Scholarships and bursaries

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All universities offer funding opportunities, but the details depend on the institution, your chosen course and your financial situation

Some universities provide teaching positions, some offer full-fee studentships with maintenance grants (stipends), and some offer bursaries to help students in financial difficulty.

In addition, countless charitable organisations specialise in providing funding for postgraduate or postdoctoral research - but competition is very tough.

While small grants of between £100 and £1,000 are unlikely to cover your full expenses, these one-off payments may help towards your overall costs.

Scholarships and awards

These are awarded for academic excellence and, for postgraduate researchers, a demonstrable potential to carry out research. They are given out on a discretionary basis.

Each university has rules about who qualifies, how much you're eligible for and how to apply. For example, the University of Edinburgh currently offers several scholarships for full-time Masters students with at least a 2:1 Bachelors degree. Covering tuition fees, they're worth up to £8,100.

Speak to your faculty or graduate school about the specific bursaries and scholarships that they offer. Also, talk to money or welfare advisers at your chosen institution.

Recent graduates returning to the university where they studied their undergraduate degree could be eligible for an alumni tuition fee discount.

Graduate assistantships

Graduate teaching positions and assistantships are great ways to supplement your university income while gaining valuable teaching experience.

For the university, they're a cost-effective way of employing more staff while also providing postgraduates with necessary funding.

For the student, teaching experience is an increasingly important aspect of PhD study - especially for those aiming to enter an academic career. It's also a useful way for postgraduates to consolidate the connection between wider subject skills and growing specialist research-based knowledge and ideas.

An increasing number of universities offer more and more assistantships, giving research students the chance to teach undergraduates while funding their tuition fees or living expenses. Availability depends on the department's current needs and the type of research that you intend to carry out. Therefore, they aren't available every year.

Teaching assistants are usually paid around £10 per hour, and given full training and support from their department. You'll typically provide six to eight hours of teaching time each week - around 120 to 180 hours over the academic year. This can include leading classes, hosting tutorials, giving laboratory demonstrations and marking papers.

The University of Kent, for example, offers successful applicants a gross salary of £3,455 per annum, plus tuition fees at the home rate and a scholarship that may vary from a few hundred pounds up to a combined salary and maintenance grant equalling £14,057.

While De Montfort University doesn't operate an official Graduate Teaching Assistantship (GTA) programme, their PhD students are given opportunities to teach wherever possible. They are mentored by experienced staff and paid for their teaching duties, on top of any scholarship awarded.

Vacancies are advertised internally and on university websites. As with most funding opportunities, the earlier you apply, the better your chances of being successful. However, if you manage to secure a post, it's important to remember that studying should remain your primary concern.

Hardship funds

Universities distribute government-provided emergency grants to students who are experiencing financial difficulty, so that they can continue their studies. Awards are usually for anywhere between £100 and £3,500, can only be applied for once term has begun, and cannot be used towards tuition fees. Both full- and part-time students are eligible.

Policies vary by institution, but those qualifying generally include students from the UK or European Union (EU) who:

  • are from a low-income family;
  • have children, especially if they're a single parent;
  • have existing financial commitments, or are encountering unexpected financial difficulties.

Applicants must provide detailed evidence of their financial situation and explain what course materials, rent, living expenses and travel costs they need.

The amount that you get is decided by your university, and paid as a lump sum or in instalments. Grants are usually non-repayable, but check this - and other eligibility requirements - with your university's student services department, as sometimes it'll be a loan that you must repay. Unless it's for day-to-day living costs, the funding that you receive won't be calculated as income when managing your right to benefits or tax credits.

However, you must have made adequate financial provision for your tuition fees and living costs before applying. Funds are always means tested, and usually open from October to June.

Universities aren't allowed to transfer funds from one year to the next, so if your request is rejected at the start of the year it may be worthwhile reapplying later on.

Charities, foundations and trusts

Bursaries, scholarships and prizes worth hundreds of pounds - or even thousands of pounds - are available from charities, foundations, trusts, learned societies and professional bodies of all sizes. Some will only cover research equipment, while others cater for living expenses.

The amount available varies hugely. The Society of Authors, for example, offers a total of £100,000 each year to assist many writers with research costs. At the opposite end of the scale, The Rebecca Skelton Fund for Dance Research and Performance offers up to four £500 awards each year.

Funding is often non-repayable and generally available if:

  • you're at a disadvantage in comparison to your peers in terms of, for example, income, disability or family circumstances;
  • your research has links to the local community, or links to a disadvantaged foreign country;
  • your research is important for advances in your subject, especially medicine.

Finding funding takes time – there are numerous options to consider and many resources available. Start very early, as some organisations have closing dates 8-10 months before the academic year begins.

Browsing the web is perhaps your best starting point. - a searchable website of all the UK's charitable trusts - is one go-to source. Family Action and Charity Choice are two alternatives.

Similarly, your local library or university careers and employability service will have publications containing further information on grant-making bodies, including the Grants Register, Charities Digest, Awards Almanac, Educational Grants Directory and Directory of Grant Making Trusts.

Target organisations related to your subject or personal circumstances. Sharing a true passion will greatly improve your chances, and many learned societies specialise in an area of study. District and parish councils may also offer small awards, particularly for local students or those studying a geographically relevant topic.

Apply to as many organisations as possible. The process is usually straightforward, with most applications fairly short and made directly to the charity. Contact the organisation beforehand to confirm their entry criteria, closing dates and submission requirements. As well as a personal statement, you may sometimes be asked to submit written work, attend interviews or undertake other assessment tasks.