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Bench Fees for PhD Students

Bench fees cover the costs involved in laboratory research during a PhD. Although they’re usually included as part of funded studentships, self-funding students may have to pay them separately.

This page is an introduction into what bench fees cover, how much they actually cost and how you can pay for them.

What are bench fees?

Bench fees are charged by universities to cover extra costs incurred during postgraduate research. Sometimes they are included in the tuition fee amount, but it’s common for bench fees to be quoted separately in an offer letter.

Also known as research support fees (RSF), bench fees are included in the funding provided by a PhD studentship. However, if you’re self-funding your PhD or have received a tuition fee-only funding offer, you may have to pay your bench fees separately. These are some of the main costs that bench fees cover:

  • Laboratory work
  • Specialist equipment use
  • Field work
  • Consumables (chemicals, labware and reagents, for example)
  • Computer software/hardware

As you can probably tell by the above list, bench fees are charged in STEM subjects rather than the Arts and Humanities. After all, you’re unlikely to be spending much time in the laboratory if you’re doing an English Literature PhD (unless you’re doing some reconnaissance for a Frankenstein dissertation).

How much are bench fees?

Bench fees usually aren’t included in the tuition fees for a PhD programme. Instead, your offer letter will contain details of exactly how much they’ll cost.

The amount depends largely on the nature of your project. If you’re going to be using expensive laboratory equipment on a regular basis, your bench fees will be higher than if you’re just using computer software, for example.

Generally speaking, bench fees cost around £5,000 per year. This is the amount typically allocated by Research Council studentships towards bench fees, also known as the ‘Research Training Support Grant’. In some cases, bench fees may cost up to £10,000 per year if the PhD research involves particularly valuable equipment.

If you’re an international student, you’ll usually pay the same rate as a domestic student towards your bench fees.

Are bench fees VATable?

If you’re a PhD student, you won’t have to pay VAT on your bench fees. This is because the main purpose of the bench fees in that instances is for education, making them VAT-exempt.

If you’re a visiting scholar paying bench fees, whether or not you pay VAT depends on the purposes of your time at the university. Visiting scholars who are receiving education from the university won’t have to pay VAT, but in other circumstances where their time at the institution isn’t for education purposes may have to pay VAT on the bench fees. If in any doubt about your status, get in touch with the tax office at your university.

Funding for bench fees

As mentioned above, bench fees are usually included in the funding package provided by a PhD studentship. If you’re not funding your PhD this way, you’ll have to decide on how you’re going to pay for your bench fees.

The fact that bench fees can amount to thousands of pounds means that it’s quite common for universities to offer bench fee scholarships to help cover the costs. These scholarships are usually administered by the academic department in question, with applications open all year round. The potentially high cost of bench fees means that these scholarships can be very competitive.

It’s also worth getting in touch with charities and trusts, who may be willing to contribute towards your bench fees – particularly if the PhD is relevant to their aims and interests.

Another option is the UK government’s PhD student loan, which can be used to pay bench fees (as well as tuition fees and living costs).

Last updated - 25/06/2021

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