Self-funding a PhD in the UK

If you have the passion to conduct independent research to contribute to the advancement of your dream field then a PhD will most likely be crossing your mind. However, the reality of studying for a PhD is that it can be pretty expensive alongside the competitive nature of securing fully funded projects. Therefore, I am here to share with you all the truths about self-funding a PhD in the UK based on my experience as a home/UK student. It is important to consider some of the costs associated with PhDs to help with your forward financial planning which I have highlighted in this post. 

Tuition Fees

Student Finance England have introduced the Doctoral Loan which allows you to borrow ~£25,000 for the duration of your PhD (the current figure for those commencing their PhD in 2021 is £27,265. This amount will be more than enough to solely cover your tuition fees over the course of your degree as a Home/UK student due to the overall lower cost of tuition fees. What I will add is that the cost of your tuition fees will vary depending on the university so research this beforehand. Additionally, something else to keep in mind that may or may not apply to you is the ever slight increase to your tuition fees year by year. For example, I paid £4,327 in my first year and £4,407 in my second year so keep an eye out for that year by year.

Bench Fees

Bench Fees are essentially the fees you pay to cover the cost of consumables and research expenses throughout the course of your degree (this will not apply to all PhDs!). These fees are reserved in a personal account for you that will be utilised anytime to place an order for anything that you need. Similar to the tuition fees, this varies depending on the university and also the requirements of your project. I paid £8,000 in my first year so I took out another loan from another funding body Future Finance to solely help with the bench fee cost (which I regret). Unfortunately, I was unable to borrow from Future Finance during my 2nd year therefore I needed my bench fees lowered in order for the Doctoral Loan to comfortably cover both my tuition and bench fees. This hasn’t been too much of a hindrance but what I will say is that the more bench fees you pay, the more funds you have available for resources you need for your project. Also, sometimes your supervisor may secure grants which can then be used to foot the costs of your consumables instead of using your bench fees fund. 


If you have moved out from home or moved to another city, then the cost of accommodation is something to consider. I applied for a role as a Hall Mentor prior to me starting my PhD as commuting was simply not feasible for me. I will say that the role is very rewarding as you get to help other students settle into halls and be a form of welfare support during their time at university. This role essentially means that my accommodation is 100% covered for the duration of my degree which takes away the stress of having to pay rent whilst I get to live on campus.  


You will need money for your necessities such as rent, bills and personal monthly expenses. This is where maybe a part time job comes in or in some cases Bank of Mum and Dad. Some of my part time jobs include working as a lab demonstrator in my department, hospitality 0 hour contract work when feasible, food delivery driving and working at a retail food stand. Please make sure that you don’t take on too much more than you can handle in terms of working alongside your PhD, your degree is the priority!  Lastly, also look into any student support funds at your university to support your living costs in the case of any unexpected financial difficulties. Universities will have a fund set aside for students to apply for depending on any individual circumstances. The application forms may be long but it’s definitely worth a try.

Conferences/Society Memberships

This isn't a cost to fret over before starting but it can pop up as conferences can be pretty pricey especially the international ones. It is also highly encouraged for you to present your work at conferences (poster or oral presentation) during your PhD when possible. You can apply for travel grants at your university and also at any societies you may be a part of. I am a member of the Physiological Society and they offer opportunities to apply for travel grants to attend conferences. However there may be certain conditions in place in terms of eligibility so always double check. Additionally, being a member of a relevant society in your field may grant you free or discounted entry to conferences since most societies have student/postgraduate memberships.

I sincerely hope this post helps if you are in the position of having to self-fund. Another tip I will suggest is that if you can save up plenty of money before starting, that can be helpful to cover certain costs. The beauty of PhDs is that there is no rush to start and finish so take your time and do it on your own terms!

Chichi Okagbue

Connect with me @IBeChichi_ (Twitter) 

1 comment

  • Thank Chichi, for your helpful and insightful suggestions, as sadly it is well known that Black British PhD students rarely get fully funded regardless of academic field. Therefore, it is vital we make the necessary provisions so that we can take our time to develop our research and navigate the instructions we will surely face, taking courage from those who went before us.

    Thanking you Chichi Okagbue.


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