How can I fund my PhD?
There are all sorts of ways to fund your research degree, including research council studentships, career development loans, and employer sponsorship. These web pages will help you understand what kinds of funding are available, when it is released and how you can apply for it.
Before you start looking into how to get funding, remember to consider how much a research degree is likely to cost.
It is always a good idea to contact the Postgraduate Research team in the Faculty or Academic department you are interested in studying in for details of their specific funding opportunities.
Funding postgraduate research degrees
Class of 2021 Postgraduate Progression Award
We are pleased to offer graduating University of Exeter students completing their degree this summer and progressing direct to a research degree (eg MPhil/PhD) with us in 2021/22 a scholarship towards the cost of their first year tuition fees. Please note that this award is not recurrent for postgraduate research students.
Please visit our Class of 2021 Progression Award page to learn more.
University of Exeter Alumni Scholarship
We are pleased to offer other University of Exeter alumni beginning a research degree (eg MPhil/PhD) with us in 2021/22 a scholarship towards the cost of their first year tuition fees. Please note that this award is not recurrent for postgraduate research students.
The scholarship is available to any University of Exeter graduate who has completed one of the following:
- graduated from an undergraduate or postgraduate degree awarded by the University of Exeter
- completed an inbound Study Abroad semester/year at the University of Exeter
- completed a credit-bearing University of Exeter International Summer School
Please visit our Alumni Scholarship page to learn more.
QUEX Institute Partnership with The University of Queensland
The University of Exeter and The University of Queensland have partnered to establish the QUEX Institute, a multi-million pound partnership designed to bolster their joint global research impact.
The partnership will strengthen a joint commitment to co-produce research of the highest quality, boost industry and business collaboration, and publish high-level policy reports designed to inform and shape key government initiatives across the globe.
Each year, 6 generous, fully-funded studentships are available for the best applicants, 3 offered by the University of Exeter and 3 by the University of Queensland. This select group will have the chance to study in the UK and Australia, and will graduate with a double degree from the University of Exeter and the University of Queensland.
How much? Full tuition fees, stipend of £15,000 p.a, travel funds of up to £15,000, and RTSG of up to £15,000 are available over the 3 year programme
Who is eligible? Applicants should be highly motivated and have, or expect to obtain, either a first or upper-second class BSc (or equivalent) in a relevant discipline
When is it available? Applications for 2022/23 entry are now closed.
For more information about the partnership, please visit the QUEX pages.
University of Exeter Sanctuary Scholarships
The Sanctuary Scholarship scheme enables individuals seeking asylum and refugees who are not able to access student finance to study at the University of Exeter. To find out more, check eligibility and apply, please see the Sanctuary Scholarships page on our funding database.
How much? Full tuition fees and a generous living allowance (approximate total £20,000 per year)
Who is eligible? Home and International students with outstanding academic records
When is it available? Autumn to early spring
Research Council-funded PhD studentships generally pay your tuition fees (usually in the region of £4,500 to £5,000 per year) as well as providing a generous living allowance (approximately £17,668 per year) enabling you to concentrate fully on your research full-time. Because of this, Research Council studentships are very desirable and highly competitive.
There are seven research councils in the UK which distribute government funding for research. They are presided over by Research Councils UK, and each one faces a different area of research. In alphabetical order, they are:
- Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
- Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
- Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
- Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
- Medical Research Council (MRC)
- Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
- Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)
Please be aware that the specific subjects covered by each council can and do overlap in some instances, depending on specific topics, for instance, History can fall under both the ESRC and the AHRC depending on the precise topic.
Types of award
Research Council studentships generally come in three kinds: open awards; thematic awards; and project awards. Awards given in the humanities and social sciences are usually open or thematic, meaning they are open to any pitch relevant to the specific funding council, or else are tied to a specific research area within the funding council - for instance the medical humanities.
Awards given in the sciences are usually project-based, and can be highly specific; rather than applying for funding to research your own idea, you are essentially applying for a place working on a pre-defined research project, such as genome sequencing a specific organism.
Who is eligible?
Any prospective doctoral student wishing to study at a UK research organisation, including prospective international students, can apply for a UKRI studentship.
All UKRI-funded doctoral students will be eligible for the full award – both the stipend to support living costs, and fees at the UK research organisation rate.
This is a change in the criteria and will come into force for the start of the 2021 academic year. Please note up to 30% of full studentships are also available to international students which are defined as EU (excluding Irish nationals), EEA, Swiss and all other non-UK nationals.
If you have any queries about your residency status, you should speak to the appointed contact for the individual studentship before applying.
For the academic criteria, applicants should have a first or 2:1 honours degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject. Equivalence may be demonstrated by qualifications gained outside of the UK or an undergraduate degree plus relevant postgraduate study, or experience in their chosen field.
Where can I find PhD studentships?
