What is a Sponsored Degree Programme?

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Employers call their school leaver programmes all sorts, from training programmes and undergraduate apprenticeships to sponsored degree programmes.

In this article, we’ll tackle the meaty subject of sponsored degree programmes. We’ve broadly divided them up into sponsored degree programmes, sponsored degrees and student sponsorship. They might not seem that different, but, boy, they are.

Sponsored degree programmes

Examples of employers that offer this type: Ernst & YoungPwCNational Grid.

Sponsored degree programmes are school leaver schemes that focus on the fact that you’ll get a degree as part of the programme. As well as studying for a degree at university, students are often regarded as permanent employees of the company and receive a salary.

The schemes are often devised with a particular university, meaning that the student will have little say in what university or course they do.

However, more often than not, they’ll have their entire course fees paid by the employer or at least receive a bursary or scholarship to go towards the cost of their university education.

Students might attend university on a part-time or distance learning basis (e.g. one day a week) whilst working for the employer, or they might go to university full-time, spending their holidays working for the company.

The employer might also offer students a guaranteed job on qualification or, subject to performance, a place on their graduate scheme.

Other employers such as Barclays offer similar opportunities, where you’ll be a permanent employee of the company whilst taking a degree at a specified university.

However, they have chosen to brand their programmes under the school leaver programme umbrella, not purely as a sponsored degree programme.

The balance of time you’ll spend at university and in the work-place will vary from scheme to scheme, so make sure you check.

Sponsored degrees

Examples: Loughborough’s Innovative Manufacturing Engineering degree and the Ernst and Young Degree.

Other universities will provide degrees that are sponsored and devised with a consortium of employers and/or professional associations. These are more common in industries like engineering and accountancy, usually for more vocational degrees.

For the consortium sponsored degrees, students might be sponsored wholly or partially (e.g. £1,000 for each year) and might take an industrial placement or a summer placement with an employer in the consortium.

Alternatively, like the Ernst and Young degree, a degree might be devised with and sponsored by a single employer (sometimes in tandem with a professional association). For these degrees, the employer involvement will likely be more comprehensive.

For example, students on a sponsored scheme might receive a bursary and have a yearlong placement and two summer placements with the employer. Depending on academic and placement performance, they might also get a spot on the graduate scheme or a job with the company upon graduation.

Students on these types of degree aren’t permanent employees and won’t earn a salary, apart from during their placement year or summer internship. However, it’s an excellent way of guaranteeing experience as part of your degree and helps you to fund your university education.

Student sponsorship

Still with us? There’s yet another type.

Some companies will offer sponsorship either to a small number of students on a degree course in the form of a scholarship or they will sponsor a promising student irrespective of their degree course and university; although, of course, they might target students on particular courses.

Students have also been known to approach companies before they attend university in the hope of some form of sponsorship.

This is probably the most informal sponsorship programme of them all. The employer might cover a student’s fees for part of their university education or give a one-off token amount to the student.

In return, students might take up a summer placement with the company, work with them after university or they might actually have no particular obligations towards the company at all.

Alternatively, some companies will sponsor students who stand out during their internships or placements with them, offering to cover their last year or two years at university and giving them a place on the graduate scheme or fast-tracking their application to the interview stage.

Should I do a sponsored degree programme? 

Going to university the traditional way isn’t your only option. With the recent rise in university tuition fees,  sponsored degree programmesare really on the rise. These offer a fantastic mix of subsidised university education and the chance to gain some heavy duty work experience with an industry leader. But are they the best option for you?

Here we list four advantages and the four disadvantages of sponsored degree programmes:

Advantages

1. If you’re interested in the degree subject, the employer behind the programme and the careers related to the degree, then a sponsored degree programme can be an excellent way of kick-starting your career whilst gaining a university degree.

2. Sponsored degree programmes help keep down university costs. Students on sponsored degrees might receive bursaries or scholarships to help fund their way. Some lucky beggars will have all their tuition fees paid for them, meaning they can kiss hefty student debts goodbye. Better still, some students on sponsored degrees are permanent employees of the company and will earn an annual salary. Jealous much?

