Training Grants (TGs) are awarded by the seven government-funded Research Councils, which invest £3billion in academic research every year
Who awards grants for postgraduate study?
The seven grant-awarding Research Councils are:
- Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
- Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
- Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
- Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
- Medical Research Council (MRC)
- Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
- Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)
Every spring, these bodies allocate around 6,000 TGs, commonly known as studentships, to selected universities and departments. The Research Councils therefore don't fund postgraduate students directly; rather, they fund higher education institutions through TGs.
How much can I receive?
There are two levels of Research Council TG:
- Fees-only studentship - These cover a student's tuition fees, plus any associated project and training costs. They must be funded by a single Research Council.
- Full studentship - These add a non-repayable, tax-free maintenance grant known as a 'stipend'. This is currently worth a minimum of £14,296, with individual institutions likely to grant those from high-priority academic or geographic areas a larger amount. This is paid up front. At least 50% of the studentship must be funded by a single Research Council, and they can be split equally between two Research Councils if the research area is interdisciplinary.
Research Council-funded students also pursue countless skill- and career-enhancing opportunities. The Arts and Humanities Research Council, for example, provides access to an International Placement Scheme and, if the student's project is a Collaborative Doctoral Award, work experience opportunities with partner organisations.
Research Council UK Disabled Students' Allowances (DSAs) are also available to individuals with a disability.
Is my programme eligible for a Research Council TG?
The individual university decides on the studentship's length, with Doctoral studentships ranging between three and four years.
Am I eligible?
To be eligible for a full studentship, you must usually:
- have at least a 2:1 Bachelors degree (or international equivalent) in a relevant subject and, for certain disciplines, a Masters degree;
- have lived in the UK for the previous three years, and have settled status;
- live within a reasonable distance of the institution;
- not be in full-time employment, though students in part-time employment are eligible for a studentship of at least 50% of the full-time award.
European Union (EU) students are generally only eligible for a fees-only studentship. They must have lived in the EU for the previous three years, and have settled status.
How do I apply for a Research Council grant?
The definitive list of available studentships can be found on the individual Research Council websites listed above. If your chosen institution offers a TG in your research area, you should identify a supervisor and gain his/her support before making your application.
Aim to apply several months before the programme begins, usually in April or May. If you're unsuccessful, your best chance of funding postgraduate study is perhaps through a different type of scholarship or bursary.
How do I increase my chances of getting a Research Council studentship?
According to the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), only 15% of those undertaking PhD study receive financial backing. You must make an extremely strong case in your application. Clearly articulate the issues that you're looking to explore, plus your motivation for pursuing them.
Don't be deterred by the potentially large number of applicants. While funding is limited, those studying a specialist or high-priority subject compete against fewer people - and therefore have an increased chance of success. It's easier, for example, to win a Research Council grant in a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subject than an arts and humanities discipline.
Finally, some institutions are particularly successful at winning Research Council funding, so account for this when deciding which institution is right for you.