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Further to the article on "Funding in the Social Sciences" which can be found here thought it would be useful to an article entirely devoted to the hellish idea that is the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and their funding opportunities. This article will not discuss the other ways in which to fund Postgraduate study - that's why the link is there to the Social Sciences as the ideas, principles and opportunities (such as the CDL bank loan) are the same!

This article will outline the new AHRC Block Grant Partnership (BGP) program which has only come into effect in 2009. So many people ask for advice on the forum with regards to how competitive the funding is, or how to get it, or who's got what funding so hopefully this article will answer all these questions and more in one place :)


Brief Intro to the AHRC BGP funding:

The AHRC BGP funding is effectively a very large amount of research funding which is to be spent on new postgraduate students at both MA and Doctoral level for the next 5 years (2009-2014). Once 2014 is reached, the quota will be reassessed and re-distributed. Not every university received BGP funding and when you see the list of who HAS got funding, it's quite depressing. Each university received a quota amount of money from the big AHRC money pot and how much they got given depended on how many or how few students they have had funded through the AHRC in the previous 5 to 8 years. Those unis who had always been successful in having funded students in their department naturally received the most whilst those who failed to have funded students did not receive a penny of the money pot. The BGP funding that each university received usually includes both funding for MA students and Doctoral students. However there are exceptions to the rule and it always worth checking that your prospective postgrad institution received funding money for your subject and the level of your proposed study.

List of Institutions with BGP funding for 2009-2014*:

  • University of Aberdeen
  • Aberystwyth University
  • University of Bath
  • Birkbeck College
  • University of Birmingham
  • University of Bristol
  • University of Cambridge
  • Cardiff University
  • Birmingham City University
  • City University
  • Courtauld Institute of Art
  • University of Durham
  • University of East Anglia
  • University of Edinburgh
  • University of Essex
  • University of Exeter
  • University of Glasgow
  • Goldsmiths
  • University of Kent at Canterbury
  • King’s College London
  • Lancaster University
  • University of Leeds
  • University of Leicester
  • University of Liverpool
  • London School of Economics and Political Science
  • Loughborough University
  • Manchester Metropolitan University
  • University of Manchester
  • University of Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Northumbria University and University of Sunderland
  • University of Nottingham
  • University of Oxford
  • Queen Mary, University of London
  • The Queen’s University of Belfast
  • University of Reading
  • Royal Academy of Music
  • Royal College of Music
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • School of Advanced Study, University of London
  • School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
  • University of Sheffield
  • University of Southampton
  • University of St Andrews
  • University of Sussex
  • University College London
  • University of the Arts London
  • University of Warwick
  • University of York

  • NB: for those institutions not on the list, you may well be able to apply via the Studentship competition which this article will discuss further down.

Subjects eligible for AHRC funding*:

  • Applied Arts and Crafts
  • Archaeology
  • Asian Language and Culture
  • Celtic Studies
  • Classics and Ancient History
  • Communications, Graphics and Photography
  • Conservation
  • Creative Writing
  • Cultural Studies
  • Dance, Drama and Performing Arts
  • Design
  • English Language and Literature
  • European Language and Culture
  • Film Studies and Television Studies
  • Film, Digital & Media Production
  • Fine Art
  • French Language and Culture
  • German Language and Culture
  • History
  • History of Art, Architecture and Design
  • Iberian & Latin American Language and Culture
  • Interpreting and Translation
  • Italian Language and Culture
  • Journalism and Publishing studies
  • Law
  • Librarianship, Archives, Record Management and Information Science
  • Linguistics
  • Middle Eastern and African Language and Culture
  • Museum Studies
  • Music
  • Philosophy
  • Religious Studies
  • Russian, Slavonic and Eastern European Language and Culture
  • NB again: some of these subjects do cross over with the ESRC (social history would be a classic example) so when first looking at funding, it is best to check whether your proposed area of research, especially for doctoral study fits the remit of AHRC funding here. The best way to do this is by using the following PDF: Page 23 is what you need to read


The AHRC has strict rules on who's eligible for funding and who isn't. To be eligible for a full award, you must be a UK national or have been a resident in the country for 3 years or more. EU students can be awarded tuition fee only awards. Advice on eligibility can be found here, page 6 onwards

How to go about applying for BGP Funding:

So you've decided to enter into the world of postgraduate education and you're hoping to be funded. Some top tips for PhD applications:

  • Identify your preferred university and department
  • Check it's on the list of institutions that have funding
  • Visit the relevant department website to check whether they have AHRC for your subject. Most unis will have this published under a section called "funding" or "how to fund your studies"
  • Check that you meet the entry requirements - you should have an MA as it is a MUST to even be considered for AHRC doctoral funding.
  • If the preceeding tips have all had positive outcomes, it is worth (if the university allows) to contact a possible supervisor (for doctoral work) as this person will be the one writing your funding reference. First impressions are always worth remembering.
  • If supervisor likes you and proposed idea of research then you're good to go with applying before the application deadline.

