I once wanted to do a PhD in the UK, but found out that the opportunities were limited for those coming from outside Europe (I did my PhD in Norway instead). I think it is still the case today. I am wondering why this is so.


Additional thought: I am wondering, for instance, if the vacancy were open to anyone in the world, would it not increase the chance of getting the best applicants? Also, what differences are there in the UK system compared to other countries (e.g. Norway) which open their PhD vacancies to anyone?

  • 2
    From investment point of view, I believe the institutions would love to develop new workforce for their regions in order to increase their competitiveness. In addition, most of these funds could be coming from tax and donation from the locals; hence it makes sense to let local citizens have priority. However, depending on where you're from, there could be some special scholarships, try probe for more information from the registrars. Feb 2, 2014 at 22:21
  • @Penguin_Knight, would you mind posting your comment as an answer, please?
    – adipro
    Feb 4, 2014 at 10:02
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    The real question is “why is it open to non-UK EU citizen” and the answer to that is that it would be difficult to ban them as well.
    – Relaxed
    Feb 4, 2014 at 10:07

2 Answers 2


Most PhD funding in the UK comes from Government run research councils, for instance the ESRC, who allocate funds to groups of Universities known as Doctoral Training Centres. Given the restricted level of funding available applications are only open to students who are citizens of an EU member state. Funding may also be available directly from individual University departments but this is so limited in availability that they tend to prefer their own graduates or current students. In either case a requirement for funding is to have a Master's level degree from a recognised University, which is often interpreted as being a UK institution. Basically it's a very small pot of money that's available so applications have to be restricted.

To answer your edit: to get research funding in the UK (certainly for Psychology, and I assume for other subjects as well) you must demonstrate that your research falls into the national research plan. In other words, the UK government is only interested in certain areas of research which will be of long term benefit to the UK economy. While I accept that opening up funding to everyone irrespective of nationality would attract the best of the best, from the Government's point of view there would seem to be little point to spend money helping non-nationals get PhDs if, ultimately, the knowledge and skill sets which they have paid for are then lost from the country due to people returning home once the degree has been completed.

  • I think the number of non-nationals who choose (if they can choose) to return to their home countries are fewer than those who choose to stay or move to other countries, simply because of the better quality of life compared to their home countries. Likewise, it is not necessary for nationals to stay, unless they are obliged to do so. Many, I believe, move to other countries, and it is often encouraged for academics to do so.
    – adipro
    Feb 6, 2014 at 21:26

Just to complement rachaelbe's comprehensive answer, the issue for the UK research councils is not so much the nationality of the applicant, but whether the applicant fulfils the residency requirement.

In the case of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), and the other research councils are likely to have similar rules, in order to receive both payment of fees and a stipend, everybody needs to: 1) have settled status in the UK, meaning that there are no restrictions on how long they can stay, 2) have been been 'ordinarily resident' in the UK for three years prior to the start of the studentship grant, and 3) have not been residing in the UK wholly or mainly for the purpose of full-time education. This last is waived in the case of UK and EU nationals. Interestingly therefore, being a British citizen is not enough to qualify; British citizens must be ordinarily resident in the UK. For the ESRC, where there are shortages of suitable students (in advanced quantitative methods and economics), these rules have been relaxed in certain doctoral training centres. The full rules are available.

I guess the reason for the residency rules is that the government wishes to fund students who already have a strong connection to the UK, i.e. those who are likely to want to remain in the UK after completion of their PhD studies.... I absolutely would agree that if the vacancies were available to everyone in the world, the quality of applicants would be higher. In advanced quantitative methods, it is difficult to find students who satisfy the residency criteria who would be suitable for the PhD programme and fully funded posts often end up being re-advertized.

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