Scholarships and bursaries

September, 2016

There are several main providers of scholarships and bursaries, with awards widely available to postgraduate students


Scholarships are usually awarded for academic excellence and a demonstrable potential for outstanding research. Prizes typically range from £20 to £3,000; Middlesex University, for example, offered 75 Dean's Academic Excellence scholarships in 2015/16. Each of these was worth up to 50% of the Masters degree tuition fee, and was aimed at students who 'have the potential to succeed.

Each university has its own rules about who qualifies for its scholarships and how much you're eligible for. Funding is often directed towards PhD students, and awards are less common for those studying a social science or arts and humanities subject.

Similarly, an increasing number of universities offer the Graduate Teaching Assistantship (GTA). These see PhD students - in many cases those who've unsuccessfully applied for a Research Council grant - receive financial support and training in return for six to eight hours per week of leading classes, hosting tutorials, marking papers and giving lab demonstrations.

For the university, they're a cost-effective way of employing more staff. For the student, teaching experience is an increasingly important aspect of PhD study - especially for those aiming to eventually get an academic job. Vacancies are advertised on university websites, but availability depends entirely on the department's needs.

Teaching assistants are usually paid around £10 per hour. The University of Kent, for example, pays all GTA students a gross salary of £3,490, with the scholarship element potentially reaching a combined salary and maintenance grant of £14,296 plus tuition fees – which equates to full Research Council funding.

Hardship funds are a third consideration. These means tested emergency grants are distributed by universities to students who are experiencing financial difficulty.

Awards are usually worth between £100 and £3,500, cannot be used towards tuition fees, and can only be applied for once term has begun. Applications are therefore usually open from October to June.

Those qualifying generally include students from the UK or European Union (EU) who:

  • are from a low-income family;
  • have children, especially if they're a single parent;
  • have existing financial commitments, or are encountering unexpected financial difficulties.

Applicants must provide detailed evidence of their financial situation and explain what course materials, rent, living expenses and travel costs they need.

The amount that you get is decided by your university. Grants are usually non-repayable and, unless it's for day-to-day living costs, the funding that you receive won't be calculated as income when managing your right to benefits or tax credits.

Charities, foundations and trusts

Countless charities, foundations, trusts, learned societies and professional bodies provide financial support for postgraduate or postdoctoral research. While competition is tough, these organisations offer many students' best chance of gaining non-repayable funding for postgraduate study.

Awards are often small - worth on average between £100 and £1,000 - but can often be used towards tuition fees. What's more, you can apply for and receive an unlimited number of such awards (this is sometimes called 'portfolio funding'). Help is typically available if:

  • you're at a disadvantage compared to your peers in terms of, for example, income, disability or family circumstances;
  • your research is important for advances in your subject, especially in healthcare;
  • your research has links to your community or a disadvantaged country.

Organisations generally provide help for students of particular subjects or with particular circumstances, such as being above or below a certain age, from specific geographic locations, or working in defined jobs or sectors. Examples of awarding bodies include Funds for Women Graduates (FfWG), the British Spanish Society, the Anglo-Brazilian Society and the Leverhulme Trade Charities Trust.

To find funding, visit or Charity Choice. Alternatively, you can browse publications such as the Grants Register, Charities Digest, and Directory of Grant Making Trusts at your library or careers service.

Applications are usually made directly to the organisation, and may require a personal statement, submission of written work, an interview, or other tests and exercises. Be aware that you may not be considered until you've tried applying for all other possible funding sources; and that some organisations have closing dates eight to ten months before the academic year begins, or operate a 'first-come, first-served' policy.


The government doesn't just offer Disabled Students' Allowances (DSA) and funding for teacher training - it also provides scholarships and bursaries to trainee social workers.

Social Work Bursaries are supplied by the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA). These non-repayable grants cover course and living costs. Basic grants - paid to you in three termly instalments - are currently worth up to £3,762 per year. Tuition fee payments of up to £4,052 are made to your university.

Your entitlement depends on the cost of your course, where you're studying, and whether you're a full- or part-time student. Household income isn't initially taken into account. However, income-assessed funding is available - for example, a further maintenance grant of up to £4,201.

Only those studying an approved social work course are eligible. You must not be sponsored by your employer or already have a higher education qualification in the subject, while employment-based courses, including direct Open University programmes, aren't covered. Your university will tell you if your programme qualifies.

Applications are made via the NHSBSA. Deadlines usually fall in the late autumn of the year before your course.

Writing your funding application

You’ll submit a personal statement for many scholarships and bursaries granted by universities, Research Councils UK, and charities, foundations and trusts. This is often between 500 and 800 words in length.

First and foremost, you should contact the funding body to confirm its entry criteria, application deadlines and submission requirements. Knowing what evidence you must submit – degree transcripts and academic references, for example – is paramount, as incomplete applications cannot be included in the shortlisting process.

Tailoring your application is perhaps the most important single point to remember when applying for funding. Awards can be highly competitive, so you must present your case as strongly as possible – highlighting the things that make you a more deserving recipient than other candidates. You should also ask your lecturers or tutors to write a reference in support of your application.

Strongly sell your skills, interests, qualifications and personal circumstances in the context of the organisation and its award. Be honest about your financial situation by explaining why it’s not possible for you or your family to fund your chosen course. However, don’t make it a begging letter.

Finally, it’s important that you can convey why postgraduate study is right for you – especially for PhD students who are seeking Research Council grants. Address these questions.

  • Why are you interested in your chosen subject?
  • Why is your chosen programme a great match for you?
  • How is your dissertation or thesis relevant to the funding body?
  • What will you do with the qualification?
  • What are your future ambitions?

The ultimate guide to postgraduate study


Postgraduate Study Guide

The essential guide to funding, choosing and applying for your ideal postgraduate programme.