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Financial routes to funding, scholarships & loans

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In this roundtable discussion, Changeboard asks leading experts from global business schools why you should be investing in an MBA or executive education for your HR career. This is part two of the four-part series ‘Your global MBA guide’.

How should you approach your employer?

(SB) Samantha Bown, London Business School: Plan a support case that lays out the business need and shows your commitment to your organisation. It’s also a good idea to work with your manager to agree your learning objectives and post-programme action plan.

(LP) Dr Lydia Price, CEIBS: Many employers encourage MBA education for managerial staff, so it makes sense to have open communication about your plans and goals. Remember that they might wish to leverage the opportunity to build deep links with a key business school and its professional networks. CEIBS students commonly bring their previous employers to campus to sponsor student projects, participate in professional club events and expand recruiting opportunities - explore these possibilities with your employer as you announce your education plans.

(KD) Koen Dewettinck, Vlerick Leuven Management School: Make sure you have a strong story to share about why taking an MBA would fit your broader career plan. Also think about the opportunities the MBA will offer to help the organisation improve. There might be internal project and benchmarking opportunities, auditing and other activities that you will be involved in as a student, which could be very relevant for your company – as well as a personal boost in your motivation, dedication and loyalty to them as an employee.

(SC) Steven Cousins, Cass Business School: If you want to study full-time, be careful not to burn bridges with your employer, especially as you will need a reference from them. There is nothing they can do to stop you leaving, but you might be able to return in a more senior role or a different area of the business. Also, your employer can be a source of advice or mentoring on how you can best use an MBA for your future career.

If you’re considering an Executive MBA, find out if any of your colleagues have done this during their time with the company. Ask them how the organisation views an MBA and how supportive it is likely to be. You might also find there is an official process you can go through, usually via your line manager and the HR department. If not, speak with your line manager directly, either formally or informally, depending on the culture of the organisation.

(KS) Dr Kerry Sullivan, Surrey Business School, University of Surrey: There is no golden rule. Some employers will be incredibly helpful, giving study leave and financial assistance, others less so. You can raise this during the formal appraisal process or informally in the first instance – make your own judgement.

(VH) Professor Vivien Hodgson, Lancaster University Management School: Sell the benefits to your employer. They will get a more motivated, energised, learned ‘new’ employee who can inject a rapid dose of creativity into the business. This could create potential business growth and increased financial performance, while also minimising risk. Include specific deliverables that can be achieved.  Demonstrate how an MBA will be manageable for you. For example, will study leave be required and how will this be accommodated?

(AS) Professor Amir Sharif, Brunel Business School, Brunel University: Organisations routinely fail to look beyond the cost implications of training and development. Engage your employer directly with a valid and well-crafted business case, relating how your training needs fit with the company’s as well as your own development objectives. Approach them with a clear message, objectives, benefits and the expected outcomes for both you and the organisation.

(KP) Keith Porter, Westminster Business School: The more sceptical the employer, the better the business case has to be. You need to show how you will be able to add more value once professionally qualified.

(SW) Stuart Woollard, King's College London: To get an employer to fund or subsidise your MBA, show them how you can share your learning with your colleagues, which will help build the capability and performance of the wider team. Also, explain how your attendance on the course will create good opportunities to network and bring innovation back to the employer, while making you more committed and motivated.

(JG) Jennifer George, Melbourne Business School: You need to emphasise that, if harnessed, the benefits have the potential to go far beyond just enhancing your own career.

(CS) Christie St-John, Tuck School of Business: Many employers already understand the benefits of an MBA, but for those who don’t, look around your office – or at your competitors – and find people who already have an MBA. Talk to them about their experience. Where are they now, how do they contribute to the business to make it more efficient, more profitable, more in tune with employees' needs? How have their leadership skills impacted the organisation? With an MBA, you will be able to do that too, and even more.

(DVG) Professor Dr Désirée van Gorp, Nyenrode Business Universiteit:  You should be well aware of your personal development needs, and make clear how these are relevant for the organisation. 

(CP) Chantal Poty, EML Executive Education: Be aware that your employer may fear that an MBA will enhance your employability and your network, which might result in you leaving them. Be clear about the future you want to build with the business, and insist this training is an opportunity for you to grow within the organisation, not outside of it.

Q. How can HR professionals fund their education?

SB: This is very dependent on the individual and organisation. Many of our participants have been able to work with their employers to receive assistance with a portion of the fees, while signing a retention addendum and agreeing a deduction from their salaries. Also, many banks offer low-interest loans.

LP: It’s definitely worth exploring the available opportunities for scholarships and student loans. Admissions offices will be able to provide information and advice on these. CEIBS is offering an increasing number of scholarship opportunities in the coming year, many of which target particular profiles such as women leaders and entrepreneurs. You could also look into possibilities offered by firms or public institutions in your community. An international relations group, for example, might offer support to those embarking on international studies.

SC: Our students use a combination of methods, the most common options being scholarships, bank loans and salary sacrifice. We offer a number of scholarships from £10,000 to £21,000, and we have a partnership with Santander bank which offers preferential rates to Executive MBA students. Salary sacrifice is a specific agreement between employer and employee.

KS: Most MBA courses offer some scholarships. You could also take out a Professional and Career Development Loan - interest costs will be covered during the period of the course.

VH: There are fewer opportunities for funding in the UK. At Lancaster, however, we offer bursaries for the best qualified students on our MA in HR and Consulting, as well as on the MA in Management Learning and Leadership.

DC: Self-funding or loans are offered by most financial institutions, but can be expensive. One alternative is the Government Apprenticeship Scheme, which is a lot more inclusive then people think.

AS: You could get your employer to pay, but given the squeeze on budgets in recessionary times – especially in the HR function – this is easier said than done. As there is a dearth of overseas students, many UK universities provide partial and even full scholarships to applicants from EU countries. Some of the larger and more established business schools across the globe regularly have a number of scholarships – however competition can be fierce and early application is always recommended.

CS: Local banks may be able to provide loans at better interest rates than schools can. Executive MBA programs and part-time programs do not have loans or scholarships, since they were originally planned as programs for students who would be company sponsored. That is becoming rare these days, but it never hurts to ask.

DVG: As more professionals look to fund their own studies, educational institutions and companies alike are moving towards facilitating that. At Nyenrode, we offer scholarships to students who have demonstrated outstanding career progress, or educational achievements, before embarking on their MBA.

What are some of the long-term benefits of an MBA?

SB: Many of our participants have reported that the range of international students on their course gave them the opportunity to expand their network and global scope.

KS: The MBA offers an internationally recognised badge. For some graduates, the growth in confidence and knowledge has given them the impetus to switch career or to start on their own.

VH: Our MA in HR and Consulting teaches you to research, analyse and use information effectively to support business activity. It enables you to think differently, and opens many doors through networking. Graduates develop more ‘guts’ when it comes to putting a point across to their organisation, and it improves their prospects of finding work at a higher level.

CS: An MBA allows you to do almost anything. You can change companies, job functions or industries because it prepares you to understand how a company works holistically and how one area is integrated with another. For example, if you have spent all your career or studies within HR, you will develop a clearer idea of how marketing works and why it is relevant to making the company work well.

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