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Student eligibility requirements

Please do not contact the MRC directly to enquire about eligibility; it is the responsibility of the university’s registrar office to contact MRC if advice on eligibility is required.

Academic qualifications

Candidates for studentships must hold qualifications at the level of, or equivalent to, a good honours degree from a UK academic institution, in a subject relevant to MRC’s scientific remit. This should be a first or upper second class honours degree. Qualifications, or a combination of qualifications and experience, which demonstrate equivalent ability and attainment should also be considered. For example, a less than sufficient first degree may be enhanced to meet the requirements by the acquisition of a Masters degree for example from 2(ii) to 2(i).


Residence eligibility

To be eligible for a full MRC studentship (stipend and university fees), candidates must be

  • A UK national who can demonstrate a relevant connection (1) to the UK;
  • An individual who was not born in the UK but has been granted UK citizenship or has come to settle in the UK (for example immigrant status, refugee or an individual granted humanitarian protection) and can demonstrate that they have a relevant connection through ordinary residence (2).
  • A non UK resident can be considered eligible where a Research Organisation can demonstrate “strategic” and “scarcity” in terms of (i) the demand for and career-destinations of previous PhD graduates and (ii) evidence of a shortage of high quality UK candidates.  The sought after skills must be central to the PhD projects and integrated with the biomedical training and research.  The projects must be aligned with MRC’s strategic priorities (as identified in the Strategic Plan).
  • A European Economic Area (3) citizen who is a migrant worker (4) (or their spouse or children) and can demonstrate ordinary residence in the EEA.
  • An EU national who has spent the three years prior to application resident in the UK (this can include residence whilst undertaking undergraduate study).


1. A relevant connection can be established if an individual has been ordinarily resident in the UK throughout the three years preceding the date of application. Candidates may be classed as demonstrating ordinary residence when they are temporarily absent overseas (see below) where the nature of their profession demands that they spend periods overseas (for example research) or have been receiving full-time education overseas.


2. Lord Scarman defined ordinary residence as ‘habitual and normal……from choice and for a settled purpose throughout the prescribed period, apart from temporary or occasional absence’ ‘…voluntarily adopted…..’ ‘there must be some degree of settled purpose (and) a sufficient degree of continuity to be properly described as settled’. Ordinary residence is proven if a candidate would have been in the UK (or EEA) if it were not for the fact that s/he, his/her spouse, parent or guardian is/was temporarily employed outside of the area.


3. The European Economic Area is defined as the areas comprised by the member states of the European Union (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden) as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.


4. An EEA migrant worker can be defined (for these purposes) as a citizen of a member state of the EEA who is employed in the UK and who should be treated as a national of the UK. The employment of an EEA migrant worker can be full-time or part-time but must be relevant to the candidate’s previous or future training. Candidate’s employed in part-time or short-term casual employment or who are effectively unemployed cannot be considered to hold migrant worker status.


Visa/Work permits

Candidates who are resident in the UK on a student visa, work permit or dependent visa which have restrictions on the time they may stay in the UK, and cannot demonstrate a relevant connection or settled status will not be eligible on residence grounds.


Nationals of the European Union

If a student is from an EU country, but cannot demonstrate a relevant connection to the UK through ordinary residence, they may be eligible for a studentship for tuition fees, but not for a maintenance stipend.


Nationals of the Isle of Man

Candidates from the Isle of Man are eligible for a MRC studentship and should apply directly to the research organisation.


International recruitment to MRC Studentships

Under current rules, research organisations are restricted in their use of Research Council funding to support non-UK domiciled candidates (i.e. “international students”) for studentships: EU students not normally resident in the UK may receive only fees, and non-EU nationals may receive neither fees nor stipends. Professor Adrian Smith’s report to BIS in 2010 (One Step beyond: Making the most of postgraduate education) recommended that Research Councils UK should examine ways of opening up more postgraduate research studentships to international students.


RCUK and the Research Councils have now adopted a statement describing a common position. MRC, has decided to relax the rule in respect of strategic research skills where there is a demonstrable shortage of UK candidates of sufficient calibre, combined with evidence of demand for doctoral graduates who previously have been trained in those skills.


The MRC eligibility policy produced in response to RCUK’s statement sets out how individual Research Organisations can gain MRC authorisation to recruit international students in two defined areas. You need to note that for the purposes of this policy, MRC is using a narrower definition of “strategic research skills” than recently sent to HEIs with Doctorial Training Grants (see document).


As the RCUK statement emphasises, Research Organisations have a duty to ensure that suitably qualified UK students have access to high quality PhD training. Consequently, while we welcome requests for authorisation, the case for doing so should be strong and based on good evidence. The case does not have to be elaborate and long.


Requests for authorisation should be emailed to MRC Grants, Policy & Service Delivery on the application form with the subject heading “Request for authorisation to recruit international student”. In the normal course of events, we expect to be able to provide a response within 10 working days.


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