3. Access to some top drawer work experience. Those on sponsored degrees might get the chance to work for the company during the university holidays, do an industrial placement, or work full-time and study for the degree part-time. That means they can get some serious work experience in the bag.

4. Sponsored degree programmes attached to a single employer might offer a guaranteed job on graduation, or a place in a graduate scheme subject to performance. Adieu, graduate unemployment!

Disadvantages

1. Limited choice. Sponsored degree programmes are only available for a small number of degree subjects and are only offered by a small number of employers. You’ll need to have a genuine interest in the degree, the company and the industry behind the degree. There’s no point in doing a sponsored degree programme in accountancy if you want to become a doctor.

2. Most sponsored degrees or sponsored degree programmes can only be done at specific universities and you can only do the courses that have been prescribed by your employer. That means you’ll have a narrow choice of degrees and universities to choose from. The degrees on offer tend to be more vocationally-focused, so a sponsored degree programme might not be ideal for those wishing to take a more traditional subject.

3. You might not get the full ‘university experience’. Some programmes require their trainees to only attend university on a part-time or distance learning basis.

4. Depending on the programme, you might have to enter into a contract with an employer. They might stump up the cash for your tuition costs, but, in return, you will be expected to spend your university holidays working for the company. Some degrees also come with the condition that the students spend three years after university working for the employer. Some might see this as a perk; others might value more flexibility and freedom. 

Sponsored degrees: what subjects are on offer? 

Here are some examples of companies offering sponsored degrees, and what subjects they offer the degrees in.

EY: BSc Accounting & Finance at the University of Bath, Lancaster University, or University of Warwick, plus a paid four week Summer Placement in the Assurance practice after your first year at university, and a paid, year-long industrial placement at an EY office during year three. Do well on your course and during placements, and you could land a full-time job when you graduate.

CGI: Digital & Technology Solutions at the University of Winchester, or Computing at Glasgow Caledonian University. This programme offers full tuition fees, university study one day a week, and four days a week of workplace development, as well as a job offer on successful completion of the course.

PwC: Accounting & Business at Henley Business School at the University of Reading or Nottingham University Business School, or Business Accounting and Finance at Newcastle University. PwC also offers a fast track route towards becoming a Chartered Accountant from the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) – plus paid placements and the chance to secure a job offer once you graduate.

Rolls-Royce: Manufacturing Management Foundation Programme at the University of Warwick, then a Master’s degree in Engineering Business Management from the University of Warwick, fully paid. You'll also take on placements in different areas of the company, which typically last six months each. 

In some cases, the subjects on offer are not quite as rigid: some companies will offer sponsorship either to a small number of students on a degree course in the form of a scholarship, or sponsor a promising student, regardless of their degree course and university. Students have also been known to approach companies before they attend university in the hope of some form of sponsorship.

This is probably the most informal sponsorship programme of them all, and the most rare. The employer might cover a student’s fees for part of their university education or give a one-off token amount to the student. In return, students might take up a summer placement with the company, work with them after university or they might actually have no particular obligations towards the company at all.

Alternatively, some companies will sponsor students who stand out during their internships or placements with them, offering to cover their last year or two years at university and giving them a place on the graduate scheme or fast-tracking their application to the interview stage.

Sponsored Degrees vs. standard degrees

Both sponsored degrees and standard degrees offer (surprisingly) degrees, but both with different advantages and disadvantages.

Sponsored degree programmes – in which employers pay all or part of a student’s tuition fees on a particular course – help to keep down university costs. Students on sponsored degrees might receive bursaries or scholarships to help fund their way, some will have all their tuition fees paid for them, meaning they side-step hefty student debts. Better still, some students on sponsored degrees are permanent employees of the company and will earn an annual salary. 

