How to get employer support for an EMBA

Securing sponsorship will mean you won’t graduate with as much debt
CORPORATE sponsorship for the Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA) course has fallen in recent years. In 2007, 34 per cent of students received full financial sponsorship from their employers (according to the EMBA Council), but by 2011, the figure had dropped to 27 per cent – and it has continued to decline since. The financial downturn has undeniably played a role, but so too has the changing face of the workplace. Lifetime employees are a rare beast nowadays – many use executive-level business degrees to change careers.

“Leading EMBA programmes often cost over £80,000 – that’s a healthy investment for a company, and one it’ll likely reject if the employee plans to move on after graduating,” says Dawn Bournand of QS Top MBA. Fortunately, there are multiple ways to leverage company resources, as well a range of alternatives to help handle the expense.

If you’re planning to persuade your employer to sponsor you, a well-researched business plan, detailing the investment benefits, is essential. A good starting point may be colleagues who have completed an EMBA. “Examples of alumni experiences are important, as you will be able to show your employer that you will be away from the office for a limited number of days or weekends,” QS Top MBA research suggests. Sarah Henneberry, a recent graduate of the Darden School of Business, recommends keeping your company’s perspective in mind. “How do you plan to pass along knowledge, concepts, and new ideas learned in the programme so that your company receives a return on investment from your participation?”

One option could be to follow the lead of a recent graduate of the McGill HEC Montreal programme, who secured corporate sponsorship by agreeing to give colleagues regular workshops during the course. “He was literally bringing the valuable learning into his company,” Bournand says. And according to Duncan Macintyre of Said Business School, employees on the EMBA programme can “bring in case studies directly from the workplace and deliver new frameworks, effectively providing the company with a mini-consultancy.” It’s worth pointing out, too, that there may be potential clients within your classroom. “Not only are you offering the latest thinking on subjects such as finance and strategy, but an EMBA provides excellent networking opportunities,” says professor Stephen Thomas of Cass Business School.

Failing full financial sponsorship, there are other avenues of corporate support available. The most common is time participation – where employers allow staff to take paid study leave. Alternatively, there’s the government’s Salary Sacrifice scheme, which enables employers to pay tuition fees in lieu of salary. It means savings on income tax and national insurance (NI) for the employee; and savings for the employer on paying NI on the salary sacrificed.

But it’s not just the companies getting creative – participants are also considering a range of other financing methods, from crowdfunding schemes to loans through to the Prodigy Finance Loan Programme (which allows alumni to invest in students at business schools around the world). And the number of schools offering scholarships or fellowships has risen from 38.8 per cent in 2008 to 47.6 per cent in 2012, according to the Executive MBA Council.

However, if you do approach your employer for funding, bear in mind that employees are typically expected to sign a contract saying they’ll stay in the company for a two to three-year period after graduating. As Cass’s Steve Cousins told City A.M. last year, “if you envisage yourself working in a different organisation after the EMBA, it may not be appropriate to ask for corporate sponsorship”.

Annabel Denham is programmes director of The Entrepreneurs Network.