MBAs and MFins: Think a management degree is out of your reach? Think again

MBAs and MFins may be expensive courses, but there are now more bursaries and scholarships than ever to help promising talent climb the career ladder

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The Independent Online

Competing for top talent, business schools, universities and private colleges aim to attract a diverse student cohort by offering scholarships and bursaries. Support is targeted at specific groups with eligibility depending on criteria such as a high Gmat test score, gender, nationality, or career background.

"We have £1m in scholarships available, depending on who we are trying to attract. Different courses will have different diversity issues," says Professor Ginny Gibson, deputy dean of Henley Business School, University of Reading.

Henley and the British Council, for example, jointly fund four GREAT Scholarships targeted at students from India. The business school also offers two awards of £5,000 for Russian nationals to build closer links to an important developing market. And to attract women CEOs, Henley partners with the 30% Club to offer a full fee scholarship for its executive MBA.

Diversity is regarded as the key to a rich learning experience. Mixed classes that include a high percentage of students of different nationalities as well as a balanced gender intake and age profile stimulates discussion. There is also a widening participation agenda where students from low-income groups and from non-traditional backgrounds are encouraged to take up scholarships. Many academic institutions place a high priority on inclusion. "Our mission is to give everyone the opportunity to transform their life, from undergraduate scholarships based on financial need to our £40,00 MBA full-fee bursary for young potential leaders with a first class honours degree and one year's business experience," says Ffion Rees-Hughes, head of marketing and recruitment at Manchester Business School.

Low cost loans also form part of the equation with alumni-backed investment schemes such as Prodigy Finance taking over from risk-averse retail banks. Meanwhile, the Government plans to build Britain's knowledge base by extending student loans to taught Masters degrees and doctoral research. Some institions are already offering generous support for research. Open University Business School (OUBS), for example, offers a fee waiver of £10,000 and a £14,000 annual stipend to doctoral students attending the university's Milton Keynes campus.

 

Many business schools prioritise academic achievement when offering financial support. "Our scholarships are targeted to those who are likely to be in the top 20 per cent of their class, and will bring both outstanding experience and diversity of background to bear. We are looking for the most talented applicants who will add something extra to our cohort and school," says Warwick Business School dean, Mark Taylor.

Other business schools seek out candidates from specific business sectors. Cambridge Judge Business School (CJBS), for example, offers a number of attractive scholarships for students studying the Masters in finance (MFin) programme. In November 2013 CJBS launched the Chairman's Scholarships, two £15,000 awards funded by its chairman and former chief operating officer of Goldman Sachs, Glenn Earle. And in October last year CJBS introduced Central Bank Scholarships aimed at boosting financial expertise within the UK's central banks. The awards cover 20 per cent of course fees.

"These scholarships are a reflection of our commitment to attract the best talent to the school and to empower these candidates with the knowledge that they need to excel in the financial industry across global markets," says executive director of the MFin programme Marwa Hammam.

But scholarships are not available to all. Many business students use savings from a well-paid job to take a career break or study part-time by distance learning while building a career. Both options minimise the need for financial support. This is certainly the case at OUBS where the average age of business undergraduates is 26 and, for Masters students, 37. "The bulk of our students are either self-financing or are employer-sponsored," says Devendra Kodwani associate dean of learning and teaching.

With OUBS undergraduate distance learning degrees costing £2,500 a year and its two-year MBA programme costing just £17,000, OUBS competes on price and affordability. Since 2014, OUBS under-graduates have been eligible for the government backed tuition fee loans, a factor that has led to a rise in people studying business related degrees.

Many employers will fund junior managers to take professional or business qualifications related to their job. Based in the City, independent business education provider ifs University College (IFSUC), for example, is a not-for-profit operation linked to the Institute for Financial Services. It offers part-time and distance learning undergraduate and postgraduate degrees for the banking and financial services industry as well as a small number of full-time places on campus. Here, employer sponsorship is the norm, as the qualifications are seen as an essential management development tool.

"We offer something focused on a specific industry. Upwards of 50 per cent of our students are from the UK and have their fees paid by their employer. But if a student is self-funding then we have a wide availability of scholarships," says vice principal, Martin Day.

IFSUC offers five faculty scholarships for high achieving self-funding students and an unlimited number of alumni scholarships while for students wanting to progress from its undergraduate programme to a postgraduate degree. foroverseas students there are five prestigious Henry Grunfeld global Masters scholarships, awarded to promote international understanding.

