According to data from the Student Loans Company, the outstanding Student Loans Debt in the UK has more than doubled between 2011 and 2017 and currently stands at over £100bn. In light of this, Dr Fragkiskos Filippaios – Associate Dean (Graduate Studies) and Reader in International Business at Kent Business School offers his advice on how students can find and apply for PhD funding.
Applying for PhD Funding
Studying towards a PhD is an aspirational goal for a number of students. Working as an academic, publishing papers and disseminating cutting edge research ideas, while transforming students through teaching and engagement is a very rewarding process. For most higher education institutions the entry level qualification for becoming an academic is a PhD. The PhD demonstrates one’s ability to engage in scholarly activities, conduct research and successfully defend ideas.
Yet the process of achieving a PhD is usually a lengthy one, with significant investment required both in time as well as financial resources. It can take three to four years full-time or up to six years part-time. At the same time, students need to fund their studies, through paying tuition fees and covering their living costs. This is an additional expense to an already heavy burden caused by student debt.
According to data from the Student Loans Company, the outstanding Student Loans Debt in the UK has more than doubled between 2011 and 2017 and currently stands at over £100bn. On average, students in England, enter the job market or postgraduate studies with more than £32k in debt. This gloomy picture makes studying towards a PhD a very distant dream for the vast majority of students.
In response to this, and in an attempt to attract talent, most universities have established funding schemes and scholarships that enable high achievers to fund their PhD studies. These schemes are complemented by UK Research Council schemes, such as the one offered by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) through Doctoral Training Partnerships or Centres. Securing a scholarship enables PhD students to focus on core business, which is research and dissemination, and achieve a high level degree without accumulating additional debt. Two main questions emerge in this process: How to find a scholarship and what makes a successful scholarship application?
How to find a scholarship
The usual starting point is the website of the university you wish to apply to. This should follow finding an appropriate supervisor and drafting a PhD research proposal. Most universities have dedicated webpages on postgraduate research funding and these should clearly describe the available opportunities, the requirements and the deadlines. A lot of the time these webpages will also provide useful information and links to external funders that support postgraduate research funding.
The University of Kent is a member of South East Network for Social Sciences (SeNSS). SeNSS is a large consortium of 10 leading universities located in the South East of England (East Anglia, Essex, Reading Surrey, Sussex, Goldsmiths, Royal Holloway, City and Roehampton).
It offers over 50 scholarships on an annual basis through a competitive process. SeNSS scholarships are extremely prestigious awards and have a number of benefits on top of the actual funding. Successful applicants receive funding to cover their tuition fees, a stipend covering living expenses and also a very generous allowance that covers training, overseas fieldwork where appropriate and overseas institutional visits to other higher education institutions.
SeNSS students become part of a wider network that brings together scholars from the ten participating institutions and allows access to resources across the network. This enables them to develop a collegiate network for life and benefit from a cross disciplinary approach to research. It is worth highlighting that SeNSS does not only fund PhD studies. A key aim of the network is to increase the opportunities offered to undergraduate students and therefore it funds, on an annual basis, a substantial number of 1+3 scholarships which cover the tuition fees and a stipend for an additional year towards a postgraduate taught qualification.
At Kent Business School there are two main opportunities for funding. Over the last five years, the University has offered PhD funding through the Vice-Chancellor’s Research Scholarship scheme. On an annual basis there are approximately 100 scholarships awarded by this scheme and the allocation of these takes place through a competitive process managed by Schools. Kent Business School receives a few of them on an annual basis. To demonstrate the School’s commitment towards developing a thriving PhD community and maintaining high standards, Kent Business School also offers a number of PhD scholarships open to international students. These cover, in full, the higher tuition fees as well as a stipend towards living expenses.
The above schemes, either external or internal, are highly competitive and aim to attract high quality students with the potential to excel academically and professionally. This brings us to the second main question: what makes a successful application?
What makes a successful application?
In a previous blog entitled how to apply for a PhD in the UK, a colleague of mine, Dr May Seitanidi very clearly discussed the key ingredients that make a successful research proposal. Having a strong proposal is an instrumental point both for external and internal funding applications. Quality is the key word summarising and encapsulating everything.
What is also important is developing a strong link with the potential supervisors. This can strengthen the application in two ways. First, their input is crucial for the development of the research proposal and making it stand out from the rest of the competition. Second, in the majority of the funding cases the supervisors will have to provide a supporting statement to the application.
This is particularly important for external funding applications where the statement should cover their evaluation of the proposed topic as well as their potential contribution to the future development though their active supervision. Building the strong link with the supervisors, therefore, as early as possible in the application process, allows enough time for the development of the supporting statement.
The importance of references
A related issue to the supervisors’ supporting statement is the selection of referees. Reference letters play an important role in the selection process, especially in cases where research proposals and supporting statements are equally good between applications. Selecting your referees carefully will maximise your chances of success. A good referee should be able to highlight the importance of the topic, discuss your skills and attributes and how these will contribute to the successful completion but also highlight the need for funding and why this particular project and student should receive the funding over other applications. Briefing your referees on your application and allowing them enough time to submit their reference letter is key.
Finally, make sure that you meet the deadline! Most schemes are very competitive and attract a lot of applications. Ensuring that the application is submitted in a timely manner is crucial. Make a note of the different deadlines corresponding to different schemes and actively manage the above aspects, i.e. research proposal, supervisors’ supporting statement and reference letters, to ensure that you meet the deadline.
Applying for funding is a complex and demanding task but can be very rewarding as well. Good luck in your applications for a PhD and PhD funding. If you found this article useful, you may wish to read our article on how to apply for a PhD in the UK.
For further information about our PhD scholarships, please see our funding page or if you are interested in undertaking business and management research at Kent Business School, please find out more about what our PhD programmes have to offer.
Dr Fragkiskos Filippaios
Dr Fragkiskos Filippaios is currently Reader in International Business at Kent Business School, University of Kent.