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Postgraduate Funding: Public Funding Bodies

One of the most important sources of funding for your postgraduate study to investigate are the Research Councils.

There are seven grant-awarding Research Councils in the UK:

These are bodies funded by the government and are responsible for supporting research in different fields.

Competition for Research Council funding is tough, and in a majority of disciplines only a small percentage of students are successful in their application.

Funding is typically easier to attain in science and engineering than in arts and social sciences.

Types of awards

The Research Councils provide a wide range of awards. Among the most common are:

Advanced Course Studentships - for Masters level courses (e.g. MSc, MA), usually of one year’s duration in subjects where there is no undergraduate provision.

Research Masters Training Awards (MRes) - usually one year’s duration.

Standard PhD Research Studentships - for PhD or MPhil students on courses of up to four years’ full-time and six years’ part-time duration.

Collaborative Awards in Science and Engineering (CASE) - similar to Standard PhD Research Studentships but involve collaboration with a partner in industry, a public body or government research unit. Funding for these awards comes from both the Research Council and the collaborative body.

Engineering Doctorates (EngD) - offer four years of enhanced training in one of 15 EngD centres, or on an industrially relevant collaborative project.

Value of awards

Research Council awards cover the following:

  • Tuition fees
  • A maintenance grant (usually referred to as a stipend)
  • A contribution towards travel, fieldwork, academic materials and other course-related expenses.

The value of the stipend can vary – in the 2015/2016 academic year, the Research Council minimum was set at £14,057.

Additional money is available for disabled students through a disabled students’ allowance. This is to help with additional expenditure for the costs of study-related requirements that you may have as a result of your disability.

The allowances can cover the cost of non-medical personal assistance, specialist equipment, extra travel costs and other general expenses. See our Funding for Disabled Students section for more information.

Am I eligible?

To be eligible for a full Research Council award you must normally be an EU national who is 'ordinarily resident' in the UK throughout the three years preceding your application (this includes living here while being a full-time student), a European Union migrant worker, or a child of European Union migrant workers.

You will also usually be required to have a first class or upper second class honours degree from a UK university or college. However, there are exceptions to this, for example the minimum requirement for NERC Advanced Course Studentships is a lower-second class degree.

The university you are applying to will be able to give you advice on whether you are eligible for a Research Council award, so if you are uncertain you meet the criteria, get in touch with them and ask them to help.

Students from outside the UK but within the EU are eligible for fees-only awards from the Research Councils.

How do I apply?

With the exception of some AHRC and ESRC schemes, you do not need to apply directly to the Research Councils.

Research Councils normally allocate funding to individual departments and higher education institutions, and you should apply directly to the department in which you would like to study. The department then selects the best candidates based on the quality of their application.

Departments typically start advertising their studentships for the following October in November of the previous year. It’s best to apply as early as possible to avoid missing out on getting funding for your course.

Many people will be chasing sources of funding, so if you’re one of the first to be considered, the better the chance you have of being awarded something.

Other public funding bodies

There are a number of other funding bodies providing support for further study. These include:

Most Local Education Authorities (LEAs) now only provide funding for PGCE students, although it is worth checking if they support students on vocational programmes in, for example, IT.

Some Training and Enterprise Councils (TECs) award funding for postgraduate study.

As with LEA funding, TEC support in this area is usually limited to certain subjects of study at certain times and the only way to find out whether they are currently supporting programmes in your subject is to ask your local TEC.