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PhD Loans – 2021 Guide for Doctoral Students


  • A PhD Loan can fund a PhD in any field lasting between three to eight years.
  • You can borrow up to £26,445 for courses starting in 2020-21.
  • There are several eligibility restrictions, including must be a UK national resident, not receiving other funding (e.g. from Research Council or NHS).
  • The repayments will be 6% of your annual income above £21,000.

What Is a PhD Loan?

A PhD loan is a form of UK Government loan made available to doctoral students residing in England or Wales. It is designed to help students fund their doctoral programme or equivalent degree, covering basic costs such as the tuition course fees and living expenses.

The most common degrees they cover are:

  • PhD – Doctor of Philosophy
  • EngD – Doctor of Engineering
  • EdD – Doctor of Education

Note: The official name for a PhD Loan is a Doctoral Loan, however, many postgraduate students commonly refer to as a PhD Loan due to its primary use being used to fund PhDs.

Am I Eligible for a PhD Loan?

There are several requirements you must meet to be eligible for a PhD loan. The eligibility criteria are summarised below into two categories – those that make you eligible and those that make you ineligible for a PhD loan.

Requirements That Make You Eligible:

You must:

  1. Be a UK or EU national (or have settled status) and ordinarily a resident of England or Wales.
  2. Be under the age of 60.
  3. Undertake a PhD (or another doctoral degree) that is three to eight years long and provided by a university in the UK.

Note: A common misunderstanding amongst university students is that a Doctoral Loan can fund an MPhil degree. As an MPhil is a Master’s degree, it does not meet the ‘Doctoral or equivalent’ requirement for being eligible for a Doctoral Loan. Therefore, if you are considering undertaking an MPhil, you should instead be applying for a Postgraduate Loan. If more appropriate for your situation, you can find out more information about Postgraduate Loans here.

Requirements That Make You Ineligible:

You must not:

  1. Already hold a PhD or equivalent doctoral degree.
  2. Already be receiving funding. This includes grants from the Research Council (studentships, stipends & scholarships etc.), a social work bursary or NHS bursary (note that being eligible for an NHS Bursary even if you’re not receiving one will make you ineligible for a PhD loan).
  3. Already have had a Doctoral Loan before, unless you left your course due to illness, bereavement or another serious personal reason.
  4. Obtain your PhD through publication (as this won’t have a period of study associated with it)

Aspects That Don’t Affect Your Eligibility:

There are several aspects of your PhD course that do not affect your eligibility to a PhD loan. These are:

  1. Your doctoral course – your PhD can be in any subject or field. The underlying requirement is that it is provided by a university in the UK.
  2. Full-time or part-time course – you need not pursue your PhD full-time to be eligible. The underlying requirement is that your PhD can be completed within eight years regardless of how you allocate your time.
  3. Taught, research-based or a combination of both – as long as your PhD has an aspect of studying associated with it, the method of obtainment of your PhD will not affect your eligibility.

How Much Funding Can I Get?

The amount of funding you can obtain isn’t means-tested. This means that it isn’t related to your financial background and therefore you can qualify for the full amount regardless of your situation.

The maximum loan amount you can borrow falls into one of three categories:

  • Up to £26,445 if your course is due to start in 2020-21,
  • Up to £25,700 if your course started on or after 1st August 2019,
  • Up to £25,000 if your course started before 1st August 2019.

When Will I Get Paid?

Your loan payments will be spread out across all academic years of your course.

Example: If you undertake a full-time PhD over 5 years and apply for a loan amount of £25,000, you will receive £5,000 in each academic year.

Further to this, the allocation for each academic year will be paid in three even instalments, with each instalment paid at the start of a new term.

Example: Continuing with the above example, the £5,000 per each academic year would be paid in three instalments of £1,667.

Your first instalment will typically be paid immediately after your course start date. This is because your university will first need to confirm to Student Finance England (SFE) that you’ve officially enrolled with them before the student loan can be released to you.

How and When Do I Repay?

Repayment terms – You will need to start repaying your loan once you have completed your PhD and started earning an annual income over £21,000.

Once both these conditions are met, you will start making your repayments at 6% of your income above £21,000. This means that for the first £21,000 you earn, you won’t need to make any contributions towards your loan repayment, however, anything above £21,000 will be subject to a 6% deduction for repayment towards your student loan.

It’s worth noting that if you work for an employer after your PhD, your repayments will be automatically deducted from your salary and there isn’t anything you will directly need to do. However, if you decide to work for yourself as opposed for an employer, you will need to make the repayments yourself.

Like undergraduate loans, a postgraduate Doctoral Loan is subject to interest, which will need to be paid on top of your original student loan value. The interest rate is the retail price index (RPI) plus 3%.

Example: The average UK RPI for 2019 was approximately 2.4%. This means that besides the mandatory 3% that is owed, the average interest rate on a Doctoral Loan in 2019 would have been 5.4%.

It’s worth noting that if you aren’t able to completely repay your postgraduate loan within 30 years from the date of your first payment, the remaining loan debt will be voided.

How Do I Apply?

You can apply in one of two ways – either online, by setting up an account on Student Finance England’s website, or by post, by filling in a printable form on GOV.UK‘s website. Click the respective below to be taken directly to their websites where you can find out more.

Online Application – Student Finance England

Postal Application – GOV.UK

Note: While English residents and EU students who will study in England need to apply to Student Finance England, Welsh residents and EU students who will study in Wales will need to apply to Student Finance Wales.

Find Your PhD, Fast

Finding a PhD has never been this easy – search for a PhD by keyword, location or academic area of interest.

Other PhD Funding Options

A PhD Loan is only one of several ways to fund your PhD studies. The other funding options available to you are:

  • Research Council funding and studentships
  • Scholarships and bursaries
  • Employer sponsorship
  • Charities and Trusts
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