There are eight Research Councils in the UK, which distribute government funding in various subject areas, and all of which provide funding for postgraduates. With the exception of the Arts and Humanities Research Council, postgraduate students do not apply directly to the Council for funds.
The other Councils distribute funds under various schemes and allocation methods for both taught and research postgraduate study, to individual institutions which those institutions then advertise as they would any other postgraduate opportunity.
Research Councils fund a set number of places on particular courses run by institutions. In general, these courses are advertised by institutions in their prospectuses. The level of funding, which may be fees only, or also provide living expenses, is detailed on a course by course basis. In most cases, funding is only available to UK/EU students, and students with an appropriate connection with the UK. This can vary from Council to Council and you are advised to check each Council’s eligibility rules. Courses funded in this way go through a rigorous application process and a key criteria is usually whether the course falls within the stated priorities of the Council at that particular time. Funding from a Research Council is usually given for a set period of a few years only, after which it may be renewed.
Postgraduate Research studentships are also funded by the Research Councils via a number of specific schemes. The main examples are:
Funding allocations resulting from Research Assessment Exercise results.
Departments are given funding as a result of their RAE result, some of which is specifically intended for postgraduate research studentships. This type of funding is known in advance by departments and tends to be offered on an annual basis. Projects may be defined in advance by Departments or Research Groups, or in some cases there may be flexibility for students to define the exact perameters of the subject with their supervisor.
Individual PhD studentship funds included in Research Grants.
Studentships funded in this way are rare in the arts and humanities, and far more likely in science and engineering subjects. Some are also found in social science subjects. The existence of this kind of studentship in a particular department depends on whether the academics in that department apply for research grants and win them under the Councils peer-reviewed competitions. Departments cannot predict whether they will win particular grants in this way, and the grants can be awarded at any time of year, which in turn means that the PhD studentships will be advertised at different times of year and may have start dates other than the autumn. This type of studentship will always have a predefined project title which the student will have to work to.
Industrial or commercial collaborative funding.
Again, the operation and scope of these schemes varies between Research Councils. These are often advertised as CASE studentships, and are funded jointly by a research council and a commercial partner from the relevant industry. Projects are predefined, and are developed to be relevant to both the HEI concerned and the commercial partner. Students are supervised by both the academic department in the HEI and an appropriate person from the commercial partner, and some or all of the research is conducted working directly with the commercial partner for designated periods of time. The student is also intended to gain valuable skills training and experience of commercial as well as academic environments. For these studentships, funding can sometimes be allocated to the commercial partner, rather than to the HEI, in the first place. These studentships are usually advertised both by the participating University and commercial or industrial partner, as they arise: their eligibility requirements should be checked individually.
Research Councils Links:
- Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
- Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
- Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
- Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
- Medical Research Council (MRC)
- Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
- Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)