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What funding is available for postgraduates studying in the UK?
By David Malcolm
If you’re studying for a postgraduate-level qualification, which includes most courses that require an undergraduate degree for entry, the funding that’s available from the government in the UK is fairly limited, and depends on what you’re studying and who provides your funding. However, other funding options are available.
This topic contains the following:
Can I get funding from the government?
If you want to study for a postgraduate-level qualification your funding options depend on what you’re studying and who provides your funding. If you want to study:
If you’re eligible to get your funding in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, that’s pretty much it.
However, if you get your funding from the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS), you can get a tuition fee loan of up to £3,400 a year (or £1,700 for part-time courses) for some vocational postgraduate courses, mostly at diploma level (these figures are for 2012/2013). You can study anywhere in the UK and even at some institutions abroad, but if a similar course is available in Scotland you only get funding to study there. If you’ve studied at postgraduate level before, you may not be able to get funding again. For more information, including how to apply, see Postgraduate students.
You can also get the full funding that’s available for undergraduate-level courses from SAAS to study some postgraduate qualifications:
- Maths Tripos (Part III) at Cambridge University
- some postgraduate architecture diplomas (for more details, see architecture courses).
For courses at masters or doctorate level you may get funding from one of the UK research councils (see Can I get a grant from a UK research council?).
What if I want to become a qualified teacher?
If you want to study to become a qualified teacher you may be able to get the full package of student support from the government in England, Wales or Northern Ireland to study for a Postgraduate Certificate of Education (PGCE) or undertake a school-centred initial teacher training course.
If you’re from Scotland you can get funding to study for a Professional Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE), and depending on the subject you want to teach, you can get funding no matter what undergraduate or postgraduate study you’ve undertaken before.
For more information, see I want to be a teacher – what higher education funding is available?
What if I want to study social work?
If you want to study for a postgraduate social work qualification in the UK, the funding you can get depends on which country you normally live in.
England and Wales: if you’re a resident in England or Wales, you can get funding in the form of a bursary from the NHS or Care Council for Wales to help with tuition fees and living costs, even if you’ve received government or NHS / Care Council for Wales higher education funding before. For more information, see:
Scotland: if you’re a resident in Scotland you can get a bursary from the Scottish Social Services Council to study in Scotland. The bursary helps with tuition fees and living costs. For more information, see I’m studying social work – what higher education funding can I get in Scotland?
What if I want to study medicine, dentistry or healthcare?
If you already have a degree in another subject and want to study medicine, dentistry or healthcare at undergraduate degree or diploma level in England, Wales or Scotland, you may be eligible to get a bursary to help with the costs of some graduate-entry programmes, but not usually for standard undergraduate degrees. For more information, see:
However, some courses don’t necessarily lead to postgraduate qualifications, even if you need to have a degree in order to get on the course. If you want to study for a postgraduate qualification in medicine, dentistry or healthcare in:
- England or Northern Ireland, you can’t get an NHS healthcare bursary to fund you – you need to apply for a studentship or find alternative funding instead.
- Wales, you can get NHS funding if your course leads to professional registration.
- Scotland: you can get support from SAAS to study for one of these courses in Scotland.
Can I get a grant from a UK research council?
Research councils are the main public investors in research in the UK, and they award about 6,000 grants (or ‘studentships’) each year to universities to fund students undertaking postgraduate research or masters courses.
If you get a studentship, your tuition fees are paid and you get a cost of living grant (usually known as a ‘stipend’) of up to £15,500 a year tax free, which you don’t need to pay back. How much stipend you get depends on where you live, the subject you’re studying and whether you’re getting a research or masters studentship. You may get extra allowances if you’re disabled or support dependent children or adults, and some studentships are available for part-time study.
To get a studentship, the general rules are that you must be an EU resident and have been ‘ordinarily resident’ in the UK for three years preceding the application. This period includes time living in the UK while studying full-time. You also need at least a 2:1 honours degree from a UK higher education institution (though there are some exceptions, eg if you can demonstrate relevant work experience).
You apply for a studentship through the university department at which you want to study – not directly to the research council. Competition to get a studentship is very intense, but varies between subjects. Lists of research council-supported courses become available in early spring, and you should apply as soon as possible, because deadlines are usually months ahead of the start of the course.
