Postgraduate Funding for University Students through Grants from Charity | GradFunding

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A History of The Alternative Guide to Postgraduate Funding, 2008-present


Luke Blaxill began his PhD (in History at King's College London) in 2007 without any funding at all. All of his applications for scholarships had failed. At the beginning of his course, he made contact with as many charities as he could to try and gain funding. As it turned out, he was very successful, and in the end managed to fully finance his course, gaining assistance from numerous voluntary sector sources, many of which had little or no history of funding postgraduate study. In 2008, he wrote a brief ten-page essay for his department on how struggling postgraduates could also gain funding from unusual places.  After more and more students from King's (and outside) requested the essay, Luke decided that he had to do something to make charities and trusts - and this alternative method of funding postgraduate study - better known so more students could benefit.  He was joined a few months later by Shuzhi Zhou - a PhD student of Neuroscience who had also won some charity awards (read her story here). Together they wrote the first edition of The Alternative Guide to Postgraduate Funding, with the help of a grant from King's College London Graduate School.

The first edition of the Guide was very much a cottage industry production, at just 48 pages. However, it was a near-immediate success. It won first prize and seed funding from the 2009 KCL Lion's Den Business Competition (pictured right) and proceeded to sell 50,000 copies and gain 20 university subscribers in its first year. Subsequent editions - published by our newly-founded company GradFunding - built on this success, and the Alternative Guide grew to 158 pages, 100 university subscribers, and 500,000 copies sold by its ninth edition. We also began to give extremely popular three-hour workshops at universities, which have been attended by over 3,000 current or prospective postgraduates, and in 2012 started giving numerous short talks at open days too. In 2013, the Alternative Guide was also launched as a web resource, The Alternative Guide Online (AGO), and our mascot, Jacob the Crow, was also born. By 2014, the AGO had enjoyed considerable success, with a large portion of subscribing universities making the transfer from book to online version, and our overall subscriber count increasing to 90. AGO customers almost universally saw an enormous spike in student usage, with hundreds (and in some cases thousands) of students using the Guide. From 2015, we also began a Student Story Archive for successful students to share their inspiring stories of postgraduate funding from charity. In 2016, we launched our new Crowdfunding Section and in 2017, a major database update. We also started using surveys, accompanied by prize draws, to get closer feedback from the tens of thousands of AGO users. We've been astonished by how much funding has been reported as having been won by our users- as of June 2017, nearly £4 million!

In the nine years we've been around, the Alternative Guide has also enjoyed a lot of media attention, especially in the last few years. It has been featured in the Guardian (twice), the Independent, the Telegraph, Sky News, Vitae, GradBritain, Findaphd.com, NASMA, Moneysavingexpert, and others. The Guide is now the largest dedicated postgraduate funding resource in the UK, and has helped thousands of students - many who felt let down or discarded by conventional avenues of funding - realise their dream of funding postgraduate study. Students initially had to be at a subscribing university, but now they can purchase an individual licence for a very small (and we hope) affordable fee.

However, if there's one thing we're proud of, it's that the Alternative Guide was - and always will be - a grassroots publication. It was written and published by real postgraduate students who overcame the challenge of unfunded postgraduate study- not by paid researchers or businesspeople who have not. Above all, the Guide isn't just a finding tool- it's a methodology which was developed from the bottom up through real life experiences and challenges. We are proud to deliver straightforward, independent, and practical advice which can genuinely make a difference. We continue to work directly with thousands of postgraduates of all backgrounds, subjects, and nationalities - ensuring that GradFunding and the Alternative Guide always stay close to the group who really matter: the students.

While we are proud of our story, we're still more proud of those we have helped, like those featured in our Student Story Archive. Even as the public postgraduate funding world changes - often rapidly in uncertain economic and political times - we continue to fly the flag for the still-often overlooked and underrated world of charity funders. And most of all, to illuminate the alternative path that we trod, and you can to.

Guide cover collage

The Alternative Guide to Postgraduate Funding Print Edition- the eight previous print editions, from 2009 to 2016.