Commonly asked questions about funding for masters and PhD courses
When do I need to apply for funding?
This is a difficult one to answer, because there isn't just one set deadline. Each opportunity can have its own date. A PhD place funded by a research council might close in January, but a 10% tuition fee discount for alumni could be available to all eligible candidates right up until the course starts.
Applying early doesn’t need to restrict your choice, in fact quite the opposite. If you apply early, you may well find yourself with more than one offer of a place with funding – an enviable position to be in.
As a rule of thumb, the earlier you apply, the better:
- Funds or awards are often limited. If you leave it late, you risk finding the cupboard is bare.
- Some charities or hardship funds will expect you to have exhausted other possibilities before you apply to them, so you need to have time to get applications in.
- Feedback received early can give you the chance to tweak your application and resubmit if necessary.
- Knowing how much more you might need to cover yourself will allow you to budget more efficiently and make any necessary contingencies.
- If you are planning to apply for a professional and career development loan (PCDL), you need to do that three months before your course starts.
- You will have time to meet any specific conditions, get references, or provide any details needed as part of the application process.
Get your research in early, discover what you're eligible for and check when the application dates are. Do you need to have a confirmed offer before you can apply? A confirmed bachelors degree classification? Or two academic references? Checking in advance will reduce delays in your application and the risk of missing the boat.
Where can I find out about funding?
The more you look around, the better your chances of success with this one.
- If you've got particular universities in mind, see what they’ve got advertised online first. Awards are publicised in different places by different institutions. Spending that extra ten minutes to scour the whole website, not just the finance section, can really reap the benefits.
- Not only does funding get put in different places on university sites, but terminology varies too. As well as departmental and academic scholarships, some institutions offer discounts on tuition for early payment of fees, book awards, travel grants, and support for student athletes or musicians. Look under different terms if you’re using the site's search; scholarship, bursary, award, grant and so on, to avoid overlooking anything.
- Some universities collaborate with other organisations to offer scholarships administered by the university. Take a look at online funding resources, like the TARGETpostgrad funding database.
- There are hundreds of charities that offer funding, not just the household names that come to mind like the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation or Cancer Research UK. Some aren't dependent on subject at all but use other criteria. Specialist publications like the Charities Digest published by Waterlow Professional Publishing and The Guide to Educational Grants published by DSC are extremely useful in finding awards from charities that don't court the limelight.
Do I qualify for funding?
Many awards are based purely on academic merit, or sporting/musical excellence, and don't take financial circumstances into account. Some awards are means-tested, intended for those who could not afford to study the course otherwise. There are awards for vegetarians, the families of travelling salesmen and everything in-between, so you are more than likely to qualify for some sort of funding.
There are literally hundreds and hundreds of different awards, each with individual eligibility criteria, read the small print carefully to avoid wasting your time.
Can international students apply for funding?
Funding is competitive, but most of the larger universities have awards specifically for overseas students, usually offered as full or partial fee waivers. Full scholarship schemes are rarer, but do exist. There are number of international and national awards, such as the Fulbright Scholarship or the British Council's GREAT scholarships.
Some awards are open to all students, some to all, but that only pay the home/EU tuition fee rate for international students, and those purely for overseas students, or students from particular countries. International students should also look for funding at home as well as applying for funding from the UK.
Is there funding for taught masters courses?
You'd be forgiven for thinking that taught masters funding was a thing of the past. After all, the UK research councils' cutting of taught masters funding led to Nostradamus-style predictions of impending doom for the UK’s knowledge economy.
Thankfully, these premonitions have yet to be proved right. Taught courses are an important revenue stream for HEIs, and many have taken over where the research councils left off, for instance the Postgraduate Scholarships at Durham University or the Postgraduate Funding Support at Teeside University.
Hundreds of charities, trusts and subject associations offer funding to taught masters students, or for both taught and research postgraduate students. Each is looking for something slightly different and award criteria are very varied, so do not discount your chances because you think you’re not going to be what they are looking for.
You can find these awards by looking at online funding databases, or in specialist funding publications such as The Grants Register published annually by Palgrave Macmillan and The Guide to Educational Grants published by DSC.
How does funding for qualifying as a teacher work?
Teaching is one of the few areas where the government does offer tuition fee loans to home/EU postgraduates to cover course fees.
The National College for Teaching and Leadership also offers bursaries. Depending on the subject you want to teach and your previous grades, you could be eligible for a training bursary of between £4,000 and £25,000.
Full-time UK students are eligible to apply for a maintenance loan to help cover living costs while studying. Depending on your household income, you might also be eligible for a maintenance grant (which is not repayable).
The administration process for funding is slightly different in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Read more about the funding for initial teacher training.
Do the research councils only fund sciences?
The UK research councils do have a strong medical and scientific remit, but that’s certainly not the whole story. The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) focus on funding research in social sciences, economics, arts and humanities. Studies that overlap the interests of more than one research council are actively encouraged.
I'm really struggling financially, is there emergency help?
Access to Learning Fund (ALF)
Initially set up ten years ago, the ALF is for students who found themselves in unexpected financial difficulties, or are considering giving up education because they can't afford it.
ALF changes are taking place over the summer. From September 2014, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) will run the emergency fund. Universities and colleges will continue to administer applications, and be able to exercise their own discretion when making awards. Get in touch with your institution’s welfare advisor for more information.
Hardship funds at universities
Many institutions also have their own hardship funds for undergraduates and postgraduates. Sometimes these are short term emergency loans (such The University of Nottingham’s Student Crisis Fund), sometimes one-off payments.
A website like turn2us.org.uk can help you to find charities and organisations that provide financial assistance for your particular circumstances. Some charities will support local people, some students in a particular area, while others are subject specific. These are usually small one off grants to keep the wolf from the door.
The Guide to Educational Grants, available in the public library concentrates on education-related opportunities.
If you are worried things are getting away from you, getting advice earlier rather than later can make a big difference. A number of confidential, free services offer suggestions, advice and useful budgeting tools.