# PhD funding for non-EU students at Cambridge

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janehou
I heard that it is hard for non-EU students to apply for PhD fundings so self-funding is needed. Does anyone know how hard is it to get full funding for a non-EU student?

Gold Member
As far as I know, at most european universities the professor has an idea, submits a proposal, and when it gets awarded, the university hires a phd researcher. The status of a phd researcher in a number of european countries is that of a salaried employee, often still with student benefits.
funded projects at cambridge can be found here:

Sometimes there are 'calls for proposals' where an MSc student can write a proposal to get funding for a phd project. Usually you write this together with your phd advisor, who is usually at the moment of writing your MSc advisor. Self-funding is rare, usually this is reserved for experienced professionals that basically can write a thesis about their day-to-day work. In your situation (assuming you are not at Cambridge or the UK at this moment) your best bet is to focus on existing funded projects.

I hope somebody from Cambridge/UK can finetune this answer for the UK situation.

astrotemp
I'm currently doing a funded PhD at Cambridge (Gates).

The unfortunate reality is that it's incredibly difficult to get funding. There are 3 broad streams:

1. Internal Cambridge funding from departments and colleges
2. Funding from Research Councils (often UK/EU restricted)
3. External scholarships awarded by third party groups

(1) is very scarce and very unlikely because there are so few you're eligible for -- many are only open to students studying a particular subject or from a particular country. Most college scholarships require you to list the corresponding college as your first choice, but obviously you can only list one college as your first choice, so that's the majority of 30 other colleges' worth of funds that you're ineligible for. And if you don't get accepted to your first choice and are pooled elsewhere: congrats, you're ineligible for the majority of funding across 31 colleges.

(2) you're largely not eligible for (e.g. STFC) and you won't be applying to the corresponding projects.

(3) are either very hard to find, as in the case of scholarships awarded by your home country as these are not included anywhere in the Cambridge funding search tool, or they're well-known and highly competitive (a la Gates)

The statistics Cambridge releases on funding can be misleading because they only give the funding sources for students who attend, and most people who don't get close to full funding can't attend. Someone ran the numbers unofficially a few weeks back (not here) and estimated that only the top 10% of PhD offer holders got funding, which is the top 2-3% of all applicants. So even once you have an offer and the university/department/PI is excited to have you, there's a 90% chance you won't get funding. Getting the offer is the easy part.

janehou
janehou
I'm currently doing a funded PhD at Cambridge (Gates).

The unfortunate reality is that it's incredibly difficult to get funding. There are 3 broad streams:

1. Internal Cambridge funding from departments and colleges
2. Funding from Research Councils (often UK/EU restricted)
3. External scholarships awarded by third party groups

(1) is very scarce and very unlikely because there are so few you're eligible for -- many are only open to students studying a particular subject or from a particular country. Most college scholarships require you to list the corresponding college as your first choice, but obviously you can only list one college as your first choice, so that's the majority of 30 other colleges' worth of funds that you're ineligible for. And if you don't get accepted to your first choice and are pooled elsewhere: congrats, you're ineligible for the majority of funding across 31 colleges.

(2) you're largely not eligible for (e.g. STFC) and you won't be applying to the corresponding projects.

(3) are either very hard to find, as in the case of scholarships awarded by your home country as these are not included anywhere in the Cambridge funding search tool, or they're well-known and highly competitive (a la Gates)

The statistics Cambridge releases on funding can be misleading because they only give the funding sources for students who attend, and most people who don't get close to full funding can't attend. Someone ran the numbers unofficially a few weeks back (not here) and estimated that only the top 10% of PhD offer holders got funding, which is the top 2-3% of all applicants. So even once you have an offer and the university/department/PI is excited to have you, there's a 90% chance you won't get funding. Getting the offer is the easy part.
Thank you! But would it be easier to get PhD funding if I first obrain BA and Masters degree at Cambridge?

astrotemp
No, it's still not likely. You still won't be eligible for the UK/EU funding as study doesn't count towards the residency requirements. You won't be any more competitive for college funds or for external scholarships either. The people who decide the majority of funding (the Trust), don't have any contact with students and can't tell anyone apart. The departments rank their candidates and then the Trust re-ranks them according to academic ability only, i.e. grades. Not even publications, just grades. Where you did your bachelors and masters is utterly irrelevant.

janehou
Homework Helper
2022 Award
I am of the personal opinion that it is a mistake to attend undergraduate and graduate school in the same place. For one thing it necessarily limits the number of people you get to know! Also new places bring different outlooks both scientific and otherwise.
I believe graduate money is easier to obtain in the states, and most particularly for quality minority citizens. So go to Cornell for grad school!

