Funding Your PhD – FAQs From Our Study Fairs
Written by Taru Medha
If you’re applying for a PhD, you’ve probably spent hours trying to work out how to find the right funding for it. PhD funding is not as straightforward as Masters or undergraduate funding and there is so much to consider.
To help you make sense of it all, we run a funding stand at all of our in-person and virtual study fairs.
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about PhD funding that will get you started with your funding research.
#1 How do I fund my PhD as a UK student?
This is one of the most common questions we get asked and if you’re just starting out your funding research, this might be one of the first questions you have as well.
UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) provides some of the most generous PhD funding in the form of Research Council Studentships. UKRI brings together seven research councils that offer support towards your tuition fee and your living costs. For 2023-24, the minimum stipend offered is £18,622 per year. This amount usually increases with inflation and is tax-free
Studentships, however, can be very competitive. PhD loans by Student Finance England (SFE) and Student Finance Wales (SFW) are available for those without a studentship. You can get funding of up to £28,673. However, it is unlikely that a PhD loan will cover the entire cost of your PhD and you can always supplement with funding from universities, teaching during your PhD or charities and trusts.
#2 How do I fund my PhD as an international student?
Funding your PhD as an international student is not very different. You are still eligible for the Research Council Studentships offered by UKRI. However, you may not be eligible for the UK PhD Loans that are run by Student Finance.
There are other government run scholarships like the Commonwealth PhD Scholarships that are available for students from countries that are a part of the Commonwealth. An international student can also apply for funding provided by charities and trusts.
You can find information on all these and some other country specific international PhD scholarships in the detailed guides on our website.
Sometimes, PhDs are offered with funding attached which can come from a Research Council or the university itself. You can search for PhDs with international funding on our website.
#3 I started a PhD earlier, but I did not finish. Now I want to do another one. Am I still eligible for funding?
Yes, provided you are applying for a completely new doctorate (not continuing or resuming your previous programme). However, there are a few more things to consider. Normally, you cannot apply for a second doctoral loan even if the first loan was for an incomplete degree. There might be exceptions and Student Finance might consider your case if you can demonstrate exceptional circumstances.
You can also consider funding from universities or charities and trusts. You should check the eligibility criteria for the specific funding you are looking at.
#4 I have already completed a PhD in another country, can I access UK PhD loans?
No. If you’re thinking of applying for the doctoral loans, you are not eligible for a PhD loan if you already have a doctoral degree or a qualification that is equal or higher. However, you could also look into funding from universities or charities and trusts. You should check for eligibility criteria for the specific funding you are looking at.
#5 What happens to my doctoral loans if I quit my PhD?
If you leave your studies, you will have to stop your PhD loan and repay any amount that you are not entitled to. The amount that you are expected to repay depends on what year you left your course and whether you’re planning to return to your course or not. You can find more information on stopping and repaying your student loan on the UK Government’s website.
#6 Are Research Council Studentships paid in a lump-sum or instalments?
Research Council studentship offer £17,668 per year for living costs which is paid to you in regular instalments. The tuition fee support, however, is not paid as a separate additional fund and can be used only towards a UKRI approved tuition fee. It is usually paid directly to the university.
#7 How is the doctoral loan paid?
The doctoral loan is usually paid in three instalments each year with the first one after your course start date (once your university has confirmed that you have registered). It is paid in instalments of 33%, 33% and 34% each year. Once your loan has been approved, you’ll be sent a letter with all your payment dates or you can also keep track using your online account.
#8 Is the doctoral loan enough to cover living costs?
There is no simple answer to this question. With a doctoral loan, you can borrow a maximum of £28,673. However, you cannot borrow more than £12,716 in a year. The average PhD fee for a domestic student can range from anywhere between £4,500 and £20,000. It is unlikely that you can fund your tuition fee and living costs with the doctoral loan. You can always supplement your PhD funding with support provided by universities, graduate teaching assistantships or charities and trusts.
#9 Can I combine the doctoral loan with other funding?
It depends. You cannot combine the doctoral loan with any other PhD funding provided by the UK Government. You are also not eligible for the UKRI Research Council Studentships if you already have a doctoral loan. However, if you feel you require more funding, you can supplement a doctoral loan with funding from universities or charities and trusts.
#10 Is there a maintenance loan for PhD?
No, there is no separate maintenance loan for PhD. However, you can use part of your doctoral loan towards living costs, if you so wish.
#11 When should I apply for PhD funding?
Deadlines for most PhD funding (except for PhD loans) are set in advance. It is a good idea to get your application in the winter or early spring before the start of your programme. These deadlines are set to give the funders the time to assess your application since most PhD funding are highly competitive.
The PhD loans on the other hand have very flexible deadlines and you can apply for a loan anytime until nine months before the first day of the last semester of your course. Applications for academic year 2023-24 are set to open in summer 2023. You can apply directly on the Student Finance England or Student Finance Wales websites.
#12 What is the process to apply for UKRI Research Council Studentships?
The applications for the studentships are slightly different, as you won’t be applying directly to UKRI (the funder). The Research Councils do not fund students directly. Instead, they allocate funds to universities who in turn decide which projects and students to fund.
You’ll be applying for a studentship directly through your university, but how you apply depends on the type of PhD you want to do –
- If you’re applying for an advertised PhD project, the application is pretty straightforward. If you are successful, you will automatically receive UKRI funding.
- If you are proposing your own PhD, you will have to find a university with UKRI funding and then have your PhD project accepted. This may involve a second funding application which is usually supported by your supervisor.
#13 Does PhD funding need to be repaid?
It depends. If you’re funded via the UKRI Research Council Studentships, then, you do not to repay anything since the studentships are provided as grants not loans.
However, if you borrowed funding through the UK Government's PhD Loans then you will have to repay them. UK doctoral loans payments are income-contingent, and you will begin repaying only after you’ve started earning more than £21,000 a year. Even after you start earning enough, you will only be contributing 6% of your salary towards the repayment of your loan. Any remaining loan repayment is written off after 30 years.
#14 Can I work during a funded PhD?
The simple answer is yes; you can work during your PhD. The most common form of work for a PhD student is teaching. You can also do both part-time and full-time work in industry, outside the university. However, it is unlikely that you’ll have the time for full-time given the workload of a PhD. Most students opt for part-time work during their PhD keeping in mind the PhD workload.
#15 What does ‘competition funded’ mean?
A competition funded project is usually in ‘competition’ for funding with one or more other projects within the same university. Usually, only the project with the best applicant is awarded the funding, hence the competition.