Even more important than scholarships, is the cost of study. With so many business programmes now taught in English across Europe, potential students should compare UK business education with what is on offer from European institutions. Based at Jouy-en-Josas on the outskirts of Paris, HEC is France's - and one of Europe's - top business schools. Despite a formidable world reputation, HEC's support from the Paris chamber of commerce and industry enables it to keep prices down.

"When it comes to the cost of our MBA we are particularly competitive in relation to London Business School and the top Spanish schools. There is a €40,000 gap between the cost of our MBA and that of LBS and half of our MBA students get an excellence scholarship ranging from €8,000 to €26,000," says director of communications Philippe Oster.

Barcelona-based business school IESE gives scholarships to around 20 per cent of its MBA cohort but it attracts a talented and diverse student cohort by offering guaranteed low interest study loans. For the past ten years IESE has had a partnership with Banco Sabadell to lend 80 per cent of the tuition fee. Professor Franz Heukamp, associate dean for MBA programmes, explains why this approach works: "We want an MBA that is accessible to all people and all geographies, not just a wealthy elite. Although many MBAs subsequently move on to high earning careers, when they apply to us they are not necessarily earning a great deal." Currently a full-time two year MBA at IESE costs €74,000.

Over the years, a partnership of trust has built up and Banco Sabadell takes an acceptance offer from IESE as an indication that its loan will be repaid by the individual in full eight years after graduation. No one is refused a loan but students from within the EU are offered a slightly lower interest rate to reflect better employment prospects within Europe.

So what does the future hold for business education providers and is the current resource intensive learning model sustainable without resorting to more scholarships and imaginative loan schemes?

The arrival of Moocs - massive open online courses - could provide high quality affordable business education in some instances. The Open University is a partner of the UK Mooc, Futurelearn. "Our two Mooc courses in personal finance and managing investment are self- development products which people can study free of charge," says OUBS' Devendra Kodwani. But he adds: "Of greater significance is the fact in the States you can now pay a fee to have your learning assessed and certified." Sooner or later business schools will dip their toe in the water and a new financial model could be born.

'There are so many factors that influence the cost’

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Annabel Todd, MSc banking practice and management, Institute of Financial Services University College.

Studying part time and online, Masters student Annabel Todd receives a faculty scholarship from ifs University College (IFSUC) covering a third of her £8,950 MSc tuition fee. The scholarship is one of five awarded by IFSUC to support students who fund themselves.

Todd has worked in financial services since leaving school. "I joined RBS in 2008 on their sixth form entrance scheme and they sponsored me to study my banking practice and management degree with the Institute of Financial Services (IoFS). I am now a partner in my father's financial consultancy, ITO, an investment scheme for property developers based in Manchester."

Studying two to three days a week, ITO pays Todd a small salary towards her remaining course fees and living costs. IFSUC is part of the IoFS, a professional body incorporated by Royal Charter. "I am currently a chartered associate of the IoFS. Gaining the fellowship is extremely important to me: it demonstrates not only a level of knowledge but my passion for the industry," says Todd.

'I have a passion for the industry'

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Abhi Mandal, MBA, Henley Business School, University of Reading.

Securing a financial package to support your studies is a priority, especially for overseas students. Graduating from Henley Business School (HBS) in December 2014, Abhi Mandal had intended to cover the £25,000 cost of a full-time MBA from his savings.

"I'm an Indian national and had been working in Canada since 2006 as a sales executive for Bell Canada in Toronto. But my arrival in the UK coincided with the devaluation of the Canadian dollar and I was committed to paying my course fees in sterling. It was quite a challenge," says Mandal.

What saved the day was a £4,000 bursary from Henley Business School. "It covered 15 per cent of my tuition fee and was awarded on the basis of my international exposure and my experience. I had previously worked in India, Dubai and Canada and I could bring a wider cultural perspective to class discussion," says Mandal.

Living on campus added a further £600 a month to his expenses but Mandal managed to economise by quitting campus to live rent-free with relatives during the final four months of his programme while he wrote up his dissertation. Remote working was facilitated through an excellent online library, the use of Skype and the free mobile phone app, Viber.

What advice can Mandal offer to anyone studying business abroad? "Have a contingency plan. There are so many factors that can influence the cost of studies such as political or economic upheavals. Have a 20 per cent buffer on top of your budget to cover unforeseen contingencies."

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