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Student Finance

PhD loans for doctoral students 2020

The government has recently introduced Student Loans for doctoral degrees to help you get a PhD without breaking the bank – but how do they work and how much can you get?

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Pursuing a doctoral degree but unsure what to expect from Student Finance? You've come to the right place.

The 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 info in this guide is for the Postgraduate Doctoral Loan only. We've also got guides on loans for master's degrees for English students, Northern Irish students, Scottish students and Welsh students.

Student Loans for postgraduate doctoral degrees

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Although it's often referred to as the PhD loan, PhDs are just one type of doctoral degree eligible for the Doctoral Loan.

Here are some common postgraduate doctoral degrees that qualify for the Doctoral Loan:

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

Students typically study a doctoral degree after first completing an undergraduate degree and then a postgraduate master's degree. The courses usually involve a student carrying out some independent research in a specific field of interest and producing a thesis.

Don't forget to look into applying for a scholarship or bursary – this is free money that you won't have to pay back.

Who is eligible for the Doctoral Loan?

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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, to normally live in England or Wales (meaning 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. However, 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 are lots of T&Cs, so let's break this down a bit more...

Reasons you might be ineligible for the Doctoral 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 (e.g. studentships, stipends, scholarships), a social work bursary or NHS bursary (simply being eligible for an NHS bursary makes you ineligible for the Doctoral Loan, even if you're not receiving it).
  2. You're already receiving Student Finance payments for another course you're studying.
  3. You've received the Postgraduate Doctoral Loan before (excluding students who left their course due to illness, bereavement or other personal reasons).
  4. You already have a doctoral degree or equivalent (or a higher qualification).
  5. You're getting a doctorate by publication.
  6. 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).

Eligible courses for the Doctoral Loan

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Here are the criteria for postgraduate courses that are eligible for the Doctoral Loan:

  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 (a master's and PhD combined). 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 with a Doctoral Loan?

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You can borrow up to £25,700 for the duration of your entire course if it started on or after 1st August 2019. For courses that started before that, you can get £25,000.

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

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

Doing a PhD is probably your last chance to make the most of student discounts – including discounted newspaper subscriptions.

How is the Doctoral Loan paid?

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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, of course, means you'll have added things to consider in your monthly budget.

The Doctoral Loan 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 tuition.

However much you apply for will be divided equally across each year of your course. So, for instance, if you apply for the full £25,700, you would receive £6,425 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 uni has confirmed that 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.

Looking to save money on food during your postgrad course? Take a look at our guide to meal planning.

How do you repay the Doctoral Loan?

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Repaying the Student Loan for your PhD works in essentially the same way as the Postgraduate Master's Loan.

These are the key main points to remember about repaying the Doctoral Loan:

  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's 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 5.6%. This is updated every September using the RPI figure from March of the same year.

What happens if you already have a Student Loan?

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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 £26,575.

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 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 of doctoral loan?

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You can borrow up to £25,700 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 out a standard 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 maintains the right to change your Student Loan repayment terms (including things like interest rates and when the debt is written off), so please note that you could be stung if the terms change in the future.

How to apply for the Doctoral Loan

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You can apply for the Doctoral Loan online via 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.

Doctoral Student Loan deadline

Deadlines for these loans are pretty different from what you might remember from your undergraduate degree.

The deadline for applying for the Doctoral Loan is nine months after the first day of the last academic year of your course.

The first day of the academic year depends on when your course starts. Use the table below to figure out the first day of your academic year:

Course start dateOfficial first day of academic year
1st August – 31st December1st September
1st January – 31st March1st January
1st April – 30th June1st April
1st July – 31st July1st July

So, if your course starts on 1st September 2020 and lasts three years, the deadline would be 1st June 2023.

Did you know all this software is completely free for students? Time to get your laptop in shape before the course begins...


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