No, it's still not likely. You still won't be eligible for the UK/EU funding as study doesn't count towards the residency requirements. You won't be any more competitive for college funds or for external scholarships either. The people who decide the majority of funding (the Trust), don't have any contact with students and can't tell anyone apart. The departments rank their candidates and then the Trust re-ranks them according to academic ability only, i.e. grades. Not even publications, just grades. Where you did your bachelors and masters is utterly irrelevant.

@astrotemp , given what you stated above, what percentage of current PhD students in, say, physics, at Cambridge are fully funded (i.e. do not pay tuition)? And what percentage of PhD students are non-British or non-EU?

Would you happen to have similar statistics for students at, say, Oxford? Or the other British universities?

member 587159
That information isn't available, although you may be able to request it through an FOI here:

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/body/university_of_cambridge

And there's the overall funding statistics here:

showing ~80% of PhDs had some amount of funding (not likely to be full funding for many), while only ~20% of Masters students received anything.

@astrotemp, In Canadian and American universities, PhD students in STEM fields who are accepted into their programs typically receive full funding (either entirely through the universities, or through some combination of the universities and external funding sources), usually under the condition that students work as teaching assistants (TAs) or (less commonly) research assistants (RAs). So they end up not paying any tuition during the duration of their studies.

You mention that many PhD students at Cambridge are not likely to be fully funded. Are you saying that these students are stuck paying tuition out-of-pocket?

astrotemp
@astrotemp, In Canadian and American universities, PhD students in STEM fields who are accepted into their programs typically receive full funding (either entirely through the universities, or through some combination of the universities and external funding sources), usually under the condition that students work as teaching assistants (TAs) or (less commonly) research assistants (RAs). So they end up not paying any tuition during the duration of their studies.

You mention that many PhD students at Cambridge are not likely to be fully funded. Are you saying that these students are stuck paying tuition out-of-pocket?

No, the majority simply don't attend. Depending on the actual degree, Cambridge usually accepts anywhere from 2x to 5x as many students as they actually expect to have. Funding is not controlled by departments, it's given out by colleges (the residency system; they're legally-separate entities), the Cambridge Trust, separate research councils (much like the NSF GRFP), or by independent third parties like Gates for Cambridge or Rhodes for Oxford. Your department can nominate you to the Trust to be considered for funding, but then the Trust does its own assessment of you. Many of the scholarships available are not tied to a field so you're competing against every other person nominated from every other department, hence the numbers can vary a bit. My department historically accepts ~30 and has ~10 start (i.e. get funding), but my cohort is unusually large at 16 because a lot more people got funding from the research councils than previously. If you're a particularly strong applicant and they think you're a shoe-in for funding then your department may underwrite your offer and unofficially promise to find funding no matter what.

And Cambridge doesn't ever require students to teach because it's full-time research, no classes etc, so no TA-ships or similar are available. You have to get permission to do work outside of your PhD. Only RA-ships, and those are the scholarships. It's actually not that difficult to be accepted to Cambridge, the real hurdle is in funding and it's the funding barrier that makes Cambridge more competitive than a lot of US universities.

No, the majority simply don't attend. Depending on the actual degree, Cambridge usually accepts anywhere from 2x to 5x as many students as they actually expect to have. Funding is not controlled by departments, it's given out by colleges (the residency system; they're legally-separate entities), the Cambridge Trust, separate research councils (much like the NSF GRFP), or by independent third parties like Gates for Cambridge or Rhodes for Oxford. Your department can nominate you to the Trust to be considered for funding, but then the Trust does its own assessment of you. Many of the scholarships available are not tied to a field so you're competing against every other person nominated from every other department, hence the numbers can vary a bit. My department historically accepts ~30 and has ~10 start (i.e. get funding), but my cohort is unusually large at 16 because a lot more people got funding from the research councils than previously. If you're a particularly strong applicant and they think you're a shoe-in for funding then your department may underwrite your offer and unofficially promise to find funding no matter what.

And Cambridge doesn't ever require students to teach because it's full-time research, no classes etc, so no TA-ships or similar are available. You have to get permission to do work outside of your PhD. Only RA-ships, and those are the scholarships. It's actually not that difficult to be accepted to Cambridge, the real hurdle is in funding and it's the funding barrier that makes Cambridge more competitive than a lot of US universities.