Sponsored degrees, with their paid work placements, also offer access to top quality workplace experience. Those on sponsored degrees might get the chance to work for the company during the university holidays, do an industrial placement, or work full-time and study for the degree part-time. That means they can get work experience relevant to their chosen industry, and make themselves potentially more employable than those on standard degree courses.

Sponsored degree programmes attached to a single employer often offer a guaranteed job on graduation, or a place in a graduate scheme subject to performance, compared to standard graduates who are experiencing difficulties in the job market.

In 2015 it was revealed that a third of working graduates had taken jobs as cleaners, office juniors and road sweepers six months after leaving university. Over 60,000 students were in "non-professional" roles, working in areas such as administration and secretarial, skilled trades, service and caring industries and sales and customer service.

The new data also showed that almost 16,730 graduates were out of work six months after leaving university.

However, sponsored degrees have their limitations: the schemes are often devised with a particular university, meaning that the student will have little say in what university or course they do, and meaning that there is a limited range of subjects on offer – companies only offer degrees in subjects that will make you a useful employee for that specific company, not just any degree you happen to want to study. 

In 2015 it was revealed that a third of working graduates had taken jobs as cleaners, office juniors and road sweepers six months after leaving university. Over 60,000 students were in "non-professional" roles, working in areas such as administration and secretarial, skilled trades, service and caring industries and sales and customer service.

Standard degrees offer far more choice: as long as you can secure a loan (or have savings which will cover tuition fees) and have the right prerequisites, you can apply for any course you like.

Standard degrees also do offer great job potential for the top graduates. The latest Office of National Statistics report comparing graduates to non-graduates found that graduates were more likely to be employed than those who left education with qualifications of a lower standard, and shown that graduate starting salaries at the UK’s leading graduate employers is, on average, a whopping £29,000.

A quarter of top graduate programmes pay new recruits more than £35,000. Obviously this isn’t the case for everyone, but these are positions only available to university graduates, not those who are tied into jobs with specific employers due to their sponsored degrees.

This all comes at a cost however: standard degrees are expensive. Most full-time students need a tuition fee loan, which covers the full cost of the tuition fee. Depending on where and what is being studied, this total can vary, but a typical student on a three-year course outside of London will to graduate with around £35,000 - £40,000 of student loan. This loan accrues interest; in England, for example this is 5.5%. After graduation, yearly repayments are set at 9% of whatever is earned above £21,000, regardless of the total loan amount.

For example, if a graduate earns £25,000 a year they will repay £360 per year, £30 per month. This is the same however much was borrowed. If they earn £30,000 a year they will repay £804 per year, £67 per month. Again, this is the same however much was borrowed.

Sponsored Degrees vs. school leaver programmes

 

Even though sponsored degrees and school leaver programmes both offer academic qualifications without student debt, plus paid workplace experience, they offer distinct advantages.

Sponsored degrees are harder to pin down than school leaver programmes, dividing roughly into three groups:

Sponsored degree programmes

Sponsored degree programmes are school leaver schemes that focus on the fact that you’ll get a degree as part of the programme. As well as studying for a degree at university, students are often regarded as permanent employees of the company and receive a salary.

The schemes are often devised with a particular university, meaning that the student will have little say in what university or course they do. However, they’ll usually have their entire course fees paid by the employer or at least receive a bursary or scholarship to go towards the cost of their university education.

Students might attend university on a part-time or distance learning basis (e.g. one day a week) while working for the employer, or they might go to university full-time, spending their holidays working for the company.

The employer might also offer students a guaranteed job on qualification or, subject to performance, a place on their graduate scheme.

Other employers offer similar opportunities, where you’ll be a permanent employee of the company whilst taking a degree at a specified university.

The balance of time you’ll spend at university and in the work-place will vary from scheme to scheme, so make sure you check.

Sponsored degrees

Other universities will provide degrees that are sponsored and devised with a consortium of employers and/or professional associations. These are more common in industries like engineering and accountancy, usually for more vocational degrees.

For the consortium-sponsored degrees, students might be sponsored wholly or partially (e.g. £1,000 for each year) and might take an industrial placement or a summer placement with an employer in the consortium.

