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Masters Funding from UK Research Councils

Public funding for research projects at universities in the UK is distributed by seven Research Councils, each of which focusses on a particular set of academic disciplines.

Part of their responsibility involves supporting postgraduate training for potential new researchers (like you!). The Research Councils are therefore one of the most important providers of funding for Masters and PhD programmes.

Research Council funding is very competitive and your chances of receiving a scholarship are a bit more limited than they might be for other forms of postgraduate support.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try though.

Most Research Council bursaries are very generous, covering fees and living costs. Plus, being funded by the UK Government shows just how important your research is (not to mention that it looks great on a CV!).

Who are the Research Councils?

Operated by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the Research Councils are seven organisations that distribute public funding for research in certain academic disciplines.

We’ve written introductions to the different Research Councils, the postgraduate funding they provide and the subjects they cover:

Occasionally the Research Councils also collaborate on cross-disciplinary research that falls under the remit of more than one body.

How does Research Council funding work?

The Research Councils support research by granting ‘blocks’ of institutional funding to consortia (associations) of universities, which is then distributed among the members.

These consortia come in two forms:

  • Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTPs) tend to have the freedom to allocate funding to individual students and research projects of their choosing.
  • Doctoral Training Centres (DTCs) are granted resources to fund work in specific areas identified by the Research Councils. Sometimes they are referred to as Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs).

As their names suggest, both types of consortia are mainly concerned with ‘doctoral training’ – supporting researchers at PhD level.

This means that relatively little Research Council support is now available specifically for Masters degrees. Instead, support for Masters-level postgraduate study is provided by postgraduate student loans.

Some Research Council funding for taught postgraduate study is available, however – particularly for programmes designed to prepare for (or lead directly into) PhD-level research.

What kind of Research Council funding is available for Masters degrees?

The two most common types of Research Council funding for Masters degrees are:

  • Research Preparation Masters – These are aimed at students who intend to use their Masters as a stepping stone towards academic research at PhD level and beyond. Professional Preparation Masters are also offered to some students who want to specialise in a certain vocational area after graduation. Both types of award are becoming less common, but some are still offered by individual universities operating within doctoral training consortia.
  • Integrated PhD Programmes – These are also referred to as ‘combined programmes’ or ‘1+3’ degrees. They commence with a year of taught Masters study, followed immediately by three years of PhD research. As such, they can be an excellent option for prospective postgraduates who know in advance that they want to study a PhD after their Masters degree. You can search for integrated PhD programmes at FindAPhD, where they will usually be listed as ‘4 Year Programmes’, ‘1+3 Programmes’, or ‘New Route PhD Programmes’.

Though both types of funding are comparatively scarce, they are worth investigating – particularly if you already intend to continue on to PhD-level work.

If you win funding for a Research Preparation Masters, this will certainly impress potential supervisors (and PhD funders).

Alternatively, securing funding for an Integrated (or ‘1+3’) Masters and PhD programme will not only provide you with an excellent route into doctoral research, it will also take care of your postgraduate financial needs in one go!

What does Research Council funding cover?

Masters funding from Research Councils will normally provide sufficient funds to meet the cost of tuition fees, plus a maintenance grant to cover accommodation, living costs and other expenses incurred during the duration of a programme.

The size of this maintenance grant varies from award to award, but is usually set by the Research Council. Slightly more maintenance funding will normally be granted to students in London, reflecting the higher cost of living in the capital.

Who is eligible for Research Council funding?

Under normal circumstances, all UK and EU students are eligible for Research Council funding.

However, EU students will usually only be entitled to a ‘fees only’ award: funding that covers the cost of tuition on a Masters programme, but does not include a maintenance grant to cover living costs (exceptions may apply if you’ve lived in the UK for more than three years).

Brexit and EU postgraduates

The UK is due to leave the EU on 29 March 2019 but fees and funding will remain the same for courses beginning in the 2018-19 academic year. Read the latest updates on Brexit and postgraduate study.

Research Council funding for part-time Masters programmes

You can receive Research Council funding for a part-time Masters, provided you are studying for at least 50% of the full-time rate.

You may also be permitted to change your registration status during your programme, subject to approval by your institution. However, Research Council funded programmes cannot normally be suspended and resumed, with the exception of up to 26 weeks’ maternity leave, or up to 13 weeks of illness in a calendar year (with appropriate medical certification).

Note that Research Council funding will not be available to you if you are in full-time employment – in such cases you will be deemed to have sufficient resources to support yourself.

More information

For more information on eligibility and restrictions for Research Council funding, see the official guidelines (PDF) published by UK Research and Innovation.

Masters funding from the AHRC

The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) supports research into the history, ideas and materials associated with different cultures, enabling reflection on the human experience and contemporary creative endeavours.

AHRC funding for Masters degrees is potentially available in subject areas such as:

What kind of AHRC Masters funding is available?

Since 2014, the AHRC has awarded most of its funding to 11 consortia of institutions collaborating as Doctoral Training Partnerships. Some individual universities within these DTPs use their funding allocation to support Research Preparation Masters and Professional Preparation Masters schemes.