I find that a very curious system, since in American and Canadian universities, students are simply not accepted into PhD programs without full funding being guaranteed. So there is no situation (like you mentioned for Cambridge) where students can be accepted first but only a select number will have funding.

So it is theoretically possible in Canada and the US for a department to admit no PhD students for a given year if the funding situation will not allow it (I don't recall this ever happening, however).

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astrotemp
I find that a very curious system, since in American and Canadian universities, students are simply not accepted into PhD programs without full funding being guaranteed. So there is no situation (like you mentioned for Cambridge) where students can be accepted first but only a select number will have funding.

So it theoretically possible in Canada and the US for a department to admit no PhD students for a given year if the funding situation will not allow it (I don't recall this ever happening, however).

It's just like if Americans were only funded by the NSF GRFP: loads of people apply but the final decision isn't in the hands of the department, it's a separate group making that decision, they only fund a small number, and that funding isn't always equal across fields.

Cambridge accepts everyone it would be happy to have so that if they find funding or are happy to pay it themselves, they can come.

Gold Member
I find that a very curious system, since in American and Canadian universities, students are simply not accepted into PhD programs without full funding being guaranteed. So there is no situation (like you mentioned for Cambridge) where students can be accepted first but only a select number will have funding.

So it theoretically possible in Canada and the US for a department to admit no PhD students for a given year if the funding situation will not allow it (I don't recall this ever happening, however).

The situation is quite complicated in the UK since there are essentially several co-existing systems and the details very much depend on the funding agency. This is true for all universities, as far as I am aware there is nothing unusual about the systems in Cambridge or Oxford, they are funded in exactly the same way at other universities. The only difference is that there are multiple colleges (most other universities only have one college) which I guess -in theory- could mean more opportunities but in reality the total amount of funding is probably roughly the same as for the other Russell group universities (UCL, Imperial etc).

Also, the proportion students that are directly funded by the colleges is small compared to the ones funded by other mechanisms. Typically the money comes from research grants awarded to individual researchers who then can use some of that money to hire students. In the past few years there his been a shift towards so-called centres for doctoral training (CDTs) which a more like the US grad-school system and you spend the 1st year (out of 4) doing coursework and projects (leading to an MRes degree).

I've co-supervised students using all of the mechanisms above; from the students point of view it doesn't make much difference unless of course you are part of a CDT which is a bit more cohesive.

However, most of these funding mechanisms are -by design- only open to UK/EU residents. Students from other countries need to find other funding which -as was mentioned above- is very, very hard if the student has to apply themselves. .
Most(?) non-EU students are funded within the framework of some sort of collaboration agreement or exchange programs. There are e.g. many PhD students from China in the UK and in the cases I am familiar with (we have quite a few where I work) their funding comes from a Chinese funding agency (within the framework of larger scientific collaborations). Some other countries (e.g. Saudi Arabia) have scholarship programs.

I've personally never come across a PhD student in the UK that who was completely self-funded. I am not even sure that would be allowed (typically you need to have guaranteed funding in place before a student can start).

sunrah
I heard that it is hard for non-EU students to apply for PhD fundings so self-funding is needed. Does anyone know how hard is it to get full funding for a non-EU student?

It's usually very difficult, but not impossible. You need to check who is funding the particular projects you're interested in. The different funding sources have different eligibility requirements. STFC which is one of the major STEM funders explicitly states that non-EU nationals are not eligible for https://stfc.ukri.org/stfc/cache/file/F034A40A-0B6B-430C-A7C301B20B4AC681.pdf (Section 28). My guess is most internationals on funded PhD's have some kind of scholarship either from their home countries or from the university they are applying to.

Self-funded PhDs are of course open to all applicants, and despite what others have said are not so uncommon. Many universities interview self-funded applicants. Even UK nationals have eligibility problems when it comes to funding as it is not based on nationality but residency status. For example, I am British but am not eligible for funding because I haven't lived in the UK for the past 3 years so am therefore disqualified.

astrotemp
It's usually very difficult, but not impossible. You need to check who is funding the particular projects you're interested in. The different funding sources have different eligibility requirements. STFC which is one of the major STEM funders explicitly states that non-EU nationals are not eligible for https://stfc.ukri.org/stfc/cache/file/F034A40A-0B6B-430C-A7C301B20B4AC681.pdf (Section 28). My guess is most internationals on funded PhD's have some kind of scholarship either from their home countries or from the university they are applying to.

