School leavers’ options: sponsored degrees

An exploration of what can be one of the more complex school leavers’ options: sponsored degrees. 


Sponsored degrees come in different shapes and sizes, making them slightly different to other school leavers’ options like apprenticeships. They can broadly be divided into three types: sponsored degree programmes, sponsored degrees and student sponsorship – here we’ve broken these down, so you can help your students decide if they’re the right school leaver option for them.

Sponsored degree programmes

Sponsored degree programmes are school leaver schemes that give employees the chance to complete 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. Although this is similar to the new Degree Apprenticeship, these programmes are not subject to the same government guidelines and scrutiny as apprenticeships.

The schemes are often devised with a particular university, and the entire course fees are usually paid by the employer, if not at least paid for in part with a bursary or scholarship.

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.

Sponsored degrees

Some universities provide degrees that are sponsored and devised in partnership with a consortium of employers and/or professional associations. These are more common in industries like engineering and accountancy. For these sponsored degrees, students might be sponsored wholly or partially (e.g. £1,000 for each year) and might complete an industrial placement or a summer placement with one employer that is part of 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 is likely to be more comprehensive. For example, students on a sponsored scheme might receive a bursary and have a year-long placement and two summer placements with the employer. Depending on academic and placement performance, they might also be offered 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 great work experience as part of a degree and will help young people tackle the cost of a university education.

Student sponsorship

Some companies offer sponsorship either to a small number of students on a degree course in the form of a scholarship, or sponsor a promising student irrespective 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 the least formal 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 have no obligation towards working for the company at all.


Recruiting school leavers? We can help