Companies take up fee burden

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Even a one-year residential MBA at a leading UK or Continental school may work out at around 30,000, taking living expenses into account - possibly higher at a US institution.

Fortunately, employers are prepared to support potential candidates to a growing extent. In today's economic climate, many financial institutions feel it is a crucial part of their recruitment efforts. Moreover, co-operation between the world's leading business schools and financial institutions is increasing.

London Business School (LBS), in partnership with HSBC, this month launched an innovative loan scheme that is available to students from anywhere in the world and provides funding to cover not only tuition fees, but also living costs.

Acceptance of a place on one of LBS's masters degree programmes - the full-time MBA, executive MBA, full-time and part-time masters in finance and the Sloan masters in management - is all that is required.

Students will not be required to provide security or guarantors, but will have to maintain their principal bank account with HSBC bank for the duration of the loan. As well as supporting students undertaking an MBA, the loan scheme provides an excellent marketing tool for both institutions.

However, the target pool of those who are likely to need loans - particularly at 2% above the base rate, as the LBS-HSBC loan dictates - is not as large as one might expect. According to the Association of MBAs in London, 50% of MBA students in the UK have all fees paid by employers, and only 16% of students receive no financial assistance whatsoever.

Employers are reluctant to pay for full-time programmes that take people away from their jobs, however, particularly as there are no guarantees that the person will stay with the organisation in the longer term.

There is generally a tie-in period if an employer sponsors a part-time MBA degree. If it involves leaving the institution, there may be an agreement that after the time away the MBA candidate can return to a generous package that in effect means the cost of the degree is covered.

All the top business schools publicise their high placement rates for students within three to six months of doing an MBA degree. At many investment banks there is a bonus component to the pay cheque offered to their MBA recruitment intake that covers the costs of the degree. Summer interns also tend to be well paid at investment banks, offering a chance both to pay off loans and consider the venue for future employment.

The head of MBA recruitment at a bulge bracket investment bank says: 'Every bank will have a broadly termed sign-on bonus for its MBAs: sometimes it is called an 'educational grant'. Students can work for the summer and then sign on, but many are reluctant to commit themselves too early.'

Some MBA candidates prefer to approach the degree by self-financing or aiming for a scholarship precisely so that they remain in full charge of the direction their career takes after the degree.

The Association of MBAs (www.mba.org) offers a wealth of impartial advice on all aspects of doing the degree, including the funding of it.

The loans now offered by the LBS-HSBC partnership break new ground in that they are offered to students of all nationalities.

Until now the only significant loan scheme to allow students to attend top European business schools has been aimed at students from Eastern and Central Europe. Four business schools - Insead, LBS, IESE and the Rotterdam School of Management - participate in a scheme jointly operated by ABN Amro and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Repayment periods can stretch to more than 13 years, but a condition of the scheme is that borrowers should return to their home country within three years of graduating.

In the US, some low-interest MBA loan schemes are run in conjunction with the Graduate Management Admission Council, mainly for American citizens studying at a US school, but can also be used for study at selected schools abroad. In certain rare circumstances they can be obtained by foreign students studying in the US, according to the Association of MBAs' Official Handbook 2000-01.

Loans for European and Asian business schools have historically been much harder to get than they are in the US, but this is now changing as employers work hard to get the best people in a sellers' market.

There are indications that many of the leading business schools are looking at increased opportunities for funding. Erik Weber, associate dean for the MBA programme at IESE, says: 'Every day we do a bit more to help students with their funding.

'More companies are creating funds for scholarships for students and we are talking to European and local banks for loan deals for students, regardless of national origin.'

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