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Advice for self-funding postgraduate study

If you have explored the primary avenues for postgraduate funding – university scholarships and bursaries, research council funding, and so on – and drawn a blank, then it is easy to think that that is the end of the matter, that there is simply no funding available.

However, this is not always the case. There are various organisations that may be able to help you, even if these aren’t immediately recognizable as ‘funding-providers’. You can summarise the types of organisation as:

  • Charities/Charitable Bodies
  • Large Private Sector Enterprises
  • Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs)
  • Employers (your own)

Most of these organisations will not automatically designate funding for postgraduate projects or advertise them clearly as ‘opportunities to apply for’. The onus is on you as a prospective postgraduate to approach these organisations to enquire about possible financial support.

It must be said from the outset that these organisations are unlikely to offer to pay for your postgraduate study in full. This is every student’s dream scenario, but is regrettably quite rare outside of the opportunities offered by or through Higher Education Institutions.

However, many students have been successful in securing small amounts of funding from one or more organisations. £200 here, £500 there - it all adds up if you’re prepared to go out and find it. But this does involve some hard work.


You will need to identify the kind of charity that is most likely to be able to help you. There are two approaches to this:

  • Charities whose work is related to the subject of your study or research.
  • Charities whose focus is directly related to your personal circumstances. These may be circumstances related to issues as diverse as: health, disability, the armed forces, ethnicity, sporting excellence, the commonwealth, caring/carers, country of origin, learning difficulties.

Once you have identified your charity/charities, then you must contact them. Telephone them, e-mail them and write to them illustrating why your study, research or personal circumstances are deserving of their support. You will inevitably amass a handsome collection of polite rejection letters, but it is well worth persevering for that one reply that says ‘ok, tell me more’.

Large Private Sector Enterprises

These can be characterised as large, national or international companies typically employing well over 250 people and with a turn over usually in excess of £50m. These companies trade in a vast array of differing products or services, but they all have a common requirement: knowledge and expertise. If you can successfully argue that your study/research will result in extended knowledge or expertise in an area that is key to their growth, development or infrastructure, they may be willing to invest in you.


Companies in this category can range from the ‘one-person outfit’ to those employing up to 250 people, with smaller turnovers – often much smaller – than large enterprises. However, much like the approach to larger enterprises, it is still up to you to prove how your work might positively affect their business. It is worth remembering that SMEs will often have a regional focus, and so even if your study/research has potentially wide-ranging implications, consider how it might be applied on a local or regional scale.

With regard to both SMEs and larger enterprises, ensure that you contact them enthusiastically and professionally to explain:

  • who you are;
  • the focus of your study/research;
  • how you might help them;
  • how they might help you.

Funding aside, you may just find that you make a key contact in the industry – highly valuable when you are subsequently looking for employment.

Employers (your own)

If you are currently in employment, you may have identified a postgraduate course that will enhance your ability to do your job. In some cases, where the course can be considered as training, or as Continued Professional Development (CPD), your employer may agree to pay a proportion of your tuition fee.

Finally, Consider Part-time Study

You may think that combining part-time study with paid employment is not the best way to achieve, for example, your Masters degree. However, aside from the fact that this may be the only financially viable route available to you, there are definite net gains to be made by studying part-time: in short, you get, in a very real sense, more time to study, read, think and develop your ideas over two years than you do over one.