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Institutional funding for postgraduate study

Most UK higher education institutions run their own scholarship and award schemes, although these vary greatly from institution to institution. The most common are graduate teaching and research assistantships and institutional scholarships.

Some will offer full-fee studentship along with a maintenance grant, while others only provide smaller bursaries to help ease financial hardship.

You will find that a few offer prizes, ranging from £20 to £3,000. These are usually awarded for excellence in teaching or research, or for an outstanding essay or project.

It is worth finding out if there are any companies who sponsor postgraduate students through the university you are applying to.

These opportunities are usually advertised in the press but they may also be run on an ongoing basis with a particular university. Check the departmental website or get in touch directly with the institution and ask.

Flexible payment arrangements

Remember that universities do actually want to attract as many postgraduate students as possible.

As well as offering flexible modes of learning, many universities will give you the choice to pay your fees in three instalments (one each term) rather than as a lump sum before you start the course.

Sometimes you will be charged a little extra for the privilege of paying in this way but you may find that the advantage of spreading your payments across the year will make your financial situation a bit easier.

If you are applying to the same university where you did your first degree and you are part of their undergraduate alumni, you may find postgraduate fees are at a reduced rate.

Access to Learning Funds

Access to Learning Funds are given to institutions by the government to help students who are experiencing hardship. They are available to both full-time and part-time students, and it's always worth applying if you are experiencing financial difficulties.

Awards are usually between £100 and £3,500 and the exact amount paid out to you is based on your circumstances and current financial situation.

Be aware that Access to Learning Funds may not be used to pay for your tuition fees and are always made once the course has started.

You’ll be expected to have applied for any student loans, grants and bursaries you’re entitled to before applying for help from the Access to Learning Fund.

Priority is given to the following groups of people:

  • students with children - especially lone parents
  • mature students - especially those with existing financial commitments
  • students from low-income families (as determined by each individual institution)
  • care leavers
  • students who are homeless or who are living in 'Foyers' (these provide accommodation, guidance and support for homeless young people)
  • final-year students
  • disabled students

Money from the fund is usually paid out as a grant that you don’t have to pay back, but may also be paid as a loan. Your institution will decide whether to pay you in a lump sum or in instalments.

Graduate teaching and research assistantships

Under these schemes, postgraduate students receive direct payment (usually the equivalent of a Research Council stipend) or a waiver of their fees (or sometimes both) in return for teaching or carrying out research.

Read the conditions before you apply though, as some institutions only offer assistantships to those who were unsuccessful in obtaining a Research Council award.