Scholarships and bursaries

Emma Knowles, Editorial assistant
September, 2017

If studying for a postgraduate degree is the route you need to take to achieve your career goals, you might be eligible for Masters scholarships or student bursaries

What are scholarships and bursaries?

While scholarships and bursaries are both granted by a range of bodies - including individual institutions, companies or the government - and both aim to help students through their postgraduate studies, they're slightly different.

Scholarships are non-repayable sums of money, typically won on the basis of academic excellence. They usually come with strings attached - this might involve working for a specific company after graduation, or taking on extra responsibilities within the university. Winning a scholarship is usually a competitive process.

Bursaries are also non-repayable, but are lump sums or annual stipends available to any student who qualifies for them. This could be students on a specific course (such as social work - see Social Work Bursaries), those who are in financial need, or groups that are under-represented on a course or in a particular job sector.

University funding

If you're hoping to secure postgraduate funding, the first place you should look is your chosen institution. Universities offer scholarships and bursaries to serve a range of purposes.

Academic excellence scholarships: many UK universities offer funding to students in recognition of their outstanding academic credentials. These scholarships are limited, so competition to secure funding is fierce. For example, the University of Loughborough offers a scholarship of 20% deducted from the cost of tuition to postgraduate students enrolling on a Masters at their London campus. Applications are open to full and part-time students with a high 2:1 or first class degree.

Disadvantaged bursaries: these bursaries are given to encourage students from all backgrounds to pursue further study, regardless of their personal circumstances. For instance, each year The University of Manchester provides 100 of their Manchester Masters bursaries to UK students who have either been in public care for a minimum of three months since the age of 11, are from low income backgrounds, live in the most deprived areas of the UK or have received Disabled Students' Allowances (DSA). The Manchester bursary entitles its recipients to a £3,000 reduction on their tuition fees.

Alumni discounts: many UK universities offer a 10% postgraduate tuition fee discount to their undergraduate alumni. The University of Southampton, the University of Bristol and the University of Derby are among the institutions offering this discount, while some fee waivers are more generous. The University of East London (UEL) increases this discount to 15% for any undergraduate who progresses into postgraduate study the autumn after their first graduation, while Oxford Brookes University extends their 10% discount to friends and family of alumni.

Graduate Teaching Assistantship (GTA): students looking to find PhD funding and acquire hands-on teaching experience should look to completing a GTA with their university. Alongside the typical PhD activities of researching and writing a thesis, GTA students receive generous fee waivers in return for providing pastoral support and teaching duties to undergraduate students. GTA positions are typically open to candidates holding an undergraduate degree of at least a 2:1. For example, the University of Leicester offers a waiver on its science-based four-year GTA course, in the form of an annual stipend and salary package worth £14,553.

While the majority of university funding needs to be secured before the beginning of term, students facing financial, health or family difficulties can apply for hardship funding at any time through their students' union.

Funding from charities and trusts

Countless charities, foundations, trusts, learned societies and professional bodies provide financial support for postgraduate or postdoctoral research.

Charity funding can be found in different shapes and sizes:

  • Many philanthropists leave trust funding in their name for postgraduate students. The offers small grants, normally between £400 and £1,000, to UK residents studying any subject at postgraduate level. The is another all-subjects trust fund that distributes approximately £80million per year to postgraduate students. It looks to 'fund any form of research that advances knowledge of the world and ourselves'.
  • Medical and health research is a popular field supported by charities. The Wellcome Trust offers a range of fellowships, bursaries and scholarships from affiliated charities such as Cancer Research UK (CRUK) and the Medical Research Council. CRUK offers individual grants of up to £50,000 per year to students carrying out research that heavily aligns with the charity's beliefs and movements.

Use online directories such as and to find the right organisation and funding opportunities to suit your needs. You may also wish to consult a publication, such as Charities Digest 2017, to find a sponsor. Although purchasing a copy will set you back £49.95, this directory gives you instant access to relevant, up-to-date information on more than 2,000 regional and national charities.

Applications for charity funding are typically made directly to the organisation. You may be asked to submit a personal statement or written references from your tutor, and if you're called for interview you'll be required to give a presentation giving a brief overview of what your research will involve.

It's important to be proactive with charity funding. Some organisations have very early cut-off points for submitting applications, while others will grant funding on a first-come, first-served basis.

Government funding

Alongside Disabled Students' Allowances (DSA) and funding for teacher training, the government offers bursaries and grants for social work students. They're not available for all social work courses - find out whether you'll be eligible to receive funding by ing your university.

Social Work Bursaries are non-refundable. They're given in two parts: a basic grant, which for 2017 entry is £3,362.50 (or £3,762.50 in London), and a means-tested maintenance grant, of up to £2,721 (£4,201 in London).

You'll also be able to apply for additional allowances to cover your travel expenses and provide additional financial support for childcare or if you're an adult carer.

To apply for a Social Work Bursary you'll need to download an application form and send this off along with a copy of your birth certificate and a valid passport. If you fit the criteria, you're ready to begin your application through the .

For more information on repayable government funding across the UK, visit:

How to apply for a scholarship

The earlier you apply for scholarships, the more likely you are to win them. Most universities stipulate that you'll need an offer to study with them before you can apply for a scholarship, so do your research and make sure you're prepared to get the ball rolling as soon as possible.

As well as submitting a standard application form (which you'll find on your university's website), you'll be asked to provide a personal statement. In this statement you'll need to provide some or all of the following information:

  • a brief outline of your research project
  • your future career ambitions
  • your current employment situation and, if you're employed, a brief overview of where you work and your responsibilities in the role
  • how you're planning to fund your studies
  • the extent of your financial need.

Before you submit your application, check that it is grammatically correct and you haven't made any obvious errors. The scholarship application process is highly competitive so a polished application is vital to being considered for funding.

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