What Is a Bench Fee?
A bench fee, sometimes called a Training Support Fee (TSF) or a Research Support Fee (RSF), is an additional charge made to PhD students. It covers expenditures related to your research such as laboratory supplies, specialist training, field trips and equipment hire.
They are usually additional to your tuition fees are and used to fund your department so they can continue to support your project.
How Do They Work?
Your bench fee will depend on your specific subject and study area. The amount will correspond to your expected level of use of the university’s facilities and will remain fixed throughout your course.
In some cases, the amount will be displayed as part of the PhD’s advertisement. If it has not, you will need to get in touch with the academic supervisor or department responsible for the project. They can provide you with a specific breakdown of the main costs, or at the very least provide you with an estimate.
Should you apply to the project and your application be successful, the university will confirm the exact bench fee value along with other information in your offer letter.
How Much Are They?
Bench fees vary depending on the project and university, however, they typically range between £1,000 to £10,000 per year.
Although this is the typical range, they can exceed beyond this, especially for research projects which are heavily lab-based or require access to innovative equipment. For example, the bench fee associated with a Pharmaceutical Sciences research degree at the University of Huddersfield can go as high as £15,000.
As most STEM PhDs involve an extensive amount of experimental or laboratory-based work, their bench fees are typically higher than those for non-STEM PhDs. In addition to this, it’s not uncommon for non-STEM subjects such as those in Arts and Humanities to have no fees associated with them. This isn’t because there will be no costs associated with your research, but rather they will usually be at a low enough level which your department can handle.
How Are They Calculated?
Most universities set bench fee bands and use these to determine how much you’ll be charged. For example, a university which has a maximum bench fee charge of £10,000 may have three chargeable bands comprising £2,000, £5,000 and £10,000. If the department estimated your research project to cost the university £5,750 per year, you would fall under the £5,000 band and so be charged this amount.
It’s worth noting that once you accept an offer and enrol onto your degree, your bench fee will become fixed. This means that even if the university’s cost of securing your materials or resources increase, you will not be expected to cover this.
Are They Covered by Studentships?
A studentship will cover a students tuition fees and living costs in the form of a stipend. In the large majority of cases, students on this form of scholarship will also have their bench fees taken care of by the university. However, it is best to confirm this arrangement with the department prior to accepting an offer.
Some departments, such as the School of Chemistry at the University of Bristol, offer scholarships specifically for bench fees. Due to how high bench fees can go, bench fee scholarships are just as competitive as regular funding scholarships. Therefore, these are usually only accessible to postgraduate students with a strong academic background.
In some cases, an external organisation or research charity may offer to cover your bench fee. To be considered for these opportunities, your research topic will need to be highly relevant to the work they are carrying out. It’s not enough to be researching the same field, they will look to see whether your research has the potential to bring about new and practical knowledge which will further advance the field.
It’s important to keep in mind that if an external organisation covers your bench fee, they will usually do so on the same annual basis as your original offer letter. Due to this, most organisations won’t allow you to overspend into next year’s bench fee allocation. Therefore, make sure you understand the arrangements and factor this into your research timeline.
Bench Fees For Visiting Academics
Most universities will allow visiting PhD students to undertake part of their research in their institution. In these cases, as well as being responsible for paying for their accommodation and travel, they will also be responsible for their bench fee. If the student is visiting for under a year or at irregular frequencies, their bench fee will be prorated to a monthly equivalent. As before, the bench fee will cover the expense for desk space and use of the laboratory and its supplies.
Do You Need to Pay VAT?
If you’re a visiting student, whether you will need to pay VAT tax on your bench fee will depend on your visiting reason.
If you are visiting the institution to only use their facilities, then this will be regarded as a ‘supply of facilities’ and you will lawfully be required to pay VAT. This will be the case for international and home/EU students.
However, if you are visiting the institution to study or to develop your research skills, then this will be regarded as a ‘supply of education’. Under these circumstances, you will not be required to pay VAT.
Whether the purpose of your visit is for facilities us or for educational purposes can become rather confusing as it will be open to interpretation. Therefore, it is best to contact the host university and discuss your personal visiting situation with them so they can advise you correctly.
A bench fee is only one of several costs you will need to consider if you’re looking to undertake a PhD. Other costs include tuition fees, travelling expenses and living costs. To learn the true cost of a PhD and how much each of the above factors contribute to it, we recommend you read the following article: How Much Does a PhD Cost.