Research Council studentships are listed on the relevant Doctoral Training Partnership and research topic pages. In addition, all our current PhD studentship opportunities are searchable via the search box available on every page of this Postgraduate Research site. You will find them listed in the 'PhD Projects' tab in the search results page.
When are studentships available?
Research Council studentships are generally open for applications during autumn and winter, although deadlines vary and some can be as late as April. Because they are competitive and attract the very best-qualified students, it is best to start looking, and be ready to apply, from September. This means you may need to start considering funding for your PhD before teaching for your Masters has even begun, if you wish to progress directly from a taught postgraduate programme to a research degree.
Doctoral Training Partnerships
The vast majority of funding for PhDs that comes from the research councils is via Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTPs). These are consortia of universities who together receive bulk funding for research into specific areas. By sharing resources, expertise, and facilities, Doctoral Training Partnerships can provide outstanding support and training for PhD candidates researching within them. Most Doctoral Training Partnership-funded PhDs work on a joint-supervision basis, where your primary supervisor is from one institution and your secondary supervisor is from another.
The University of Exeter is a partner in numerous Doctoral Training Partnerships, and is one of very few universities to be part of partnerships facing every research council.
How much? Up to £27,892 if your course starts on or after 1 August 2022
Who is eligible? UK nationals and Irish citizens, or those with 'settled status'
How do I pay it back? Once you are earning over £21,000 a year, you will pay back six percent of your income each year. If you already have a Postgraduate Master’s Loan then you’ll make a combined repayment of six percent covering both postgraduate loans.
Full information can be found at Gov.uk.
As an international student your first action when looking for PhD funding should be to check grant-awarding bodies in your own country (for instance the Ministry or Department of Education), and your local (or nearest) office of the British Council. The British Council manage a small number of international studentship grants in some countries and should be able to tell you what other awards may be available to you.
As with anyone seeking funding for a PhD, it is also worth contacting the department you with to study within, to find out more about internal funding opportunities available to outstanding candidates.
Funding opportunities for international PhD students are subject to the usual rules regarding immigration and visas.
All International Students
For students wishing to follow full-time taught or research postgraduate-level courses in any subject at UK universities or colleges in the public sector. Most scholarships are mainly for one year, but awards are also occasionally given for shorter vocational courses/research attachments. Awards are given to cover all or part of the cost of the period of study. Contact the British Embassy, British High Commission or British Council Office in your own country.
Full scholarships for professionals in fields considered by the British Council to be of special importance in the candidate's own country. Grants are for postgraduate study or research and range from short attachments to research leading to a PhD. Grants vary in size – from small grants to fellowships which will cover fees and living expenses. For details, contact the British Council in your own country, or write to: Fellows and Scholars Department, The British Council, 10 Spring Gardens, London SW1A 2BN (tel: 020 7930 8466) or International Student Services Unit, Regional Services Dept, The British Council, Bridgewater House, 58 Whitworth Street, Manchester M1 6BB (tel: 0161 957 7000).
The Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) is the world's first and oldest international university network, established in 1913.
A UK-registered charity, the ACU has over 500 member institutions in developed and developing countries across the Commonwealth. The ACU administers scholarships, provides academic research and leadership on issues in the sector, and promotes inter-university cooperation and the sharing of good practice – helping universities serve their communities, now and into the future.
Full scholarships for Commonwealth students to enable them to study in other Commonwealth countries. Grants are for one to three years and usually cover the cost of travel, tuition fees and living expenses. In some cases, additional allowances may be available for help with books and clothes. For details, write to: Commonwealth Awards Division, Association of Commonwealth Universities, John Foster House, 36 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PF; email@example.com
For Commonwealth students specifically interested in PhD study in the UK and at the University of Exeter, Commonwealth Scholarships for PhD and split-site PhD study are available. These are aimed at talented graduates from selected countries and normally close in June for study commencing the following September. Please see the UK's Commonwealth Scholarship Commission website for details.
Scholarships for students in developing Commonwealth countries for taught courses at postgraduate (or in certain cases undergraduate) level. Preferred subjects are those relevant to the economic and social development of your own country. For details, contact the British High Commission or British Council in your own country, or write to: Department for International Development, 94 Victoria Street, London SW1E 5JL (tel: 0300 200 3343 / +44 (0) 1355 84 3132)
The Canadian Centennial Scholarship Fund is a charity which provides funding for academically exceptional Canadian students already registered on a postgraduate programme in the UK. The programme has to be full-time and last longer than one year. For full details please visit their website.
The Great Britain-China Educational Trust (GBCET) administers its own awards, and also makes awards with funds contributed by the Sino-British Fellowship Trust, the Universities' China Committee in London, and the Han Suyin Trust. The awards are meant to contribute towards applicants' university tuition fees, and living expenses.
The British Association for Chinese Studies (BACS) provides a detailed overview of the state of funding available to researchers and students for China-related studies in the UK.
European Union (EU) citizens can apply and qualify for a full award including fees and stipend for UK research council studentships. Each consortium of UK research council studentships cannot allocate more than 30% of the total number of awards to International students, including EU citizens.
