Funding for higher education study is always a hot topic – especially for postgraduate study, where the fees are typically high.
Over the years we have seen a subtle but noticeable shift in how students are funding themselves for their postgraduate studies. Whilst in the early 2000’s, many firms were only too happy to support developing their top managers and leaders of the future by paying their fees, now the landscape has changed to that of a greater proportion of self-funded students. In particular we have seen a growing number of students who are not only funding themselves through bank-based loans, but increasingly through family support as well.
We have the ongoing economic crises from 2008 to blame for that of course, and whilst corporate sponsorship for students is dramatically reducing, the desire for postgraduate study is not. Hence a funding gap exists and is growing ever wider.
Additionally over the last few years, specific “back to Uni” loans such as the Natwest loans scheme for AMBA-accredited MBA programmes in the UK have been withdrawn too. Unsurprisingly this means that students have now been drawn into the wider pool of loan applicants in an increasingly constrained lending environment.
What are the alternatives?
University, Business School and programme-based scholarships are still therefore seen as the first and last chances of financial support by nearly all students – particularly those from overseas. Whilst many well-regarded and ranked business schools do provide a limited number of scholarships (including those at University level for overseas students), competition and the requirements to win funding are fierce.
For example in Brunel University, the Business School was successful in obtaining and allocating a number of scholarships under the UK government’s Economic Challenge Investment Fund (ECIF) between 2009-10 and 2010-11 for those students working or seeking to progress their careers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. Additionally, the School was able to provide MBA scholarships in 2011 and continues to have a number of scholarships for 2012 entry also. Brunel University has also maintained a number of international scholarships for its students at undergraduate and postgraduate levels as well, for a number of years. In these terms Brunel University and Brunel Business School have sought to provide financial supportin very tough economic times wherever possible.
Notwithstanding the above, Schools are now having to compete in a wider global marketplace where a diverse mix of students is essential. Indeed many programmes, certainly in the UK, are specifically seeking to support and grow the demographics of UK and EU-based students to maintain a sustainable and healthy mixture of student backgrounds.
The remaining alternatives to funding are therefore thin on the ground. Alternative funding sources such as altruistic “invest in me” microfinance and microlending approaches that can be found in the blogosphere – such as Kiva.org – could be used to fund studies. However such initiatives are usually reserved for those social enterprises and / or economically challenged individuals in extreme circumstances, where the typical loan amount is usually quite low.
Ultimately to be successful in gaining funding for postgraduate study requires extensive research, planning and above all acumen in matching the application to the funding. Too many students leave funding too late and fail to assess the sources, mechanisms, process, regulations and expectations involved in securing loans, scholarships or other funds. In addition, for those students who do successfully attain and attract funding it is important to understand the conditions under which the funding is given (usually involving repayment of the loan amount; engagement and contribution of time and service to the organisation or lending body; achievement of academic performance; or some combination of these and other criteria).
Planning ahead and knowing what to expect – and fundamentally – how to handle failure to secure funding is the key to this particular puzzle.