MBA providers boost their scholarship coffers to help students survive the recession

Fancy a Stelios scholarship to study for your MBA? Cass Business School might award you one courtesy of Easyjet's founder. Not to be outdone, other business schools may also offer financial assistance to as many as half the students on their full-time MBA courses. With the recession biting hard and students more conscious of getting value for money, help with paying the fees is more welcome than ever.

Business schools have offered financial support to students for many years, often paying particular attention to overseas students. But the issue has become more sensitive recently. According to a spokesman for Exeter University Business School many of those at the recent AMBA fair interested in studying for an MBA had recently been made redundant.

A lot of potential students see improving their skills and qualifications as an attractive alternative to a daunting job market. Along with other schools, Exeter is seeing record numbers of applicants. It is also seeing a new phenomenon – executive MBA students made redundant by their sponsor companies while on the course. Faced with such problems, Exeter is offering more help than usual to students this year.

For the 2009 class, the school has five full-fee professional scholarships covering the £17,000 fee for the full-time MBA and 12 part-fee awards worth £5,000 each. Exeter also offers alumni scholarships of £1,000 each for students who previously graduated from the university. These scholarships can be paid in addition to other scholarships, except the full-fee scholarship.

As the current MBA class has only 20 students – although this is expected to rise to 30 in the next academic year – the great majority of students stand to benefit from some help. Exeter sees the policy as an investment in the future, designed to help expand the MBA class to a more competitive size while maintaining student quality.

Cass has a bigger full-time MBA class – about 80 students – and provides financial assistance to between 40 per cent and 50 per cent of the cohort. Like other schools, it has been developing assistance programmes for students for several years. "From the last economic downturn we learnt a lot about students and their potential needs", says Chris Jeffery, a teaching fellow in the Faculty of Management who is heavily involved in recruiting overseas students.

The school offers more than 20 scholarships open to students from different regions of the world. The Stelios scholarship is for European students and is worth £10,000. The Ethos scholarship, financed by a South African private equity firm, pays the full £29,000 cost of the full-time MBA degree and is open to South African students. There are some scholarships, worth between £1,000 and £3,000 funded by alumni.

The scholarship budget is fixed for each course. "It's the only budget in the school you can guarantee will be fully spent," Jeffery jokes. Cass's policy is to provide financial help to as many students as possible rather than lavish aid on a handful. Jeffery believes that even in these difficult times students must make a commitment of their own to a degree which should benefit them considerably.

As with Exeter, Cass has seen some executive MBA students lose their jobs while studying. "We try to ensure that doesn't stop them from completing the MBA", Jeffery says. The school can help with financing the course, alleviating hardship and finding another job.

On the face of it, the problems might be greater at Manchester Business School where the full-time MBA fee is a hefty £33,500. The school also has about 50 different nationalities in its full-time MBA class of 130 students, which might also seem to complicate things further. But "we're facing a bigger crop of very good applicants without changing our funding formula", says Michael Luger, the school's director.

All successful applicants are entitled to be considered for scholarships worth either £7,000 or £14,000. About 40 per cent of full-time MBA students receive help. Manchester has been trying to augment its scholarship coffers by raising money from donors for named scholarships. "We've had a reasonable start on that", Luger says.

But he joins other schools in emphasising that finance for students should not be a competitive weapon. Unlike some of their US competitors, UK schools generally consider students for financial help as part of the application process after they have been accepted. Stelios is not an easy touch.

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