Posted on 20 Aug '20

UKRI PhD Funding to be Extended to International Students

UK Research and Innovation have announced that international students will be eligible for full PhD studentship funding from the 2021/22 academic year.

This is excellent news for UK universities who will now be able to welcome and support the best doctoral students from around the world at DTPs, CDTs and other UKRI-funded opportunities. It also dovetails with other recent policy changes and announcements, including the introduction of the global talent visa and the extension of the Graduate Route post-study work entitlement to three years for PhD graduates.

What's changing?

UKRI-funded PhD studentships have traditionally only been available to UK students (who receive a tax-free, non-refundable stipend in additional to payment of their fees) and to EU students (who usually only receive a fee waiver). With few exceptions, non-EU international students have not been eligible.

Today's announcement means that, from 2021-22 onwards:

  • Up to 30% of UKRI-funded places will be available to international students
  • Those students will be eligible to receive a full studentship, covering fees (at the UK rate) and living costs
  • EU students will be included in this cap, with fee and funding guarantees no longer applying after the 2020-21 academic year.

The changes affect all seven Research Councils, though it remains to be seen how the 30% cap will be managed and applied. The logical assumption is that individual UKRI-funded centres will now be allowed to allocate up to 30% of their opportunities to international students. Those centres will also need to either waive the difference between UK and international fees, or source additional funding from elsewhere. We'll be paying close attention to the details as they emerge.

Why this matters

This announcement represents a significant – and long overdue – opportunity for UK research and for PGR recruitment at UK universities.

The UK is and always has been a hugely popular destination for international study and this is particularly true at postgraduate level. The problem, traditionally, has been that it's very hard to do so.

Last month, over 85,000 prospective students from outside the UK were investigating UK opportunities on FindAPhD. Yet the latest HESA data reveals that only around 11,000 non-EU students typically begin PhD study at UK universities each year.

The reason for this discrepancy isn't just that successfully applying for a PhD is difficult (it is) but that very few international applications can succeed without funding in place; universities are generally unable to sponsor students without sufficient resources for fees and maintenance, regardless of their potential.

I experience this first hand at our PhD study events where I regularly meet with enthusiastic and committed international students seeking to pursue a PhD in the UK. All that's missing is sufficient funding for them to do so and, despite my best efforts, there's generally little that can be done to help. Often the answer ends up being: "have you looked at studying elsewhere in Europe?"

I'm looking forward to having more to say at future events and to helping our FindAPhD audience make sense of – and make the most of — this new opportunity.

In the meantime, please get in touch with your account manager if you'd like to discuss ways of talking to the thousands of monthly visitors to [email protected]

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