Sponsored students from Loughborough University.

Sponsored futures

A sponsored degree may mean having to work summer holidays when your mates are off but the longer-term advantages far outweigh any downsides: chiefly being able to leave university with less debt and hopefully with a job to go to.

The recession and subsequent slow recovery has also put pressure on organisations that offer such support. This isn’t necessarily because they can’t afford the funding but rather they need to be sure they can offer not only new students a job afterwards but also provide the necessary career opportunities for those already on sponsored programmes. Sadly, in some cases less recruitment means less sponsored degrees but there is a quantity of them still available, and they have always been viewed as particularly valuable by employers in the engineering sector.

An investment in the future

John Lucas, a senior member of the HR team within Balfour Beatty, is chairman of a consortium of sponsoring employers for degrees at Loughborough University. He has been involved in the area of sponsored civil and building engineering degrees for more than 10 years.

He explains that organisations in the consortium provide sponsorship bursaries to selected students during their degree and provide paid employment during the summer holidays. Students also undertake a year in industry with the sponsoring organisation, for which they are paid, before returning for the final year of their sandwich course degree.

Consortium companies view sponsorship as an investment in the future: subject to the student performing well during their degree, on placement and at a graduate assessment centre, the intention is that they will join the company upon graduation and continue to work towards their professional qualification under a training agreement. Organisations involved in the consortium provide input into the degree programmes to ensure course content reflects the needs of the industry.

Economic challenges

He goes on to explain that the approach Loughborough and the consortium takes has been adapted to meet the challenges of the economic downturn. Previously, the degree programmes were fully sponsored with students applying to organisations in the consortium for sponsorship prior to commencing the programme. This year the consortium has decided to delay sponsorship interviews until all the students have commenced their degree studies and when an organisation’s secured workload - essential for good industrial experience  - is clearer.

In the current climate not all students can expect to secure sponsorship from year one. That said, many of the organisations are already itching to fully sponsor students and secure high calibre people for their businesses.

“A lot of them get commitment from their directors, knowing sponsorship offers a talent pipeline for the future,” says Lucas. “I have no doubt that there will still be sponsorship available to students in their first year.”

Finding sponsored degrees

Information on sponsorship can usually be found on university websites although our own research for this article proved that the signposting of these opportunities could be better, so prepare to do some searching.

As well as programmes run in conjunction with a consortium of employers such as the one at Loughborough, check out other programmes like the IET Power Academy, which was set up to address the skills shortage in power engineers and through its partners has funded more than 300 students in seven years. Of course, if there are particular organisations you wish to target for employment, the best route to find out about sponsorship opportunities is to go to their career sites direct.

If you can’t find a section on sponsorship, click through to the internship section as these are often a route to sponsorship. Following successful completion of a summer vacation placement at Costain, for example, a student may be offered a place on its Sponsored Student Programme and will receive a financial bursary, vacation or industrial placement as well as support with their academic studies. It covers a variety of degree disciplines including civil engineering, mechanical engineering and electrical engineering.

“The number of places is limited as we view the Sponsored Student Programme as a strong pipeline of talent for our graduate development programme and therefore the competition is fierce,” says Indy Lachhar, graduate development manager.

“Candidates are expected to complete a rigorous application process including an online application and assessment centre. Those candidates that are successful demonstrate qualities such as a positive and enthusiastic attitude, strong teamwork, interpersonal, communication and problem-solving skills. Having researched the industry, organisation and role thoroughly, some proactively arranged a form of work experience within the industry which helped to make them more prepared for the assessment centre.”

Masters sponsorship

Sponsorship opportunities are also available for Masters programmes. Lucas explains that Balfour Beatty, Vinci and Morgan Sindall are among those that offer sponsorship to the University of Warwick’s new MSc in Tunnelling and Underground Space. “Some like us sponsored current employees but others took a different view and sponsored new people,” he says.

Hoare Lea, a consultancy firm specialising in mechanical, electrical and environmental engineering which has offices spread across the UK as well as in Abu Dhabi and Qatar, says it is flexible in its approach to funding Masters courses but mainly sponsors those who have already joined as a graduate to satisfy the further learning criteria for a Chartered Engineer.

“Each request is assessed on a case-by-case basis with assistance offered to courses deemed relevant to the individual’s role. Applicants have to be working with us for a period of time before we would sponsor them,” explains a spokesperson from the professional development team. “We don’t have a restricted amount of places where we offer study assistance and our funding in this area is unrestricted, meaning we can support more people to reach their development potential.”

The bigger picture

Understandably, financial assistance is central to many students’ thinking but it is sensible to look at the bigger picture when it comes to sponsorship. If organisations are going to find it difficult to offer sponsorship from the beginning of a degree, students might have to accept funding won’t kick in until later but a paid for twelve month industrial placement is still highly desirable and, all being well, a place on a graduate scheme afterwards has to be viewed as the ultimate prize.

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