Self-funded PhDs are of course open to all applicants, and despite what others have said are not so uncommon. Many universities interview self-funded applicants. Even UK nationals have eligibility problems when it comes to funding as it is not based on nationality but residency status. For example, I am British but am not eligible for funding because I haven't lived in the UK for the past 3 years so am therefore disqualified.

I think an important distinction here is between UK/EU self-funded and international self-funded though. My fees as an international, plus the expected living expenses, would have added up to $300,000 for a 3-year degree. You're not allowed to work in any significant capacity while a student, so you need to prove that you have that much money upfront. I certainly don't have$300,000, and neither do most international applicants. The cost is significantly lower for UK/EU nationals.

I think an important distinction here is between UK/EU self-funded and international self-funded though. My fees as an international, plus the expected living expenses, would have added up to $300,000 for a 3-year degree. You're not allowed to work in any significant capacity while a student, so you need to prove that you have that much money upfront. I certainly don't have$300,000, and neither do most international applicants. The cost is significantly lower for UK/EU nationals.

@astrotemp , when you say that you're not allowed to work in any significant capacity while a student, do you mean work outside your chosen research field? Because I could imagine that it would be beneficial for, say, a PhD student specializing in experimental high-energy physics to work at a national laboratory specializing in such areas, either within the UK or in, say, CERN.

Are you saying that even that kind of work (related to one's research) is not allowed at Cambridge?

astrotemp
@astrotemp , when you say that you're not allowed to work in any significant capacity while a student, do you mean work outside your chosen research field? Because I could imagine that it would be beneficial for, say, a PhD student specializing in experimental high-energy physics to work at a national laboratory specializing in such areas, either within the UK or in, say, CERN.

Are you saying that even that kind of work (related to one's research) is not allowed at Cambridge?

If your project is with CERN and you need to travel there for a short time to collect data then that's considered to be part of your degree, and you're given permission to travel outside of Cambridge for those dates. Other than that kind of fieldwork or data collection work, you're allowed to work for the university as a supervisor (tutor+marker), but only with your PI's permission. You are not allowed to go and casually work at CERN simply because your field is high-energy physics and you think it'd be cool, it has to be a requirement of your specific project. So only some high-energy physics people will go - those working on CERN data. You're not allowed to work unrelated jobs like a cashier or waiter either. And in the case of supervising, the payment is made at the end of the term and isn't very much (maybe £100 per course).

So basically, you can't earn money while in Cambridge studying. You can't work and put yourself through your degree that way. Whatever the degree and living expenses cost, you need that money upfront. And even ignoring Cambridge's rules, the visa rules restrict you to no more than 20 hours of paid work a week in any capacity, risking the termination of your visa and deportation if you break that rule.

If your project is with CERN and you need to travel there for a short time to collect data then that's considered to be part of your degree, and you're given permission to travel outside of Cambridge for those dates. Other than that kind of fieldwork or data collection work, you're allowed to work for the university as a supervisor (tutor+marker), but only with your PI's permission. You are not allowed to go and casually work at CERN simply because your field is high-energy physics and you think it'd be cool, it has to be a requirement of your specific project. So only some high-energy physics people will go - those working on CERN data. You're not allowed to work unrelated jobs like a cashier or waiter either. And in the case of supervising, the payment is made at the end of the term and isn't very much (maybe £100 per course).

So basically, you can't earn money while in Cambridge studying. You can't work and put yourself through your degree that way. Whatever the degree and living expenses cost, you need that money upfront. And even ignoring Cambridge's rules, the visa rules restrict you to no more than 20 hours of paid work a week in any capacity, risking the termination of your visa and deportation if you break that rule.

I see. In that respect, Cambridge (or other UK universities) is pretty much the same as Canadian or American universities with respect to graduate studies in physics. However, in Canada and the US, graduate students who work as TAs are paid like any regular employees employed at the university (if I recall correctly, I was paid twice a month during the duration I worked as a TA), although that may perhaps vary by institution. So in this respect, Cambridge seems awfully stingy with their students.

My understanding is that physics PhD students in the US are also typically not allowed to work outside of their chosen field while pursuing their studies, and student visa rules are similar to UK visa rules as well. There might be some flexibility in pursuing internship or work experiences outside of academia for those pursuing graduate studies in, say, engineering, economics, or statistics -- my own chosen field -- so long as the work is related to one's research.

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