Masters Funding from UK Research Councils
Written by Mark Bennett
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.
This page will give you an introduction to how Research Council funding works and the circumstances in which it may be available for Masters study.
What is Research Council funding?
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.
Research Council PhD studentships
For more information on how Research Council funding works for doctoral students, please read our dedicated guide on FindAPhD, with details on applications, eligibility and more.
What kind of Research Council funding is available for Masters degrees?
The two most common types of Research Council grants 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 a grant 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?
Both UK and international students are eligible for Masters grants from the Research Councils.
However, international students are only eligible for their tuition fees to be covered at the cheaper domestic rate – not the international rate. This means you may have to pay for the difference.
For more information on eligibility and restrictions for Research Council funding, see the official guidelines published by UK Research and Innovation.
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.
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 the past, some BBSRC funding for taught postgraduate courses has been available through the Modular Training Partnerships scheme.
This programme supported postgraduate training modules at Masters level, using partnerships between industry employers and research organisations. Such funding was provided for existing employees to meet specific continuing professional development needs. However, the scheme was discontinued in 2016 and is no longer accepting funding applications.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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 university scholarships.
Government loans for UK and EU students
If you’re a UK 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 £11,836.
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.
Search for a Masters
Ready to start looking for your ideal programme? Browse and compare Masters degrees on FindAMasters.com.
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