For further information and advice look on the relevant research council website to see which universities have been awarded studentships. Research Councils UK has a list of them, and Prospects has useful advice and links. You can also search for what’s available using sites like Postgraduate Studentships.
Can I get funding from charities, foundations and trusts?
Several charities, foundations, trusts and learned societies provide grants for postgraduate and postdoctoral research, which you don’t need to pay back – often for students from poorer backgrounds or those who’ve achieved academic excellence.
Many specialise in an area of study. For example:
Others provide funding for specialist groups or students with particular circumstances (eg Funds for Women Graduates).
There are lots of options to consider, so look for organisations related to your area of study or personal circumstances, and when you find them, apply early. You can find out more at your local library in these publications:
- Educational Grants Directory
- Charities Digest
- Grants Register
- Directory of Grant Making Trusts
or search for the scholarships that are available using sites like Scholarship Search and Prospects.
Can I get funding from my university?
You may be able to get funding from your university for your postgraduate study. This might be an award for outstanding achievement, a scholarship (or ‘studentship’) with maintenance grant (or ‘stipend’), or a graduate teaching or research assistantship. Also, if you’re facing financial difficulty, your university may also be able to help you with funds.
Each institution has its own rules about who qualifies for their funding, and how much you get. For more information, see Can I get higher education funding from my university or college?
I’m a student with children or other dependants – what extra funding can I get?
If you have children or other dependants who rely on you financially, you can get extra grants and allowances if you get your funding from:
- Student Finance England, Wales or NI or the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS) to study for a postgraduate teacher training qualification.
- The NHS in England or Care Council for Wales to study for a postgraduate social work qualification.
- SAAS to study for some postgraduate qualifications for which you can get undergraduate-level funding (see Postgraduate courses which qualify for support at undergraduate level).
For more information, see I’m a student with children or other dependants – what extra higher education funding can I get?
I’m a disabled student – what extra funding can I get?
If you’re a disabled student you can get extra grants and allowances if you get your funding from Student Finance England, Wales or NI to study for a postgraduate initial teacher training qualification. If you get your funding in Scotland from SAAS you can get extra allowances to study for some postgraduate courses.
Alternatively, if your course is eligible for a studentship award from a UK research council, you can get a disabled students’ allowance as part of your studentship. This is usually more generous than the government’s standard disabled students’ allowance (DSA), but if you can’t get a studentship you’re entitled to the standard DSA.
For more information, see I’m a disabled student – what extra higher education funding can I get?
What other support can I get?
If you work, your employer might sponsor you to take a part-time postgraduate course, especially if the qualification will help advance you in your role. Ask your employer whether this is an option, or whether they’ll help by giving you study leave or flexible working arrangements. Prospects has some useful advice about employer sponsorship.
Alternatively, you could fund your postgraduate course by working part-time, as almost half of all postgraduate students do. Most universities acknowledge the fact that many students need to undertake some paid work during their studies, but recommend a limit of 10 to 15 hours a week during term time. However, not every institution permits it, so check with your university before seeking a part-time job.
Prospects has some useful advice for postgraduates about working part-time. Also take a look at What do I need to know about working during the vacation?
Also, along with other students, you may be entitled to income support or other benefits from the government. For more information, see Can I claim government benefits as a student?
What if I want to study abroad?
If you’re from the UK and you want to take a postgraduate course outside the UK, may be able to get support from the government depending on where you live, or otherwise from non-government bodies in the UK. The scholarships and grants available may only cover a small proportion of your costs, but they’re worth investigating. For more information, see I want to study outside the UK – what higher education funding can I get?
I’m an international student and I want to study in the UK – what funding can I get?
If you’re a student from outside the UK and you want to study for a postgraduate qualification at a UK university or college, there’s a range of funding options and help available to you, especially from non-government bodies. For more information, see I’m an international student and I want to study in the UK – what higher education funding can I get?
This information was updated in March 2013. NUS provides this information in good faith and has taken care to make sure it’s accurate. However, student finance issues can be complicated, and rules change frequently. You should contact the advice centre in your students' union, college or university for support if you’re uncertain or need more help.