The EU provides some grants to promote the exchange of students and academic staff within Europe, such as the SOCRATES and LEONARDO Programmes. The European Commission (EC) also makes some awards to students from developing countries. Contact the EC office in your own country or write to the European Commission, Directorate General III, Rue de la Loi 200, B-1049 Brussels, Belgium. Further details can also be found on the Community Research & Development Information Service (CORDIS) web site.
Research collaboration in Europe extends beyond the EU and residents of European countries with organisations affiliated to the European Science Foundation may also be eligible for certain schemes.
The major objective of the Foundation is to identify exceptionally talented young Indian students and support them financially to develop their special skill and talents to the maximum. It achieves this by awarding scholarships to outstanding young students to continue their post-graduate study/research abroad. Over the last three decades, more than 350 scholars have benefited from these scholarships.
The Higher Education Commission is an excellent site detailing scholarships available to Pakistani students wishing to study abroad.
Full scholarships for United States graduates to enable them to study in the UK. Write to the Graduate Students Programs, Institute of International Education (IIE), 809 United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017- 3580, USA
Full scholarships for United States citizens, who are under 26 and are graduates of United States universities, to enable them to study for a degree in the UK. For details, write to: Marshall Aid Commemoration Commission, John Foster House, 36 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PF; tel: 020 7387 8572; firstname.lastname@example.org. Application forms are available from United States universities and colleges, British Consulates General in the United States, or British Information Services, 845 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10022, USA
How much? Varies: from £10 to £10,000 or more
Who is eligible? Varies according to provider
When is it available? Varies according to provider
If you are not one of the lucky few able to secure a fully-funded studentship, there are still lots of ways to fund your PhD. A 'portfolio funding' approach - using lots of different, small awards and sources of funding rather than relying on one source - can really help you. Applying to educational charities can be an effective way of building up a portfolio of funding.
There are all sorts of philanthropic organisations dedicated to helping people pay for educational pursuits. These vary from major charities with millions of pounds dedicated to specialist research, to small trusts offering modest grants to help pay for books or travel. Some are very niche in their remits (funding just research into specific topics, such as the Research Society for Victorian Periodicals, or by people from specific places or social groups), and others are much more general. It is worth researching opportunities thoroughly, and writing speculative letters to appropriate bodies who may not have formal application processes.
Finding out about what opportunities are available can be tricky; many bodies have minimal websites that are not updated regularly, and some don't have websites at all. Writing, calling, or following potential funders on social media can help.
When applying, you will need to outline the case for why you deserve funding in much the same way as you would outline your academic case for being able to do a PhD. It is worthwhile mentioning if you have already secured any awards, as this demonstrates that organisations already think you are worth funding.
Print directories of funding bodies
The Grants Register is an annual publication listing charities and other bodies that provide grants, including for education. We have copies in our libraries. We also have copies of The Directory of Grant-Making Trusts, a similar publication.
Find out more about charities, foundations, and trusts on our alternative funding page.
How much? Varies according to sponsor
Who is eligible? Varies according to sponsor
When is it available? Varies according to sponsor
Responsible employers are always keen to develop their employees through training. While a 3-4 year full-time PhD may seem like an extreme example of staff development, it’s not unheard of, especially in technology-driven businesses and the medical and legal professions. Museums and heritage groups, and tech industries working on cultural projects (such as mobile apps), are often open to funding / working with humanities researchers. We also offer specific professional doctorates, which are studied for alongside work, in education and engineering.
Getting the support of your employer is obviously key, and you’ll need to put together a proposal for your training in much the same way as you’d need to construct a business plan for any new commercial venture.
Likewise companies often approach the University of Exeter with proposals to fund research that can further their business, and often the best way of doing this is via PhD students. Specific opportunities that arise are listed in our Postgraduate Research search alongside other studentships, but it may be worth talking to relevant academics in your field to find out about other possibilities that could be created for outstanding candidates.
How much? Varies
Who is eligible? Anyone
When is it available? All year
Working full or part-time while studying for a research degree can be incredibly demanding, but is a possibility for the many academically-capable PhD candidates who just miss out on the limited funding available. Almost 90% of students funding a PhD in this way are studying part-time, for obvious reasons.
Working while studying can also help give you key work-related skills that might be quite different to those you gain as a researcher, but just as valuable to future employers. It can also, crucially, give you a much-needed break from the intensity of PhD research.
There are several things you will need to consider. For instance, the University has regulations on how many hours you can work alongside your studies. You will also need to make sure your employer is understanding regarding the demands that your studies will make on your time; while some research degrees allow for great flexibility of time, others will demand your presence at specific times in laboratories or workshops.
Some financial institutions offer specialist loans for postgraduate students. An internet search may help you identify any potential schemes, but please be aware of the terms and conditions of the scheme and the annual percentage rate in order to identify the total cost of your loan.