PhD Salary in UK – Explained

What Are PhD Salaries?

The average cost of undertaking a PhD in the UK is approximately £20,000 per academic year for UK students and £40,000 for international students. To help offset the cost of this, many students question whether undertaking a doctorate comes with a PhD salary.

The salary of a PhD student is governed by three factors: whether they’re assisting in undergraduate teaching, assisting in research, or have secured a PhD with a stipend. Depending on which of the three categories a student falls within, they will receive an income during their studies, however, the amount will differ by a substantial amount.

To help show you how you can fund your postgraduate degree and how much you can expect to earn whilst doing so, carry on reading below.

Types of PhD Salaries

There are three types of PhD degree salaries:

  1. Graduate Teaching Assistantships (GTAs). In exchange for a salary, you’ll be required to assist in the delivery of one or more courses over a number of years. This includes, but is not limited to, marking student tutorials, supervising lab experiments and providing support to undergraduates during office hours. Besides this, you may have to teach a small section of the course itself. You can discover more about GTAs on King’s College London’s website.
  2. Research Assistantships (RAs). In exchange for a salary, you assist a departmental professor with their research. In the ideal scenario, the professor you work with should also be your PhD supervisor and the research you’re asked to support with relates to your own doctoral project.
  3. Stipend via Studentship: A stipend is a non-repayable grant provided to doctoral students to help support their studies. A studentship covers a student’s tuition fees whilst a stipend covers a PhD student’s living costs. This includes outgoings such as rent, food, bills and basic travel. Unlike Graduate Teaching or Research Assistantships, stipends rarely have duties attached to them. The only expectation of receiving a stipend will be that you maintain continuous progress within your degree.

It’s worth noting these earning opportunities can be also be combined. For example, it’s possible to be a research assistant whilst also committing time to teach undergraduate students.

Average PhD Salary in UK

The average PhD student salary for teaching assistantships will vary depending on the level of responsibility you’re taking. However, to provide figures, past doctoral students have reported receiving approx. £10/hr for marking tutorials, £15/hr for leading laboratory sessions and up to £20/hr for leading undergraduate classes and tutorials.

The actual amount you can earn from teaching assistance will depend on the rate your department offers and the hours you can realistically take on. If you’re on a Graduate Teaching Assistantship programme, they will require you to dedicate a set number of hours per week. If you’re not on a GTA but would still like to earn an income through this scheme, you will likely need to commit several hours per week consistently. Although this can be a great way to earn whilst you study, you need to make sure you manage your time effectively as to not become overwhelmed by taking on an additional commitment.

The average salary for research assistantships will vary depending on the field of the doctoral degree you are enrolled in. Usually, these positions pay between £25,000 to £30,000 per year, however, it’s possible to come across positions which sit slightly outside of this. As a general rule of thumb, STEM assistors are paid more than non-STEM assistors.

Highest paid PhD stipends

In the UK, PhD students can receive a stipend which varies between £15,000 and £18,000 per annum. As part of the studentship your stipend is provided under, your tuition fees will also be paid for. UK tuition fees will vary between universities but are approximately £4,500 per year for doctoral courses starting in 2021/22 as per the UKRI recommendations.

Although £15,000 to £18,000 per year is the typical range for a stipend, some can be far greater than this. For example, Wellcome Trust, a research-charity based in London, offers an annual stipend of up to £23,300 and £26,000 for doctoral students located outside and within London, respectively.

Are PhD Salaries Taxed?

PhD stipends are tax free. Therefore, you don’t need to pay any income tax nor do you need to make any national insurance contributions. This means you’ll keep all the money you receive from an annual stipend. However, this is not the case for Research Assistants.

In the UK, Research Assistants are employed as university staff members and are paid a direct salary as opposed to a stipend. As a result, it will require you to pay tax on your earnings and make national insurance contributions.

To put this into perspective, for the 2019/20 UK tax year, you’re required to pay a 20% tax on any income above £12,500 but less than £50,000. You’re also required to make national insurance contributions of 12% of your weekly earnings over £166 but less than £962. This means that an annual Research Assistantship salary of £30,000 will equate to a take-home salary of £23,938 per year.

How to Get a PhD Stipend

To find research positions which offer stipends, we recommend you search our PhD database and filter by ‘funded’ positions.

Besides this, you can also secure a studentship from UK Research Councils or directly from your university as a scholarship. Independent organisations, such as charities and research trusts, and innovative firms within your industry also offer funding. You can read our PhD studentship guide to see how these work or our Where to find a PhD guide for further ideas.

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How to Get a Research Assistantship PhD

Unfortunately, research assistantships opportunities aren’t as common to come across compared to PhD stipends. Besides this, when they are available, they’re predominantly in STEM subjects such as computer science and engineering. The reason for this is these subjects usually have access to greater research grants and have a greater volume of practical work available.

To find a research assistantship, we recommend that you contact the university departments who host the courses you’re interested in directly. This is because research assistantships help professors with their research, and while they may require help, they may not be openly advertising for it. They may, therefore, be able to create a role for you within their department or put you into contact with one of their colleagues who already has an open position.

International Students

It’s worth noting that international students will have a harder time securing a funded PhD position than UK ‘home’ students will. This is largely because there are usually fewer funding opportunities available to international students, which as a result also attract significant competition.

Besides this, if you’re an international student studying in the UK you will most likely than not be on a Tier 4 visa. Although a Tier 4 visa will allow you to work to earn an additional income alongside any studentship you may have, there will be certain restrictions on what you can and can’t do. For example, during term-time, you won’t be allowed to work more than 20 hours per week. For a full list of restrictions, please refer to the government website.


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