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Student Finance

PhD loans 2019 – the complete guide

Brand new for 2018/19, the government have just introduced student loans for doctoral degrees – but how do they work and how much can you get?

Doctoral loans

Following the success of the postgraduate loans to cover Master's courses introduced in 2016, the government have decided to create loans for PhDs too.

This is great news for anyone looking to pursue further education after their undergraduate degree, something which was previously tricky to do without a stipend, sponsorship, a part-time job or some serious savings.

The new Postgraduate Doctoral Loan will help you fund both course fees and living costs over the duration of your studies - but you'll have to pay it back and you'll be charged interest from day one.

Our complete guide has the low down on exactly how much you can get, how you'll receive it and when you need to pay it back.

The information in this guide is for the Postgraduate Doctoral Loan only. We've also got guides on postgraduate loans for Master's degrees, and undergraduate degree loans in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

What are Postgraduate Doctoral degrees?

cost of tuition fees for international students

Although people often call it a PhD loan, PhDs are just one type of doctoral degree eligible for the Doctoral Loan.

Common doctoral degrees include:

  • PhD/ DPhil (Doctor of Philosophy)
  • EdD (Doctor of Education)
  • EngD (Doctor of Engineering)

A doctoral degree is the highest level of degree, and students typically study one after first completing an undergraduate degree and then a postgraduate Master's degree.

They usually involve a student carrying out some independent research in a specific field of interest and producing a thesis, which can be as long as 100,000 words!

Who can get a Doctoral Loan?

eligible for doctoral loan

As long as you're under the age of 60, a UK or EU national*, a resident of England or Wales and you're studying an eligible course, you should be able to receive the Postgraduate Doctoral Loan.

*You need to be a UK or EU national, normally live in England or Wales (you're not just there to study) and to have lived in the UK or EEA for at least three years prior to starting your course. You might also be eligible if you're a Swiss national, the child of a Turkish worker, a refugee or a relative of one, or if you've lived in the UK for over 20 years/half of your life.

Note that Doctoral loans are currently not available to those who live in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

But as always, there's lots of Ts&Cs, so let's break this down a bit more...

Things that will make you ineligible for the loan

There are certain things that make you ineligible for the loan, so make sure to check these before you apply. If any of the following are applicable, you probably won't be able to receive the Doctoral Loan:

  1. You're already receiving funding from another source, such as Research Council Funding (studentships, stipends, scholarships etc.), a social work bursary or NHS bursary
  2. You've received the Postgraduate Doctoral Loan before (excluding students who left their course due to illness, bereavement or other personal reasons)
  3. You already have a doctoral degree or equivalent (or a higher qualification)
  4. You're behind in repayments on your previous student loan (if you left the country and failed to keep up with your repayments, for example).

Which courses are eligible?

The criteria for which doctoral courses are eligible is pretty straightforward. As long as it meets the below criteria, you're good to go:

  1. It must be a full, standalone doctoral course (not a top-up course)
  2. You must have started your course on or after 1st August 2018
  3. It must last between three and eight academic years
  4. It must be at a UK university (with research degree awarding powers)
  5. It can a full-time or part-time course
  6. It can be a taught or research-based course (or a combination of both)
  7. It can be a distance learning course, as long as you live in the UK while studying
  8. It can also be an integrated Master's degree (However, you won't be able to apply for a separate Postgraduate Master's Loan).

If your course is spread across two universities - for example, through a collaborative research project - and one of these universities is not in the UK, you need to ensure the UK university is the lead institution and that you study there for at least 50% of your course.

If you're an international student not eligible for the Doctoral Loan, check out our guide to scholarships and funding for international students.

How much money can you get?

how much is doctoral loan

You can borrow up to £25,000 for the duration of your entire course.

This is not means-tested in any way, meaning neither your income or your parents' income is taken into consideration. Anyone can apply for the full loan, regardless of income.

Remember that receiving the loan might affect you eligibility for any other state benefits.

How is the loan paid?

One of the best things about the Doctoral Loan is that it's paid directly to you - unlike undergraduate student loans, where the money to cover your tuition fees goes straight to your uni.

This means you can decide how to use it, but it also comes with added responsibility. It needs to cover both your living expenses and course fees, so there's no point in splurging it and being unable to pay your university.

However much you apply for will be divided equally across each year of your course. So for instance, if you apply for the full £25,000, you would receive £6,250 each year on a four-year course.

You won't receive each instalment in a lump sum though - you'll receive it in three chunks across the year, of 33%, 33% and 34%.

The first instalment won't arrive in your account until after your course start date, once your university confirms you've registered. You'll need to bear this in mind at the start of term, if you need to pay rent and a housing deposit, for example.

How do you repay the Doctoral Loan?

how much could you be owed in student loan refund

Repaying the Doctoral Loan works in essentially the same way as the Postgraduate Master's loan. The main points to remember are:

  1. You'll only start paying back when you're earning over £21,000 a year (If you're not on a yearly salary, that is over £1,750 a month or £404 a week)
  2. Payments won't kick in until the April after you graduate or the April four years after your course starts (even if your course lasts longer)
  3. You'll only repay 6% of what you earn over the £21,000 threshold 
  4. Your loan will start accumulating interest from the moment you receive your first instalment
  5. Interest is worked out at RPI + 3% - which means the interest is currently 6.3%. This is updated every September.

What happens if you already have a student loan?

You can still apply for a Postgraduate Doctoral Loan, even if you're still paying back your undergraduate student loan and/or your Postgraduate Master's loan.

However, it can make working out how much you'll pay back each month quite tricky.

Your undergraduate student loan is treated as a completely separate loan with different repayment conditions - you pay back 9% of anything you earn over £25,725.

Your Postgraduate Master's Loan is merged with your Postgraduate Doctoral Loan, meaning you'll make a combined repayment of 6% for both.

The table below shows monthly repayments for your undergraduate student loan and postgraduate student loan (Master's and Doctoral combined) depending on your yearly salary.

Yearly salaryUndergraduate Loan RepaymentPostgraduate MA/Doctoral Loan RepaymentTotal monthly repayment

Should you borrow the maximum amount?

will you repay your student loan

You can borrow up to £25,000 for the duration of your doctoral course - but if you don't think you'll need that much, is it worth taking it all anyway?

Student loans offer you a much better deal than typical commercial loans. Although interest rates are quite high, you only pay back when you're able to and the monthly repayments are manageable (as they only increase as your salary increases).

Therefore, if you want to use the money for something else (to buy a car for instance), it might technically be more cost effective to fund it this way, as opposed to taking a normal bank loan.

Don't forget that the loan will be wiped after 30 years as well. If for whatever reason you strongly believe you'll never pay off the full amount before it's written off, then this is technically free money and you should make the most of it.

However, the government maintain the right to change your student loan repayment terms (including things like interest rates, and when the debt is written off) so be aware that you could be stung if the terms change in the future.

How to apply for the Postgraduate Doctoral loan

You can apply online with Student Finance England or Student Finance Wales, where you can also download forms if you wish to apply by post instead.

Unlike undergraduate student finance, you only need to apply once. You don't need to reapply every year, as you'll automatically receive the next instalment in your account when it's due.

When should you apply?

Deadlines for the Doctoral Loan are pretty different from what you might remember from your undergraduate degree.

The deadline for applying is nine months after the first day of the last academic year of your course. So if your course started on the 1st September 2018 and lasts three years, the deadline would be 1st June 2021.

Alternatively, you could look into applying for a scholarship or bursary - this is free money that you won't have to pay back!

Have you applied for the Postgraduate Doctoral Loan? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!


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