How to fund your Executive MBA – tips from top business schools

Harriet Green
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Graduation Day At HHL Business School
If you are doing a part-time course, you’ll be able to apply what you’re learning to your organisation immediately (Source: Getty)

Students starting London Business School’s Executive MBA (or EMBA) this year will pay £72,795 to take the part-time course. Given that it’s one of the world’s leading providers of executive education, this is not abnormal (the EMBAs of most top UK schools range from £50,000 to £75,000 for full or part-time courses) – but it’s also not an amount the majority would consider paying lightly.

With the role of corporate sponsorship changing, and more schools recommending alternative sources of funding, what’s the best way to navigate financing your EMBA?

The state of corporate sponsorship

Once you’ve decided that your chosen programme will deliver the return on investment needed to give you a competitive advantage in your field, if you’re working for a large firm, the first thing to consider is how your employer can help you. Corporate sponsorship is market sensitive – in 2007, 34 per cent of students received full financial sponsorship from their employer (according to the EMBA Council), but by 2011 that figure had dropped to 27 per cent.

Yet while there was a drop-off in assistance around the downturn, Brett Hunter, senior recruitment and admissions manager for EMBAs at London Business School, says that sponsorship is now firmly on the rise. “This is important as it’s reflective of corporate confidence and a willingness to invest in the best talent,” he says – employers aren’t just going to hand the money over, but there are several ways forward.”

First, because businesses are becoming increasingly creative in how they’re helping employees, students are increasingly ending up with combinations of corporate funding, scholarships from schools and personal finance. Frequently, says Hunter, companies are “partnering with the student through shared funding, interest-free loans and reimbursement.” For UK taxpayers, payment through a salary sacrifice scheme can be beneficial for the employee and the employer, because it means that the latter pays no tax or national insurance on the sacrificed amount, with the former benefiting through reduced NI payments.

The key thing is to just ask, Hunter continues. “Find out whether your organisation has a history of sponsoring EMBA students. If so, find out how they went about securing the funding. If not, then engage your employer with your enquiry process – and remember that if you don’t find yourself with 100 per cent sponsorship, even a portion of your fees or expenses will help.”

Strike the bargain

If you are looking to secure some employer support, you must consider what’s in it for them. Data demonstrates that students on distance and part-time programmes are most likely to secure sponsorship, says Adam Rennison, student recruitment manager at Durham University Business School. This is owing to the obvious fact that the employee can continue working while studying – and is more likely to stay with the organisation in the long term. “Pursuing an EMBA that allows the flexibility for students to remain an asset to their employer is a bargaining tool that prospective students should take advantage of,” Rennison adds.

Start the conversation early and be prepared to be persistent, says Hunter. It’s also vital that you build a persuasive business case. “Generally, the return on their investment is similar to what the return would be if you were funding the programme yourself: improved efficiencies, better insights, and access to an incredible global network of world class professionals”.

And if you are doing a part-time course, you’ll be able to apply what you’re learning to your organisation immediately. “Students will not only be engaging in personal development, but also solving internal issues that have been hanging over the organisation for some time. This can save an employer the expense of external consultation,” says Rennison. Remember, though, he adds, that some employers will attach certain conditions to sponsorship, like requiring students to remain with the firm for a fixed period after graduating.

Student loan innovation

If you’re a potential candidate looking at a mix of funding sources, do spend sufficient time costing things out, says Helen Foley, visa compliance manager for degree programmes at LBS. “If you’re studying part-time, your living expenses are probably going to be covered. But think about how your partner might be able to help elsewhere, and drill down to things like travel costs.”

Then, start looking at student loan options. Private student loan companies are a growing market, offering competitive rates to candidates. Several top UK business schools partner with the likes of Prodigy and Future Finance. Prodigy has a unique model that factors in students’ future earnings potential when offering them a loan. It also offers loans irrespective of nationality and residency. Given that 60 per cent of UK graduate students need funding, and many banks don’t lend internationally, the model is increasingly popular. “These companies have expanded students’ finance options. We’ve been working with Prodigy since 2013, and since then, we’ve seen uptake for its loans rise every year,” says LBS’s Foley.

Of course, funding for higher education is most often sourced through government loans, and historically those have been available for undergraduates only. But last week, the government unveiled loans for postgraduate students, including those doing MBAs. “The masters degree must be awarded by a UK university, and applicants for these loans must be UK nationals who are ordinarily resident in England, regardless of where they wish to study. Although this source of funding would be repayable, it could open the door to up to £10,000,” explains Rennison.

Scholarship options

Every business school will offer a variety of scholarships, which will vary slightly from year to year. Many offer women-only awards, alongside academic and nationality-based scholarships, and bursaries focused on background or subject specialisation. “I would strongly encourage students to keep checking back, because new scholarships with different criteria are added regularly,” says Foley. Often, she continues, they’ll cover a full year of fees, so it’s worth keeping a finger on the pulse.

And would-be candidates should also “shop around for scholarships offered by their preferred schools,” says Rennison. But he recommends looking closely at the small print: “some scholarships have terms and conditions stating that you cannot hold multiple scholarships from different organisations concurrently, and students should make sure they don’t violate any terms that would require them to return the funds at a later date,” he warns.

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