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Thinking of further study? How to ask your employer to fund it

Returning to study is one of the best ways to expand your skillset. If your employer is set to gain from your studies it’s worth approaching them to see if they will pay for your degree. While many of us tend to get squeamish about asking for money this doesn’t have to be an awkward conversation.

Dr Andrea North-Samardzic, lecturer in the Department of Management in the Deakin Business School, is enthusiastic about the ways in which these arrangements can be mutually beneficial. We asked her for some tips on how to make your case.

Her first piece of advice is to pick the best time to strike. ‘Try and incorporate the conversation with a time when you are discussing your performance, like a mid-year review, or capitalise on the goodwill of when you’ve done something really great at work,’ suggests Dr North-Samardzic.

Present a flawless case

It’s important to prepare a business case before you initiate the conversation. ‘Even if you are just sounding things out you need to make it hard for them to say no,’ she says. ‘You need to clearly show how your studies are going to be of benefit to them.’

Gather as much information as you can to help you articulate what the return on investment will be. Dr North-Samardzic suggests approaching the course director to ask about the common outcomes they see in graduates and incorporating that in your written business case.

Tell your boss how the company will benefit

According to Dr North-Samardzic, the networking opportunities within postgraduate study can be hugely valuable. ‘People are generally in amongst a similar cohort in terms of experience so it can be really valuable networking, not just for the individual but to develop good contacts to help them do their job better,’ she says.

Further study can also help with the organisation’s succession planning. ‘It’s getting people ready for the next stage in their career so they are bringing new knowledge, skills and abilities into the organisation,’ says Dr North-Samardzic.

Most employers factor professional development into their budget. ‘If you look at someone’s performance management process, professional development is usually embedded as part of that,’ Dr North-Samardzic explains. ‘This means the employer would probably be paying for some type of professional development anyway but this way you’re able to earn a degree as a result.’

A study arrangement can also enhance commitment to an organisation. ‘If your employer decides to pay or subsidise some of your education costs, in a way they’re kind of buying a little bit of extra hard work and commitment from you as well,’ says Dr North-Samardzic. ‘Nothing is for free.’

'You need to clearly show how your studies are going to be of benefit to them.'

Dr Andrea North-Samardzic,
Faculty of Business and Law, Deakin University

Be prepared for commitment

You may be required to sign an education contract and there may be conditions attached. ‘In an arrangement where you pay upfront and the organisation reimburses you, some organisations even say we’re only going to reimburse you if you get a good grade,’ says Dr North-Samardzic.

You might also be required to commit to staying with the organisation for a set amount of time. Dr North-Samardzic says one or two years is the norm but it depends on the industry and the rate of turnover.

It’s important to consider all possibilities with this type of arrangement. ‘If you sign a contract upfront and then don’t complete the course, what position does that put you in?’ asks Dr North-Samardzic. ‘If a big life event happens where you have to leave the organisation what would happen? You’ve got to get into the details and find out if that would mean you had to pay them back.’

And if they say no…

Dr North-Samardzic says not all companies will be able to accommodate your request. ‘Expect resistance,’ she says. ‘Particularly when we’re not experiencing great economic growth in Australia and companies are tightening their belts. Often the smaller the organisation the less discretionary funds are available for higher education or any type of professional training and development.’

An alternative option is to propose splitting costs. Or you could commence the course at your own expense and ask to revisit the conversation at a later stage once you’ve demonstrated the benefits. ‘It might not be no, it might just be not now,’ says Dr North-Samardzic. ‘If you can’t negotiate the money make sure you negotiate time for study because your time costs money.’

While an organisation’s rejection of your application for an education contract isn’t necessarily a reason to look elsewhere it’s worth researching industry norms. ‘Find out if your competitors are paying for employer funded higher education,’ suggests Dr North-Samardzic. ‘Ultimately, if other people have been funded and you haven’t been given a reasonable explanation as to why you haven’t, that might be an opportunity for you to raise some questions about whether your organisation is as committed to you as you are to them.’

If you decide to jump ship, consider asking your new employer to include an education contract in your signing contract. ‘It works really well if people know straight up what they’re in for and if both parties agree and are supportive.’

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Dr Andrea North-Samardzic
Dr Andrea North-Samardzic

Lecturer, Faculty of Business and Law, Deakin University

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