Some professors I emailed enquiring about a PhD (in CS/statistics) showed interest in my research idea and qualifications etc., but said they may not have the funding to take on a graduate student next year.

While my preference is of course for a funded PhD, I'm willing to take out a loan to self-fund if I don't get funding (either via the supervisor or research council funding).

So I have a few related questions:

  • When applying for a PhD, should I apply for funding, or will this hurt my chances of admission? (i.e. if I apply for funding but don't get it, will I be offered a self-funded position or be rejected entirely?)
  • Is it hard to get a loan for a PhD in the UK (for international students)? I would assume that student loans are fairly secure, but I've almost never seen student loans discussed in reference to self-funding e.g. here on stack exchange.
  • When would be the right time to start looking for student loans? I.e. how quickly can a student loan be secured, and when will I need to show proof of funding to the university?
  • 1
    You may not be eligible for a government loan as an international student, the requirements are available here gov.uk/doctoral-loan/eligibility I'd strongly recommend reading through the whole thing though. After fees, there may not be that much to live on. There may be private sector loans for this sort of thing, but I doubt the terms would be attractive (it would at least be a substantial risk). Aug 2, 2021 at 12:41
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    I don't recommend self funded doctoral study unless you are independently wealthy. But a grant or loan in your own country (not UK) might be possible for some. It is probably better that you keep looking for a properly funded position, actually.
    – Buffy
    Aug 2, 2021 at 12:44
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    Sorry, but my intention in the above comment was to see if you can get funding from your own country for UK study - or, foreign study in general. It was not to suggest restricting you to universities in your own country. Some countries are happy to do this (or were, in any case).
    – Buffy
    Aug 3, 2021 at 15:08

1 Answer 1


First of all, I and many others in the field would caution against doing a loan-funded PhD in Computer Science. On the one hand, there is enough funding around (in general, not necessarily for any particular combination of student background/target university/preferred topic) that a promising candidate should have decent chances of getting some, on the other hand, paying for a PhD definitely isn't a good financial investment. If we consider paying for a PhD instead as luxury expenditure, financing it with a loan becomes questionable.

Details of how the application process will differ between universities. At mine, you either apply for a particular funding opportunity (and get either funding+admission or neither), or you apply directly for admission (and are responsible for your own funding). You could apply for multiple things with us in parallel, and this wouldnt count against you. Other universities (eg Cambridge) include some funding applications as part of overall admission, and you can get admission without funding from that process.

As pointed out by Dikran Marsupial, the rules for government-backed student loans are found here: https://gov.uk/doctoral-loan/eligibility As a non-resident, you are probably not eligible. For private loans, you might ask on https://money.stackexchange.com/, but I would guess that your chances with UK lenders are bad (if you just leave the country after getting your PhD, they'll struggle making you pay).

  • "there is enough funding around that a promising candidate should have decent chances of getting some" from my limited experience, it is very hard for non UK/EU (pre-brexit) students to get a funded PhD position in the UK.
    – Andrea
    Aug 2, 2021 at 13:23
  • @Andrea That's covered by the remark in the parenthesis. "A UK university" is a significant restriction on what target universities one is considering.
    – Arno
    Aug 2, 2021 at 13:53
  • I understand that the remark could also cover the specific instance. But if the question is "I'm an international student in the UK, how do I fund my PhD?", I don't think that answering "You don't need to self fund if you're good enough" is correct nor helpful, if that doesn't apply to OP's case.
    – Andrea
    Aug 2, 2021 at 14:07

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