You'll need to be simply the best

The competition is fierce when the grant-awarding councils decide who'll get Masters degree funding
Click to follow
The Independent Online

If you're looking for funding for a Masters degree, get ready for an uphill struggle, especially in the arts. At the moment, there are six grant-awarding research councils and one research board that offer funding in arts, sciences and social sciences. These are the most important sources of funding for postgraduate students in the UK - and the competition is fierce.

If you're looking for funding for a Masters degree, get ready for an uphill struggle, especially in the arts. At the moment, there are six grant-awarding research councils and one research board that offer funding in arts, sciences and social sciences. These are the most important sources of funding for postgraduate students in the UK - and the competition is fierce.

Funding is available for both research and taught Masters. A research Masters, as it sounds, focuses on research, with little or no coursework. It normally takes two years to complete and ends with an oral defence of a 40,000-word paper.

A taught Masters is broken into modules and units, with students attending seminars and lectures and undergoing continuous assessment and exams. Taught Masters degrees usually last one year and end with a 10,000- to 20,000-word dissertation, or in some cases with a practical project.

To get funding for either type of Masters, you'll need a minimum of a 2.2 undergraduate degree, and your chances are best in science and engineering subjects. The research council award quotas normally go to the university department, which then nominates students, so you don't apply to the research council directly.

The most common awards include advanced course studentships and research Masters training awards. Both are usually of one-year duration. They may cover tuition fees and a stipend, and help towards the cost of travel, fieldwork and academic materials.

The only organisation offering funding for the arts is the Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB), whose subjects range from archaeology to religious studies. Its awards cover tuition fees of £3,010 a year; a figure set by the Department for Education and Skills, and the same across all research councils. The maintenance grant for its new Research Preparation Master's Scheme is £8,100 a year; and for the new Professional Preparation Master's Scheme, it is £6,000. Masters students studying in London receive a further £2,000 a year, and there is additional support for students with disabilities and for single parents.

Last year, only around a quarter of the 2,092 AHRB applicants were successful. English and history are particularly popular subject areas, with the success rate as low as 19 per cent in modern history last year. The success rate was highest in cultural studies, with about half applicants receiving awards.

PR officer Kathryn Willey explains that the external panellists who assess applications for AHRB funding look for "the highest quality students, who demonstrate in their application forms the best evidence of potential to succeed at postgraduate level". They also take into account comments from referees, and from the departments in which the applicants will be studying, looking for evidence that it is the most suitable institution for that student.

Around half of applicants for Masters funding have a first-class undergraduate degree, or a strong second class and a lot of professional experience, so competition is extremely tough.

Things are a little easier when it comes to the sciences. The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) provides £200m of postgraduate funding a year in subjects ranging from agri-food to veterinary research. BBSRC studentships are allocated to university departments, which propose research student projects that are "both manageable and aim to provide important new research, as well as providing a good all-round training environment," explains Matt Goode, a spokesman.

This year, 114 MSc and MRes studentships are available, including 19 at Manchester University and 10 each at Birmingham and York universities. The BBSRC recommends that students get to know the research going on in their department, or look for a department advertising research student opportunities in the areas in which they are interested.

Then there's the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, which covers computer science and maths, the Natural Environment Research Council and the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council. Last year, the Economic and Social Research Council, which covers social sciences and education, offered research studentships to 36 per cent of its applicants. But the only Masters courses it funds are MSc studentships in health economics at the University of York. The Medical Research Council offers the highest stipends, giving £12,500 a year in London. It spends £1.3m a year funding Masters students, but in real terms this means just 83 people.

Comments