Alternatively, a degree might be devised with and sponsored by a single employer (sometimes in tandem with a professional association). For these degrees, the employer involvement will likely be more comprehensive.

For example, students on a sponsored scheme might receive a bursary and have a yearlong placement and two summer placements with the employer. Depending on academic and placement performance, they might also get a spot on the graduate scheme or a job with the company upon graduation.

Students on these types of degree aren’t permanent employees and only earn a salary during their placement year or summer internship.

Student sponsorship

Some companies will offer sponsorship either to a small number of students on a degree course in the form of a scholarship or they will sponsor a promising student irrespective of their degree course and university; although, of course, they might target students on particular courses.

Students have also been known to approach companies before they attend university in the hope of some form of sponsorship.

This is probably the most informal sponsorship programme of them all. The employer might cover a student’s fees for part of their university education or give a one-off token amount to the student.

In return, students might take up a summer placement with the company, work with them after university or they might actually have no particular obligations towards the company at all.

Alternatively, some companies will sponsor students who stand out during their internships or placements with them, offering to cover their last year or two years at university and giving them a place on the graduate scheme or fast-tracking their application to the interview stage.

School leaver programmes might be easier to find and to understand than some of the less structured sponsored degrees, and might be better for those wanting to pursue professional qualifications (e.g. those required for accounting), while sponsored degrees might be a better option for those set on a bachelor’s degree specifically, as well as those who don’t like the idea of the week at university being broken up with days at the office – sponsored degrees will often keep study and work more separate than school leaver programmes, by having summer or year-long work placements rather than work and study timetabled in the same weeks.

 

For the consortium-sponsored degrees, students might be sponsored wholly or partially (e.g. £1,000 for each year) and might take an industrial placement or a summer placement with an employer in the consortium.

School leaver programmes might be easier to find and to understand than some of the less structured sponsored degrees, and might be better for those wanting to pursue professional qualifications (e.g. those required for accounting), while sponsored degrees might be a better option for those set on a bachelor’s degree specifically, as well as those who don’t like the idea of the week at university being broken up with days at the office – sponsored degrees will often keep study and work more separate than school leaver programmes, by having summer or year-long work placements rather than work and study timetabled in the same weeks.

 

School leaver programmes are now available in all business sectors, from technical, commercial to creative. They are generally with FTSE 100 leading employers – such as EY, IBM and Deloitte – who offer great training programmes and pay good starting salaries.

For example, on the EY school leaver programme, trainees study towards two professional qualifications: the globally-recognised ICAEW Certificate in Finance and Business (CFAB) followed by a second professional qualification linked to their chosen field — Assurance, Transactions or Tax. So a school leaver programme might be the best choice for someone wanting to pursue accounting, for example, rather than a sponsored degree.

School leaver programmes are also designed to arm students with the specific professional qualifications they will need to embark on a career at that particular organisation, not necessarily a university degree.

Both sponsored degrees and school leaver programmes offer great prospects of a full-time job with the employer after the schemes are complete. 

How to find sponsored degrees

 

There are a few different types of sponsored degree, some more structured than others. The most structured are the easiest to find (but might have the highest competition), the least structured can be the hardest to find.

Sponsored degree programmes

Sponsored degree programmes are school leaver schemes that focus on the fact that you’ll get a degree as part of the programme. As well as studying for a degree at university, students are often regarded as permanent employees of the company and receive a salary.

The schemes are often devised with a particular university, meaning that the student will have little say in what university or course they do.

However, more often than not, they’ll have their entire course fees paid by the employer or at least receive a bursary or scholarship to go towards the cost of their university education.

Students might attend university on a part-time or distance learning basis (e.g. one day a week) whilst working for the employer, or they might go to university full-time, spending their holidays working for the company.

The employer might also offer students a guaranteed job on qualification or, subject to performance, a place on their graduate scheme.

