If postgraduate study would greatly improve your work performance, your employer may fund your full- or part-time course

The benefits of employer sponsorship are simple. You gain a career-advancing qualification for free or at a reduced rate, while your boss retains an employee with improved knowledge and an extended professional network that'll potentially create future business. Quite clearly, the key advantage of employer sponsorship is that it allows students to complete postgraduate courses without running up huge debts.

Approaching your employer

Securing funding isn't easy. Although most graduate employers look favourably on this kind of development, you'll still need to convince them that the qualification is worth their money and your time - especially since your working hours are often re-arranged around your study timetable. It's vital that your programme of study is relevant.

Begin by researching existing schemes at your organisation - many larger employers fund or support employees wishing to undertake postgraduate courses via part-time study. However, these may require you to take specific courses at specific institutions.

If your employer doesn't offer funding programmes, but you still think that further study would be beneficial to both them and you, approach your line manager, training department or HR department with a proposal that'll convince them that your chosen qualification deserves investment.

Similar to a business plan, this proposal forms the backbone of your argument and illustrates to senior staff your commitment to the idea. It should contain:

  • a detailed plan of how additional qualifications would aid long-term development within the organisation;
  • evidence of how and why postgraduate study would benefit both parties;
  • research into courses that are relevant to your role or wider organisation.

Emphasise how you'll be able to immediately apply new skills in your role, and how transferable skills like communication, problem solving, time management and decision-making will be developed. Always focus on how the qualification will help them - especially financially.

It's unlikely that your request will be approved immediately. Be prepared to amend your plans according to your employer's suggestions. Also, brace yourself for rejection: there may be clear reasons why your company cannot support you.

Reaching an agreement

If your employer agrees to fund or part-fund your course, you must first determine exactly how much they're willing to pay. You must then arrange working hours around your study timetable and discuss any financial allowance for learning materials like books and other resources - unless you are taking a study break.

You should also find out whether you'll receive leave for class attendance, revision sessions, study tours and exams, and agree on where this time will come from - it may, for example, be deducted from your annual leave. Some organisations may not sponsor you financially, but agree paid or unpaid leave for study.

You'll probably have to sign a contractual agreement tying you to the organisation for a certain length of time once your course is complete. If you leave during this time, individual circumstances regarding repayments will almost certainly be reviewed.

One word of warning: prepare for your social life to be heavily affected - you'll spend most of your free time working on assignments. If you're studying part-time, employer sponsorship requires dedication to your job alongside your study commitments. However, planning ahead and remaining organised will make a social life possible.

Alternatives to employer sponsorship

There are several alternatives to employer sponsorship available.

  • Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) are a combined venture between graduates, businesses, and universities or research institutions. They enable graduates to work in companies for up to three years, managing projects central to their strategic development. Participants gain a fully funded professional management qualification while being paid a competitive salary - making KTPs a great option if you've just finished your undergraduate course. For more information, see Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP).
  • PhD studentships see students sponsored by a potential employer - and can often lead to employment with that company after graduation. Look into relevant courses and institutions in your area, or study through distance learning or The Open University. For more information, search postgraduate courses or find out more about graduate employers.
  • Short courses are another option. Studying a series of shorter programmes more directly related to your area of work, or for membership of a professional body, may better suit your career needs. Architects, teachers and lawyers are just three occupations that require students to complete work experience alongside exams and coursework, with employers often paying the fees.