Post-graduate study: to fund or not to fund?

Should employers fund master’s degrees for their employees? HC speaks to a professor who oversees one of Australia’s most high profile post-graduate programs about the ups and downs of putting a worker through education.

Post-graduate study: to fund or not to fund?
According to Professor Kevin Jameson, director of Macquarie University’s Applied Finance Centre, there are two key benefits gained from funding an employee’s post-graduate study: having a better educated workforce and increasing employee retention.

Jameson categorised post-graduate courses as being either “pre-experience” or “post-experience” programs, depending on whether students undertake them immediately after completing their bachelor’s degree or after gaining some work experience.

“With post-experience programs, there’s much more chance that the theory will integrate with the practice,” Jameson told HC. “For high quality people with high potential, funding further study is absolutely appropriate and a valuable retention strategy. My impression is that those who are funded value their employer more and there is usually an improved employer-employee relationship as a result.”

But the decision to fund an employee’s study program is not one to be taken lightly.

“One of the biggest issues people face is that they forget good master’s degrees are not trivial,” Jameson said. “If you’re going to do it, it will take some work and effort. Most people who are funded are in the 25-30 age range, so a lot of them are beginning to settle down and focus on their career development – this tends to put a lot of pressure on them. Our experience is that the main reason people don’t succeed in their degree is because they’re trying to manage the pressures of balancing study with work and family.”

He added that there are several things employers should consider doing – aside from providing funding – to support their employees’ educational development.

“Awareness is important,” Jameson advised. “Offering communication and flexibility – particularly around exam time and assignments – shows that you are supporting the student. Large employers tend to have multiple employees studying simultaneously, and those students benefit from organising in-house study groups, which also improve relationships within your workforce.”

However, it is important to remember that different employers have different approaches.

“Some employers are quite agnostic and not sure whether to direct staff towards study,” Jameson said. “It surprises me how little dialogue there is in regards to discussing the program and fields of study.”

Jameson advised employers to gauge the program with the employee and education provider as there is “room for creative direction” in most study programs.

Maquarie’s Applied Finance Centre sees around a thousand students at any one time, from various environments.

“We see this all the time, working well and working badly,” Jameson told HC. “When it works, employers get access to the benefits really quickly, as long as they take a hands-on approach. The more engaged the employer is, the better the outcome, and the more benefits they will see.”

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