • 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

If you aren't sure whether you qualify for UK student finance, check advice from the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA).

Course eligibility

The PhD loan is available for all types of research doctorate, 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).

However, you can't get a doctoral loan for a PhD by publication (you must be funding a programme of research and / or study).

UK students can study at any UK university. Eligible 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 doctorates beginning in 2020-21; they will open in the summer for doctorates beginning in 2021-22.

Make sure you apply to the correct student finance provider. This will be:

  • Student Finance England for English-resident students or Irish students coming to study in England
  • Student Finance Wales for Welsh-resident students or Irish 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 2021, you should apply for a doctoral loan before 31 May 2024.

Remember though, that applying later in your PhD could limit the maximum amount you can borrow (you can't receive more than £11,560 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 £26,575 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 5.6%.

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). You can borrow up to £26,445 for a degree that began in 2020-21. The amount for 2021-22 isn't confirmed yet, but we'll let you know when it is.

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 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 £26,575 (for a 2021-22 PhD). Whatever you request will be divided equally across your PhD, but you can't receive more than £11,570 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 Social Work, Educational Psychology 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 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 £11,560 per year?

Capping the annual amount for a PhD loan at £11,560 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?

The value of a doctoral loan usually increases slightly with inflation each year. However, this change only applies to new students. The maximum you can borrow with your PhD loan will be capped at the amount available when you began your PhD.

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?

You can apply for a postgraduate doctoral loan if you've previously had a 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.

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 still eligible for doctoral loans?

EU eligibility for UK student finance has changed following Brexit:

  • All EU nationals can still apply for a doctoral loan for a PhD that begins (or began) in the 2020-21 academic year
  • EU nationals who applied to the EU Settlement Scheme before 31 December 2020 can also apply for a loan for a PhD than begins in 2021-22 or later
  • EU nationals who are arriving in the UK after 1 January 2021 and beginning a PhD in the 2021-22 academic year will not normally be eligible for a doctoral loan

These criteria also apply to students from the EEA (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) and Switzerland.

Are Irish students eligible for PhD loans?

Yes, Irish students are able to apply for UK doctoral loans as part of the Common Travel Area. You will need to be doing your PhD in either England or Wales.

Are doctoral loans available for international students?

Non-UK students aren’t normally eligible for UK student loans, unless they are Irish nationals or have applied to the EU Settlement Scheme.

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 5.6%.

When can I apply for a PhD loan?

Applications for 2020-21 PhD loans opened on 29 June. You can apply online or by post (PDF).

Applications for 2021-22 PhD loans are expected to open in the summer. We'll let you know when.

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 - 05/01/2021

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