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

An expert weighs in on the questions HR should be asking when deciding whether or not to invest in an employees’ further education

For many companies, sponsoring employees to undertake postgraduate study can be a good retention tool – not to mention the employees are likely to come out of the further education better qualified, more rounded and highly motivated.

However, supporting postgraduate study is not without its challenges. There are a number of issues that employers must consider before committing, not least of which is the decision about whether or not to fund or partly fund this study on workers’ behalves.

For Kevin Jameson, director of the Macquarie Applied Finance Centre in Sydney, some issues are purely operational – they are what he describes as “trivial and obvious but also important”.

Jameson warns that if these are not handled well, it can work against the intention of the employer – which is ultimately to encourage continuous learning and retain employees.

“It can be very simple things we might not think about,” he said. “Consider exam or assessment time, which can be busy and stressful for students.

“They’ve likely got full-time jobs; often they’ll have partners, family, those types of commitments – so study is undertaken in the evenings or on weekends. Just a bit of awareness around those priorities can go a long way.”

There are also strategic challenges to consider. For example, most employers will agree to support study for the simple reason that they want to invest in their employees. But this means they must be aware of ROI.

“Clearly, one of the problems for employers is this question: we’ll invest a lot of money in an individual; how does this pay off? It’s a highly strategic question for employers to deal with,” Jameson said.

Further questions include how the employer selects the participants or makes the decision to fund those individuals for further study – at what point in their career do they do it?

Jameson categorises postgraduate 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 said.

“For high-quality people with high potential, funding further study is absolutely appropriate ad 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.”

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