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Postgraduate Funding

There are so many different ways to fund postgraduate study; what’s staggering is how few students are aware of them! The main thing is to be proactive. There is plenty of financial help out there; you just need to track it down! Portfolio funding is definitely the way to go if you don’t land a studentship or scholarship. By bundling various one-off awards, grants and bursaries together, you might be able to cover, or substantially reduce, the cost of postgraduate study. Every little bit helps!


The most popular (and extremely competitive) route to landing yourself postgraduate funding is through studentships. Studentships are postgraduate places with funding attached. These are mainly co-ordinated through research councils who allocate funding to institutions, so you usually apply to the university or department offering the studentship. The seven 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)

These organisations fund advanced course studentships, standard PhD research studentships and Collaborative Awards in Science and Engineering (CASE). The maximum amount (or stipend) you can receive is £14,057 a year. Studentships can be also funded by universities and companies. If you are from Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Department for Employment and Learning provides postgraduate funding for certain courses.

Graduate teaching positions & assistantships

One of the most popular routes of funding, for postdoctoral students in particular, is applying for graduate teaching positions and assistantships. Teaching assistants usually get the equivalent to the research council stipend and get their tuition fees waivered.

In return, they usually have to commit to 120-180 hours of teaching time over the university year. Graduate teaching assistants should receive training and support from their department, so don’t worry if you don’t think your teaching skills are up to scratch. Towards the end of your PhD, you could be leading seminars and giving lectures.

Access to Learning Fund

Once you’ve started on your postgraduate course, you could always ask for support from your university or college’s Access to Learning Fund (ALF). If you’re thinking of giving up a course due to financial problems or need extra financial support, then the ALF is your best bet. You can apply for it through your student services department at university. Remember, it is only intended as a supplement, not as a substitute for financing your postgraduate studies.

Employers & employment

Some companies fund studentships or offer funding schemes for postgraduate study. If you are already in employment (and want to study a course that is related to your job), you could ask for paid study leave from your employer, or if they will cover some of the costs. The trick is to convince your employer that your qualification is something that is worth funding.

Otherwise, you might be able to get a graduate employer to sponsor you. For example, many law firms provide funding for their future trainees while they study for the Legal Practice Course (LPC).

You could always do a part-time course, which will allow you to take on part-time or full-time work to fund your studies. It’s definitely worth looking for work in the university where you are studying too, i.e. in university libraries and academic departments. Temping work is also a viable option, which allows you to organise your work around your studies.

Other sources of postgraduate funding

You could contact your local ‘Education and Library Board’ to see if they’ll offer funding for your postgraduate studies. Check to see if your local authority will support you. They tend to be more likely to offer support for vocational subjects like I.T. Get in touch with your local Training and Enterprise Council (TEC) or the European Social Fund too and see if they’ll offer any funding for your postgraduate studies.

Another source of funding could come from education trusts, charities or institutions. You should especially look for charities and institutions that have interests in your own subject area. They might be able to offer grants, prizes or bursaries. The British Academy offers funding for some humanities postdoctoral research, while the Royal Society of Science provides funding for scientific postdoctoral research.

There are grants and prizes available for those want to pursue engineering at postgraduate level from the Royal Academy of Engineering. There are plenty of other educational trusts and institutes too, so find one in your area of study and see if they offer any grants or awards for postgraduate students.

If you fancy sampling university life abroad, you could try the Erasmus Mundus scheme which offers full-time scholarships for Erasmus Mundus Joint Programmes. There are nearly 130 masters and doctoral courses to choose from and you’ll get the chance to study at both a UK university and another university in Europe.

Funding for medicine, social work & teacher training postgraduate courses

If you plan to do a social work postgraduate course, you might be able to nab a non-repayable bursary through the NHS Business Service Authority’s Prescription Pricing Division. However, you’ll need to be studying an approved postgraduate course in social work and be receiving no funding from an employer.

Medical students have the luxury of a NHS bursary to help them through their fifth and further years of study. You can receive an income assessed NHS bursary, have your tuition fees paid by the NHS and get a reduced rate ‘Maintenance Loan’. If you are taking a graduate-entry medical programme, you’ll receive the same level of support for your second, third and fourth years. Other courses in certain healthcare professions might be eligible for support from the NHS Bursary too.

If you are doing a PGCE or PCE, you can apply for the same student loans as undergraduates. You can also apply for a training bursary from the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA). Training bursaries range between £4,000 and £25,000, depending on whether you want to teach at primary or secondary level and your level of previous study.

Go private

Failing all this, you could ask for a private loan from family or friends or a Professional and Career Development loan from the bank. The great thing about the Career Development Loan is that it can be used for wide range of courses and the Young People’s Learning Agency (YPLA) will pay the interest during your studies and for up to a month after you finish.

It can help you fund a course lasting up to two years (or three, if one year is an industry placement year). You can use it to cover the cost of course fees, living expenses and other course costs. The main thing is to be sure that you’ll be able to repay the loan after completing the postgraduate course, as you’ll have to start paying interest one month after your course ends and the loan usually has to be repaid within five years. 

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