MA applicants:

  • Again identify your preferred university and department
  • Check it's on the list of institutions that have funding
  • Visit the relevant department website to check whether they have AHRC for your subject. Most unis will have this published under a section called "funding" or "how to fund your studies"
    • This is where MA applicants have a slightly different procedure. If your chosen course has funding and again it should be on the university websites, all you need to do is double check the requirements for the course - statement of purprose, rarely would you need a research proposal for a taught course (unless it's a MRes course) and just apply. The tendency is that everyone who applies for that course will tick the box saying "consider me for AHRC funding" or words to that effect.
  • There is usually an application deadline, outside of Oxford and Cambridge it's normally February or March. Oxford is either November or January depending on which gathered field you apply in. Cambridge I believe is always December.

What do to once applied:

  • Try and relax as it can take weeks to get an confirmation for your place, let alone funding!
  • Make sure you check your university email as so much to do with applications is done via email.

Choosing which students to fund:

For MA students: it'll unfortunately come down to how good you look on paper so stellar references, undergraduate marks (this is unfortunately where even your first year DOES count for something), you written work and your statement of purpose. Do not be surprised if even with a first that you do not receive funding. It is stupidly competitive and a certain amount of luck is needed. Few MA courses interview, even in the case of funding which is a bit of a pain but unfortunately that's how it works.

NB: Funding for MA courses is HUGELY competitive and even more so due to the "credit crunch" as more people are staying in education for longer. Whilst each university will have a quota of how many students they can fund, they cannot choose to fund 3 MA students for the value for one of their Doctoral quota places. For a rough idea of figures for 2010/2011 entry, only 320 students across the UK will funded for their MA studies with over 100 of these places going to English and History courses alone. For full figures see (looking at the RPM column tab) Excel document

For PhD students: It again comes down to your references (usually 2, but 3 for Oxford), your transcripts at both UG and MA level, your statement of purpose (if they want one), your research proposal (both for the institution you're applying for and the 600 word statement that the AHRC requires), your academic CV (if one is required), a suitable supervisor in the department. If you're hoping for PhD funding on say Victorian literature but the department doesn't have a 19th cen specialist, you're wasting your time and again some luck. Networking can only be a good thing and unfortunately a lot of academic achievement is not about what you know but who you know. A good reference from a big wig in your field won't do your application any harm at all.

Doctoral funding is again competitive and all the figures for how many students are going to be funded are on the excel spreadsheet under "doctoral".

Once the deadlines have passed, the university department admissions team will sit down and choose the students (those who have been given places) that they want in their department. Gone are the days of your AHRC application being sent off to an individual panel, the universities now have free rein about who they fund and don't fund. How they choose and who sits on the decisions board is anyone's guess and not something I doubt we'll ever know. Which students are picked can also be a bit of a lottery. Do not bank on getting funding if you're an internal student. If you come up again someone with a better academic profile, academic loyalty tends to go out the window unfortunately. IMHO it's a bad system especially if they're not interviewing their short listed candidates. They may end up choosing 8 students who may well be fantastic on paper but unfortunately in person do not fit the department face and don't get on with their supervisors but that's part of life and there's nothing you can do about it.

Usually universities will choose their students so that they fill their quota places plus usually will have a reserve list of say 5 students, in case anyone drops out for whatever reason. NB: you can apply for as many BGP places as you like (if you fancy doing all the paperwork) BUT if you're good enough to get more than one offer, you must choose which institution you want to study at. You cannot have two fingers in the pie as such. Same for MA applications.

If you end up being a lucky "chosen: one:

Congratulations are in order as you've officially be chosen for funding. However at this point (any time between March and June) it's still not 100% confirmed and you still have a couple of hoops to jump through.

If you have been chosen for a quota spot, you'll be sent various details which include filling in the electronic J-eS form. This form will include all your details, proposal etc ad is sent to the AHRC. The AHRC will make the final yes/no decision but according to what's been published on UCL's History department website since January "Once the JeS applications are in, AHRC will carry out an eligibility check, but otherwise will accept the nominations of institutions. Standard award letters will then go out in August, but students will effectively know that they will have a grant to study at UCL if they are told in April that they have been selected for nomination."

The Open Studentship Competition:

If you're desperate to go to an institution that doesn't feature on the BGP list you can still apply for the AHRC funding via the open competition. This part of the BGP funding has around 200 spots open for students wanting to apply. I believe the 200 spots cover all subject areas so again it will still be highly competitive. The best info on the matter can be found: here and here.

You can only apply for the open studentship competition for universities that DO NOT have BGP funding.

NB: you cannot apply for funding from BOTH the BGP and the Studentship competition AFAIK - it's one or the other. Obviously if all your BGP applications fail, then there's nothing stopping you but it probably would be better to step back and consider why you've not been successful in the first place rather than just trying to apply for funding anywhere that'll take you.

Final Thoughts:

Universities will still offer their own studentships and stipends for both MA and Doctoral study so keep your eyes peeled. This website here is well worth keeping in your favourites list: Jobs and it's also worth either reading in paper form or online The Times Higher Education Supplement, website is here. The Guardian on tuesdays also publishes their Education section which has a good jobs/studentships section within it.

All the AHRC BGP information can be found here: AHRC website

Also See

Got postgrad questions which aren't covered above? Then visit the Postgraduate Forum to get your answers.

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