While these funding opportunities are restricted to a specific research project or field of study, Doctoral studentships can provide you with either a partially or fully-funded PhD
Who awards PhD studentships?
Individual UK universities also offer scholarships and bursaries to PhD students, while many professional bodies fund Doctoral research in collaboration with these academic institutions.
For instance, research awards are offered by the following engineering organisations:
- Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) - QUEST scholarships
- Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE)
- The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET)
Additionally, Cooperative Awards in Science and Engineering (CASE) can be part-funded by any non-academic body. These four-year PhDs require the student to work at the organisation for at least three months.
You can also apply for funded PhD opportunities through many charities, foundations and trusts, including:
- Action Medical Research
- Alzheimer's Society
- British Federation of Women Graduates (BFWG)
- British Heart Foundation (BHF)
- Cancer Research UK
- Diabetes UK
- Rosetrees Trust - PhD Plus
- The Leverhulme Trust
- Wellcome Trust
Before you start applying for a funded PhD, it's always a good idea to discuss this with a prospective supervisor first, as they're often able to provide tips on maximising the likelihood of receiving financial support.
How much can I receive?
Many PhD studentships, including those offered by universities, professional bodies, or charities, foundations and trusts, provide three years' funding paid at a similar rate to the Research Council grant:
- Fees-only studentship - These cover a student's tuition fees, plus any associated project and training costs.
- Full studentship - These add a non-repayable, tax-free maintenance grant known as a 'stipend'. In 2020/21, this is worth a minimum of £15,285 and it can be used towards living costs - see UKRI - Find studentships and Doctoral training.
For example, a University of Manchester School of Social Sciences PhD studentship includes tuition fees for three years and a maintenance grant of £15,285 (2020/21 rate) per year for living expenses, plus associated research costs - such as fieldwork and attending conferences - from the Research Training Support Grant.
However, you should be aware that some PhD studentship recipients are required to teach undergraduates. While this provides an excellent opportunity to gain vital employability skills, it can also be hugely time-consuming. You must be satisfied that tutoring won't negatively affect the quality of your research before accepting your place. Read more about life as a researcher.
Is my programme eligible for a PhD studentship?
PhD studentships can start at any time of the year, but most begin in September, October or January.
Certain types of PhD, for example professional Doctorates, may not be eligible for a PhD studentship. The same applies to part-time or distance learning options.
Am I eligible?
PhD studentships typically demand that applicants have a Bachelors degree at 2:1 or above, plus a relevant Masters degree or professional experience at that level of study.
Those who already possess a PhD are often ineligible, while some PhD studentships are limited to students fitting certain criteria - for example, those from a disadvantaged background, from a certain country or of a certain ethnicity.
While most PhD studentships in 2020/21 are open to European Union (EU) nationals, the government has confirmed that EU students will lose automatic access to 'home fee' status from the 2021/22 academic year. For more information, see GOV.UK - Student finance for EU students.
How do I apply for a PhD studentship?
The application process can be lengthy, and competition is fierce.
Some PhD students will be automatically considered for financial support once they've been accepted by an institution, but many are required to make separate PhD funding applications. These are usually made directly to the university - even for those studentships from Research Councils, professional bodies, or charities, foundations and trusts.
You'll typically be asked for your PhD application form, a research proposal, a cover letter and your references. After the institution has reviewed your application, you may be invited to interview.
Throughout this process, the university will scrutinise what you'll bring to the institution. Applicants at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU), for example, are judged on:
- the quality of their research project and how it connects with research currently being undertaken at the institution
- how appropriate the supervisory team is
- their calibre, academic qualifications and academic/research experience
- whether the research can contribute towards the Research Excellence Framework (REF), meaning that interdisciplinary research will be preferred.
How do I increase my chances of getting a PhD studentship?
You can improve your chances of success by:
- asking a friend or family member to proofread your application
- carefully choosing your referees, ensuring that they'll speak positively of you
- discussing your draft application with a relevant academic
- explaining how your work will be unique and innovative
- following the funding body's guidance regarding word counts and formatting.
What other PhD funding is available?
If you're unsuccessful with your PhD studentship application, you could consider: