Student finance: A sponsor gives more than cash

Signing up with a firm, or the armed forces, gives valuable experience.
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Students facing the mounting costs of a university education can save money through sponsorship. Hundreds of companies, professional organisations, charitable trusts and Government agencies give money to undergraduates and Higher National Diploma (HND) students to help them through college or university. British Aerospace, Ford, Sainsbury's and the Royal Bank of Scotland are among those with sponsorship schemes.

The introduction of tuition fees of pounds 1,025 a year on top of average living expenses of pounds 5,000-plus a year has put an added burden on students and their parents. Sponsorship can lower the financial pressure. And finance isn't the only incentive. Many sponsors also offer valuable work experience and training. Students who impress them may even have a job waiting when they graduate.

Statistics from the Association of Graduate Recruiters show that graduates with work experience earn pounds 286 to pounds 500 a year more on average than their inexperienced peers.

Sponsorship through companies is not the only source of funding available to students. Many universities and charitable organisations offer scholarships, bursaries and grants: details are in local libraries.

Sponsorship tends to be most widely available to technical students, especially those doing mechanical, electrical and electronic engineering. Other major sponsors include the armed forces, construction, finance, retailing and science.

Students doing their homework on sponsorship schemes must remember that bursary places are limited, and competition intense. Students with excellent GCSEs who are expecting A-level results, stand the best chance. Organisations offering financial aid also seek well-rounded, confident individuals with leadership potential and team-working skills.

Realistically, students should start applying for sponsorship when they complete their UCAS (University and Colleges Admissions Service) application forms in September. And the more students can show an interest in a specific career or company, the better their chances are of receiving financial help.

Many firms only offer sponsorship to students already at university - for example, the armed forces recruit students from the first year via the Officer Training Corps. Other sponsors are interested only in final- year students, so those starting their penultimate year in the autumn should be thinking about such opportunities.

The benefits of sponsorship can last long after graduation. Even if the student does not get a job offer from their sponsors, the fact that they were sponsored, or gained work experience, looks impressive on any CV.

Lisa Harnett, 22, from Lewisham, is studying accountancy at the University of Kent, and works part-time at the local accountancy firm sponsoring her. She says sponsorship is beneficial: "I am not doing it just for the money. I think it will help my career prospects.'

Brian Tripp, national director of The Year In Industry, which helps students find work experience, says students who use their gap years well are more employable: "They develop life skills that complement academic success. Skills such as communication, time management, problem solving and business awareness are just what employers are looking for."


University Scholarships and Awards (pounds 9.99), published by Trotman, is available from Plymbridge Distributors, tel 01752 202301.

Educational Grants Directory 1998/99 (pounds 18.95), is published by the Directory of Social Change, tel 0171-209 5151.

Sponsorship and Training Opportunities in Engineering is available free from the Marketing Department of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, 1 Birdcage Walk, London SW1H 9JJ.

Sponsorship and Funding Directory 2000 (Springboard Student Services, pounds 8.99), is published in September, tel 01403 710851.