How to Find Fully Funded PhD and Master’s Programs in Europe

Mar 07, 2023

Young female student dressed casually with colorful books in the inner yard of oldest university in the world in Bologna city in Italy.

By Andrew Anžur Clement, PhD

Let’s say that you’re about to graduate from college, with either an undergrad or a master’s under your belt. You’re looking for your next move but would like to avoid things like mountains of student debt or crushing teaching loads. If you’re like me, maybe you studied abroad and just don’t want to come home. If so, there are a lot of great reasons to consider one of the many fully-funded master’s or PhD programs offered by the European Union and other European institutions.

Read on to learn more about where to get started looking to find the European post-grad experience that’s right for you, at the master’s, PhD and post-doc levels.

The double master’s scholarships offered by the European Commission’s Erasmus Mundus programs.

The EU Commission is the executive branch of the European Union. Among other things, it funds double masters programs under the umbrella of the Erasmus Mundus funding scheme. The stipends cover tuition, as well as well as monthly stipends for living expenses and also a one-time allotment for travel costs to and from Europe.

On these programs, you will study at two different institutions within a program’s consortium; you’ll graduate with degrees from both of these universities. You may also have the opportunity for an exchange semester at third partner institutions in the EU and around the world, including places like the UK. Students from all over the world can apply. In most cases, the language of coursework and instruction is English.

You’ll apply directly to the program and consortium you’re interested in. The specific requirements differ, depending on your field and specific course of study.
There are two main ways to go about finding the right master’s program. The old-fashioned way is by looking at the websites of the universities and departments you are interested in, to see if they are members of an Erasmus Mundus program that’s a good fit for your interests. Then you’ll apply via that consortium’s website. Other EU-related funding opportunities can be found here.

Fortunately, there is an easier way. The EU now has a handy, searchable database for all currently running Erasmus Mundus programs called the Erasmus Mundus Catalog. There, you can find out more and apply.

Even if you are not selected for an Erasmus Mundus scholarship, you may have the opportunity to attend as a paying student. Even then, you will still benefit from a world-class educational experience and get two degrees at tuition fees that are far, far lower than in the United States.

PhD and post-doc funding opportunities from the European Union.

If you’ve already graduated with your master’s (or double master’s) in your hot little hands, if you want to continue with your academic plans on the continent, the EU still has plenty of great opportunities for you.

The European Commission funding programs on the PhD and post-doc levels are now administered exclusively through Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSC). This is great. It allows you to double-dip by being able to receive the one-time grant, on the master’s and doctoral levels separately.

While you are able to propose your own research program directly to the commission under the framework of the MSC grant, this is exceedingly difficult and mostly done on the post-doctoral level.

The EU has a database of all MSC funding ‘actions,’ as they are called, at the link above. However, because this includes all types of currently-open calls for applications, including at the post-doc and departmental levels, it can prove a bit clunky. The best way of going about finding the PhD consortium ‘school’ that is right for you is to look directly on the websites of the universities you are interested in to see if they are a member of a consortium program. You will apply directly via the consortium’s website, when the call for applications is open.

As a prospective PhD candidate, you will likely apply through the specific consortium of degree-awarding institutions, or ‘PhD school,’ that fits not only your academic background and interests but also your compatibility with the research package profile that the school – and, in turn, the EU – is looking for. In simpler terms, this means that the PhD consortium authorities will evaluate your potential as a researcher to pursue a specific agenda of research and carry out various mandatory academic and outreach modules as dictated in a top-down manner.

This means that, on the PhD level, you are applying for a job; you will be paid a salary to carry out a specific research project in a pre-determined area over the course of the program, at the end of which you will receive PhD’s from two academic institutions. You can find out more information about the MSC grants and how to prepare a competitive application for an MSC fellowship in my article: How to Prepare a Strong Application for a PhD Fellowship in the Social Sciences from the European Union.

A note on the European Economic Area and Post-Brexit realities.

Let’s say that you’ve found a program that you’d love to apply for in Switzerland, Norway, or Iceland. On the other hand, maybe you have your heart set on starting your post-grad academic career in the United Kingdom. In the first two of these cases you’re in luck! Members of the European Economic Area – Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Lichtenstein – as EU ‘affiliates,’ actively participate in the EU’s master’s and PhD programs, as degree-awarding institutions.

Following the UK’s departure from the European Union, UK universities are still eligible to be affiliated with EU Erasmus Mundus consortium programs as ‘partner’ rather than ‘participating’ institutions. In short, this means while prospective candidates for an EU fellowship may still be able to study at a UK institution for a semester, the main degree-awarding institutions will both have to be from the EU/EEA.

The UK posts its own national master’s and PhD funding opportunities on the British Council Scholarships and Funding website, though, post-Brexit, the British Council has become more focused on attracting students from its Commonwealth and certain other countries with which it seeks to form deeper strategic partnerships. In general, should you choose to attend a UK master’s or PhD program as a paying student, tuition fees are easily more than twice that of many European universities, though still less than in the United States.

Final thoughts.

So there you have some starting points to search for fully funded and stipended post-grad programs in Europe. By choosing Europe for your post-grad studies, it’s possible to finish with four degrees, money in the bank and limitless possibilities for the future. Judging by my own experience, at least, the EU certainly has one more satisfied graduate.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also want to read I Completed 4 Fully-Funded Graduate Programs in Europe (And You Can, Too).

Andrew Anžur Clement, PhD, is the author of more than twenty-five historical Andrew Anzur Clement, PhD fantasy, alternative history and action-adventure novels, to date. Originally from Los Angeles, California, he left the United States for Europe at the ripe old age of nineteen. After living in ten countries, learning three foreign languages, being paid to get four post-graduate degrees in Europe and claiming Slovenian citizenship through ancestry, he settled in Ljubljana, Slovenia, where he realizes his dream of being a full-time writer in Europe.

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