Sponsored degrees come in different shapes and sizes. They can broadly be divided into three types: sponsored degree programmes, sponsored degrees and student sponsorship.
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, and some or all of the course fees are usually paid for by the employer. Students might attend university on a part-time or distance learning basis while working for the employer, or they might go to university full-time, spending holidays working for the company. Employers might also guarantee a job or a graduate scheme place upon qualification.
Some universities offer degrees that are sponsored and devised in partnership with a consortium of employers and/or professional associations. Students might be sponsored wholly or partially, and might complete placements with one consortium employer. Or a degree might be devised with, and sponsored by, a single employer, whose 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 job or a graduate scheme place upon qualification. These students only earn a salary during their placements, but the programmes guarantee great work experience and help young people tackle the cost of a university education.
Some companies sponsor a small number of students on a degree course, or sponsor a promising student irrespective of their degree course or the university they attend. Some students even approach companies themselves in the hope of gaining sponsorship.
Employers might cover all or part of a student’s tuition fees, or give a one-off lump sum 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 to the employer at all.
Students completing sponsored degrees will all gain a university degree, but the workplace experience and training they receive will vary between programmes and sponsors / employers.
Sponsored degree applicants (or at least those applying to more formal programmes) are subject to the same requirements as university applicants: they are usually expected to have a minimum UCAS tariff (340 points, for example, or equivalent) and submit a strong application via UCAS.
Some trainees are obliged to continue working for their employer for a certain period following the programme, which means a guaranteed job at the end of the scheme; for others this is optional. Those not offered employment with a sponsor will still have a degree and extensive work experience, making them extremely attractive in the job market.
Another advantage of most sponsored degrees is the working relationships that trainees forge with their employees and colleagues during the work element of their programme, developing the so-called ‘soft skills’ – effective teamwork, communications, negotiating skills, ability to work under pressure, problem-solving – that employers so desperately want in young recruits. These are often what people say standard university graduates are missing, despite their academic credentials, so a sponsored degree could arm young people with a desirable, and quite rare, skills set alongside a university qualification.
Those on structured sponsored degree programmes often earn a standard salary, around £15,000 on some schemes. Those on less formal programmes, or working only during holidays, will earn at least the National Minimum Wage for their age for the hours they work, but rates can vary between employers.