Postgraduate loans may be available to help fund your further study plans - but ensure you first check what Masters scholarships and bursaries are on offer, as these don't have to be repaid
What are scholarships and bursaries?
Scholarships and bursaries for Masters degrees are provided by a range of organisations, including universities, private companies, charities and the government. However, there are some differences between them.
- Scholarships are non-repayable sums of money typically awarded on the basis of academic excellence. They often come with strings attached - such as working for a specific company after you graduate, or taking extra responsibilities within the university. Winning a scholarship is usually a competitive process.
- Bursaries (or grants as they're often referred to) are also non-repayable, but these lump sums or annual stipends are available to any student who qualifies for them. This could be students on a specific course, those in the most financial need, or groups that are underrepresented on a course or in an area of work.
Some postgraduate scholarships and bursaries are specifically designed to pay for tuition fees, others to help with living costs. They may cover all your expenses or just make a small but useful contribution - you may even be able to secure funding from more than one source.
University scholarships and bursaries
The first place to look for postgraduate funding is the university you want to study at. Universities offer various scholarships and bursaries to serve a range of purposes. These include:
- Academic excellence scholarships - funding for students in recognition of their outstanding academic credentials. These tend to be limited in number, so you'll face a lot of competition to secure the cash.
- Disadvantaged bursaries - given to encourage students from all backgrounds to pursue further study, regardless of their personal circumstances.
- Alumni discounts - many UK universities offer a tuition fee discount of 10%-15% to their own students who progress to postgraduate study.
- Graduate Teaching Assistantship (GTA) - students looking to find PhD funding and acquire hands-on teaching experience can complete a GTA with their university. Alongside researching and writing your thesis, you'll receive fee waivers in return for providing pastoral support and teaching duties to undergraduate students.
- PhD studentships - these highly competitive Doctoral scholarships can guarantee a place on an often pre-determined research project. For more information, see PhD studentships. You can also explore Research Council funding.
The majority of university scholarships and bursaries need to be secured before the beginning of term. However, if you face financial, health or family difficulties you can usually apply to your institution for hardship funding at any time throughout the academic year.
To discover whether you may qualify for hardship funding, see GOV.UK - Extra money to pay for university.
International postgraduate scholarships
Many students have aspirations to study abroad, but find that it's just too expensive. To make this dream a reality, there are non-profit organisations that specialise in cultural exchanges and provide scholarships to students.
For example, the Fulbright Commission runs a foreign student programme in partnership with US universities for UK Masters or Doctoral degree students looking to study in the USA. A number of Fulbright postgraduate scholarships are available each year for a study period of up to 12 months.
Scholarships for professional training
If you're plotting your pathway to a specific career, it's always worth investigating whether you're eligible for financial support from learned society and professional bodies.
To encourage graduates to teach certain subjects, such as chemistry, computer science, maths or physics, professional bodies including the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications provide their own teaching scholarships in partnership with the Department for Education (DfE). Please note, these scholarships are in place of the government bursary. Read more at funding for teacher training.
Those looking to study nursing will find scholarships and bursaries are available from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).
If you hold an accredited undergraduate engineering degree and are aiming to achieve Chartered Engineer (CEng) status, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) offers a number of Masters scholarships each year.
Funding from charities and trusts
In addition to the above sources of funding, various charities, foundations and trusts also provide financial support for postgraduate study and PhD-level research.
- Many philanthropists leave trust funding in their name for postgraduate students. The Sir Richard Stapley Education Trust offers annual grants of between £500 and £1,300, to UK residents studying any subject at postgraduate level. The Leverhulme Trust is another all-subjects trust fund that distributes around £100million per year to postgraduate students. It seeks to 'fund outstanding scholarship, while maintaining a distinctive role within the research funding landscape'.
- Around ten annual industrial fellowships, each providing up to £80,000 of funding, are awarded by the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 to graduates with the potential to make an outstanding contribution to industry through Doctoral research. This programme is also open to those currently in employment, with projects in any science or engineering discipline considered. Other fellowships and scholarships are available from the educational trust.
- Medical and health research is a popular field supported by charities. The Wellcome Trust offers a range of fellowships, bursaries and scholarships in areas such as biomedical science, population health and product development and applied research. These are available from affiliated charities such as Cancer Research UK (CRUK) and the Medical Research Council.
Annual publications such as The Grants Register and The Directory of Grant Making Trusts provide comprehensive guides on what funding's available.
You can also use online directories such as FundsOnline and Charity Choice to find the right organisation and funding opportunities to suit your needs, while you can search the charities register at GOV.UK.
Applications for charity funding are typically made directly to the organisation. You may be asked to submit a personal statement or written references from your tutor, and if you're called for interview (either online or in person), you'll be required to give a presentation giving a brief overview of what your research will involve.
It's important to be proactive with charity funding. Some organisations have very early cut-off points for submitting applications, while others will grant funding on a first-come, first-served basis.
The UK government provides non-repayable funding for postgraduate study in several different forms. These include:
- Disabled Students' Allowances (DSAs) - in addition to any other forms of student finance, postgraduates can get an allowance to cover additional costs due to a mental health problem, long-term illness or any other disability.
- Get Into Teaching - Bursaries - for trainees entitled to support from their country's student finance provider and who are enrolled on a teacher training course that leads to the award of qualified teacher status (QTS).
- NHS Learning Support Fund (LSF) - nursing bursaries are available for pre-registration students looking to study midwifery or another allied health profession at postgraduate level. This is delivered through training grants, parental support and specialist subject payments, as well as regional incentives, help towards travel and accommodation costs and an exceptional hardship fund.
- Social Work Bursaries - a limited number of income-assessed bursaries are supplied by the NHS Business Services Authority to cover study and living costs from the first year of study onwards.
If you aren't eligible for a scholarship or bursary, the government also provides loans for postgraduate study that are similar to the undergraduate student loan. You have to repay these when you're earning above an income threshold. Find out more:
- English postgraduate loans
- Scottish postgraduate loans
- Welsh postgraduate loans
- Northern Irish postgraduate loans
- PhD loans
How to apply for a scholarship
The earlier you apply for scholarships, the more likely you are to be awarded one of them. Most universities stipulate that you'll need an offer to study with them before you can apply for a scholarship, so do your research and make sure you're prepared to get the ball rolling as soon as possible.
As well as submitting a standard application form, which you'll find on your university's website, you'll also be asked to provide a personal statement. In this statement you'll need to include some or all of the following information:
- a brief outline of your research project
- your future career ambitions
- your current employment situation and, if you're employed, a brief overview of where you work and your responsibilities in the role
- how you're planning to fund your studies
- the extent of your financial need.
Before you submit your funding application, be sure to check that it's grammatically correct and you haven't made any obvious errors. The scholarship application process is highly competitive so a polished application is vital to being considered for funding.
This webinar featured in the Prospects Future You: Live event in November 2020.