You can view a list of AHRC Doctoral Training Partnerships, with contact details, at the AHRC website.

The AHRC also funds a number of Centres for Doctoral Training, but these mainly focus on PhD projects addressing specific topics.

Masters funding from the BBSRC

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) supports academic research in Bioscience subject areas and funds the development of new biotechnologies and tools for biological research. Note that research into disease and abnormal biological function is usually the domain of the Medical Research Council.

BBSRC funding for Masters degrees is potentially available in subject areas such as:

What kind of BBSRC Masters funding is available?

The BBSRC supports PhD programmes through Doctoral Training Partnerships. Some of these may fund four-year PhD projects that include training, or provide support for Integrated (1+3) Masters and PhD programmes.

In addition, some BBSRC funding for taught postgraduate courses is available through the Modular Training Partnerships scheme.

This programme supports postgraduate training modules at Masters level, using partnerships between industry employers and research organisations. Such funding is provided for existing employees to meet specific continuing professional development needs.

Masters funding from the EPSRC

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) supports research in Physical Sciences, Engineering, Information and Computer Technology and Mathematics. It also assesses the technological, social and economic implications of developments in these subject areas.

EPSRC funding for Masters degrees is potentially available in subjects such as:

What kind of EPSRC Masters funding is available?

EPSRC funding for postgraduate study is directed at PhD-level research, supported at universities through Doctoral Training Partnerships. Some of these may allocate funding to Integrated Programmes, combining a Masters degree with PhD research.

Alternatively, if you already plan to continue on to PhD-level research after your Masters, you could apply to one of the EPSRC’s Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs).

These offer four-year PhD programmes addressing particular research topics, in which the first year provides skills training similar to that acquired through a taught Masters degree.

Masters funding from the ESRC

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) supports research in various branches of Economics, Business and Social Sciences, along with work addressing Politics, Social Policy and International Relations.

ESRC funding for Masters degrees is potentially available in subject areas such as:

What kind of ESRC Masters funding is available?

The ESRC periodically allocates funding to Masters programmes in response to specific training aims. These will usually be offered through institutions operating as part of Doctoral Training Centres.

ESRC DTCs may also offer funding for Integrated or ‘1+3’ programmes, combining Masters and PhD degrees. You can view more information at the ESRC website.

Masters funding from the MRC

The Medical Research Council (MRC) supports research into diseases and pathology, along with improvements in medicine and medical practice.

MRC funding for Masters degrees is potentially available in subject areas such as:

What kind of MRC Masters funding is available?

The MRC provides most of its postgraduate funding to Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTPs). It encourages individual universities within these to provide Masters training on a 1+3 model (integrating Masters and PhD study) if they wish.

In addition, a small amount of MRC funding is available for Advanced Course Masters (ACMs) through DTPs. Programmes funded in this way must be research-based (an MRes degree, for example) and must target specific subject areas identified by the MRC. You can read more about Advanced Course Masters at the MRC website.

Masters funding from the NERC

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) supports research into Environmental Sciences, including the investigation of Earth’s ecology, geology, archaeology and natural processes.

NERC funding for Masters degrees is potentially available in subject areas such as:

What kind of NERC Masters funding is available?

At present, the NERC does not fund Masters degrees directly, but support for Integrated Masters and PhD programmes may be offered through its Doctoral Training Partnerships (block studentship funding for university consortia) and Centres for Doctoral Training (for research on specified topics).

Masters funding from the STFC

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) supports research into physical science, engineering and technology subjects that depend on substantial facilities and infrastructure investment.

STFC funding for Masters degrees is potentially available in appropriate branches of:

What kind of STFC Masters funding is available?

The STFC does not fund Masters degrees directly, but Integrated Programmes may be supported at institutions within its Doctoral Training Partnerships.

Other funding for UK Masters degrees

Don’t worry if you aren’t successful in finding or winning Research Council funding for your Masters degree.

The reality is that the Research Councils no longer provide extensive support for Masters-level postgraduate study. The awards that are available will also receive far more applicants than they can fund, with many exceptionally good students being declined.

The good news is that the Research Councils are far from the only organisations offering support for Masters degrees.

Elsewhere in our funding guide you can read about the huge range of funding available from charitable trusts and funding for international exchanges supported by the Erasmus Programme.

Government loans for UK and EU students

If you’re a UK or EU student who would normally be eligible for Research Council funding, you could be able to apply for a postgraduate loan from the UK Government.

England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have postgraduate loan schemes offering varying levels of financial support. Depending on your situation, you could be eligible for a Masters loan of up to £10,609.

UK postgraduate loans

Want to find out how much support you could receive? Read our full guide to the UK Masters loan system, comparing the different schemes operating across the United Kingdom.

FindAMasters and FindAPhD postgraduate scholarships

Don’t forget either that we also offer our own scholarships here at FindAMasters, with up to £5,000 available for one winner, plus another four £500 awards to help students top up their funding.

Why not sign up to learn more?

Or, if you’re interested in funding for PhD study, take a look at the PhD scholarships over at our sister site, FindAPhD.

Good luck!

Last updated - 21/05/2018

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