Choosing to dedicate the next few years of your life towards a PhD is no light decision. Not only will it require you to dedicate an extensive amount of your personal time, but you’ll also need to consider how you’ll fund it. This raises the question, how much does a PhD cost in the UK?
The cost of a PhD can be divided into three key areas; tuition fees, living expenses and research expenditures. The combined cost of these are approximately £15,000 per year for UK and EU students and can increase over £35,000 per year for international students. A more in-depth breakdown of these costs can be found below. We’ve also compared these costs to other countries and outlined the various methods available to you to fund your PhD studies.
UK and EU Fees
For UK and EU students, the tuition fee for a PhD varies between £3,000 to £6,000 per academic year. For 2020/21 programmes, most universities opt for £4,407 per year within this range. Although this number may seem a little odd, it’s commonly adopted due to being the indicative rate set by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) for UK universities.
Unlike for UK and EU applicants, the rates for international students don’t align with the indicative level set by UKRI. Instead, international students will find that their tuition fees are higher than those of home students. For example, at the time of writing, the average annual PhD tuition charge at the University of Dundee is £4,530 for home students. This same average is £19,596 for international students.
International applicants will also find that the fee for PhDs in STEM subjects are greater than those in non-STEM subjects. For example, at the University of Bristol, a doctorate degree in Mechanical Engineering costs £23,200 per year whilst a doctorate in Medieval Studies costs £18,300 per year.
To summarise, international students can expect a tuition fee of between £16,000 to £24,000 per year, with an average of around £19,600 per academic year. Non-STEM subjects will generally be at the lower end of the range, whilst STEM subjects will be at the higher end of the range.
The above fees are based on full-time postgraduate study. If you’re doing a part-time PhD, you can expect the fee to be half of these amounts. Although this may appear to be a cheaper option, keep in mind that the average duration of part-time PhDs are twice that of full-time PhDs. Therefore, the total tuition cost will amount to the same value and the end of both courses.
Other Degree-related Costs
Research Support Fees
If your research project requires a high use of consumables, equipment or other resources, you may have to support the cost of these through an additional annual fee. This additional annual fee, often referred to as either a ‘research support’ or ‘bench’ fee, often apply to laboratory-based STEM research projects. Bench fees vary between different projects, even those within the same field. Therefore, it is best to speak to the admissions team on a project-by-project basis to receive anything useful.
Another cost you will need to account for is travelling. As part of your degree, many supervisors will expect you to attend conferences, training workshops, or other collaboration opportunities. As a result, you will often need to travel to various destinations which aren’t always limited to the UK. Although some programmes will cover these costs, it’s not unheard of that some positions will expect you to fund this yourself. It’s impossible to put a value on this, as the extent of travel depends on each project. Therefore, it would be wise to speak with the admissions team and current PhD students. They can provide you with an accurate estimate and let you know whether the university will cover the expenses.
Overtime Period Fee
When you’re enrolled into a PhD programme, you will be given a period to complete your PhD within. This period is known as your ‘registration period’ and is usually 3-4 years for a full-time PhD and 6-7 years for a part-time PhD. If you’re given an extension due to not completing your PhD study within this time, you will need to pay an overtime registration fee. Although the amount depends on each university, the University of Leeds sets theirs as £265 for 2020/21.
From a 2019 survey of over 3,000 university students, the average living cost, covering expenditures such as rent, bills, food and recreation, was £809 per month. This equates to £9,708 per year.
Although this is an average cost, your true cost of living will depend on your location. Living in major cities such as London will draw significantly higher rent and travel costs than living in more rural locations. Although your living situation will in large be driven by the university you undertake your PhD with, you should factor it in when deciding which universities to apply to.
To put this into perspective, the survey average of £9,708 per year uses a rent average of £431 per month. In London, this average increases to £600 a month and can surpass £1,000 if staying in university halls or private student accommodation. This is supported by University College London (UCL) who state you should expect an average rent of £1,028 per month if living in private accommodation around their university.
Tip – You can use this handy calculator for an estimated average cost of living for any UK university. All you need to do is select the university, and the calculator does all the rest.
If you’re an international student, you should factor in return flights back home. Although this may seem like a small expenditure compared to tuition fees and rent, they can add up quickly depending on the frequency and distance of your trip.
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How to Fund Your PhD
A studentship is a form of scholarship for doctoral students. They can either be partially funded, which cover tuition fees only, or fully funded, which also covers living costs through a ‘stipend’.
Studentships can be found in various places. Research Councils (RCUK) and European Social Fund (ESF) make funding available to university departments, who in turn make the funding available to doctoral students. Therefore, you will find that there are many postgraduate funding opportunities available to you, with the best places to look being the RCUK and ESF websites and the university departments themselves. External institutions which focus on research and development such as research trusts and charities would also be a useful place to look for a funded PhD.
If you’re a UK student, you may qualify for a Postgraduate Doctoral Loan from Student Finance England. This form of financial aid is available for nearly all postgraduate research degrees undertaken in a higher education setting. They will allow you to borrow up to a total of £26,445 for 2020/21 courses.
Graduate Teaching Assistantships
Graduate Teaching Assistantships are a form of studentships which allow you to teach undergraduates as part of your research degree. This not only helps improve your academic skills, but it also enables you to receive a salary whilst you’re studying. As well as teaching assistantships, some departments also provide opportunities for demonstrations, marking papers, and tutorial support. The amount you can earn through these schemes will depend on how many hours you work and what agreements you make with your supervisor or course leader.
Working Whilst You Study – Part-time PhDs
A research student may opt for a part-time PhD as opposed to a full-time one. Although this would double the duration of their studies, it allows them to take on a part-time job to improve their financial situation. For students going down this route, it would be highly beneficial to pick up a part-time role in a position related to your industry. This will help refine your skills and increase your employability within this career role should you choose to pursue it after your degree.
If you’re an international student, keep in mind that you’ll likely be on a study visa. Therefore, there’ll be certain restrictions on what you can and can’t do alongside your study.
How Does This Compare to the Fees in Other Countries?
When considering the tuition fee of PhDs across different countries, the United Kingdom is generally considered as being in the ‘middle-ground‘ region.
A handful of countries offer PhD programmes for free. These include, but are not limited to, Denmark, Greece, Iceland, Norway and Poland.
The middle-ground region comprises countries such as Austria, Spain, Russia and New Zealand where postgraduate fees range from £1,400 to £4,000 per academic year.
The upper-end region comprises countries such as Hong Kong and the United States, where postgraduate tuition fees for a PhD student can go up to £33,000 per year.