For these programmes, go to the AllAboutSchoolLeavers Jobs pageand search “sponsored degree”, or go to the careers section of your ideal companies and see if they offer a sponsored degree – there should be a structured application process.

Student sponsorship

Some companies will offer sponsorship either to a small number of students on a degree course in the form of a scholarship or they will sponsor a promising student irrespective of their degree course and university; although, of course, they might target students on particular courses.

This is probably the most informal sponsorship programme of them all. The employer might cover a student’s fees for part of their university education or give a one-off token amount to the student.

The best way to find these sponsored degrees is not as formalised as the other varieties, Students have also been known to approach companies before they attend university in the hope of some form of sponsorship. They may also be accessed after a particularly successful work placement – confident school leavers could approach their temporary employees and ask to discuss the possibilities of sponsorship.

Sponsored degrees

Some universities will provide degrees that are sponsored and devised with a consortium of employers and/or professional associations. These are more common in industries like engineering and accountancy, usually for more vocational degrees.

For the consortium sponsored degrees, students might be sponsored wholly or partially (e.g. £1,000 for each year) and might take an industrial placement or a summer placement with an employer in the consortium.

For these programmes, go to the AllAboutSchoolLeavers Jobs pageand search “sponsored degree”, or go to the careers section of your ideal companies and see if they offer a sponsored degree – there should be a structured application process.

Sponsored Degree Programme application tips 

Considering applying for a sponsored degree programme? Read these handy tips before you get started…

1. Don’t be lazy, do some research.

Before you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), you will need to have a good understanding of what the company does, what the programme will involve, what responsibilities you will have, and the content of the university course. Not only do you need to research the company, you need to research the course and find out more about the university you will be attending.

From all this research, you should have a good idea about what the company is looking for in a candidate. Draw up a list of the attributes they are looking for and make sure you display them in your application form.

2. Make sure you read the questions thoroughly.

This might sound a bit obvious, but you need to make sure you answer each question fully, and to do that you have to know exactly what you're being asked. Break down the question into sections and use this to dictate the structure of your answer.

3. Write a bespoke application

Each sponsored degree programme application should be unique - everything in your application needs to be relevant to the specific programme you are interested in. Resist the temptation to cut and paste from other applications you have completed.

Figure out what is distinctive about the programme and come up with some unique reasons why you want to join their sponsored degree programme specifically. N.B. Your main reason shouldn’t be that you want to avoid paying tuition fees.

4. Keep it snappy.

We don’t expect your answers to resemble catchy advertising slogans, à la “Welcome to Employville!” or “Meinz Skillz Meanz Beanziness”. Your responses should be succinct, concise and to the point. Nobody likes waffle. Cut out any redundant phrases and make sure your answers are attention-grabbing.

5. Buzzwords 

Using the right buzzwords on your application form can really help you tick those boxes. When we talk about buzzwords, we mean two things: one is using positive verbs that showcase various skills and qualities; the other is the words that recruiters will type into application scanning software to find suitable candidates. Don't overdo it, but make sure you have a healthy amount! 

6. Remember that you aren’t just applying for a degree

 A sponsored degree programme will  result in you getting a job with the company you're applying for. Don’t simply bang on about how much you want to go to university and study a course. You need to remember that you will also be working for the company. Discuss how you think the degree programme will help you to become a vital member of the team and add value to the company.

7. Double check everything.

Once you’ve finished, read through your application again to make sure it makes sense. Delete any superfluous sentences. Be brutal. Irrelevant information simply has to go. Go through the application form again with an eagle eye and iron out any typos, grammatical errors or spelling mistakes. Reading aloud, or asking someone else to read it for you, may help. 

8. Avoid the last minute rush.

 Try your best to submit your application form as early as possible. Sponsored degree programmes are highly desirable schemes, and places fill up fast. What’s more, you won’t impress the recruiter with a rushed, last ditch application. 

Ready to go? Check out our Jobs Board to see what sponsored degree programmes are available now. Or polish off your CV, cover letter or interview skills. 

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