Employer assistance

If the cost of a postgraduate course seems too much for you to afford, your employer might be able to help.

There are several reasons why an employer should consider providing assistance. Doing so can:

  • attract and retain well-qualified and experienced staff
  • increase employee job satisfaction
  • show a commitment to staff development and training
  • improve the 'knowledge bank' within the organisation
  • ensure the organisation is at the forefront of management and industry practices and
  • foster staff loyalty

For these reasons, many forward-thinking employers have developed formal Employee Education Assistance Policies (EEAPs). Check to see if yours has one.

Your employer may be more willing to assist you if you tackle your course on a part-time basis. If you want to take your course full-time, you could investigate a scholarship or research award. Your employer can support you by endorsing your scholarship application and by keeping your position open until you have completed your course.

How your employer can help

You are unlikely to have all your costs paid. Most successful Employee Education Assistance Policies (EEAPs) are based on sharing the costs. For example, you each pay half the course fees and you pay any other costs.

At the successful completion of the course, your employer may elect to reimburse you the remaining course fees. In other instances, your employer may reimburse you a percentage of the course fees at the end of each semester, leaving you to claim the rest as a tax deductible item.

Your employer may allow you to have time off if you need to attend daytime classes and you can work extra hours at another time.

Before you ask for assistance, be prepared to respond to any concerns your employer may have about supporting your postgraduate studies.

Approaching your employer

If you are considering approaching your employer for postgraduate assistance, give them every reason to say 'yes'. Provide a written submission highlighting the benefits of your proposal and the direct and indirect costs. In your submission include:

  • the nature of the course
  • a summary of the immediate and long-term benefits to you and to your organisation
  • a calculation of the total course costs, including fees, text books and other course materials
  • an estimate of the time required off work to attend lectures
  • the assistance you are asking for: share of costs, time off work and so on

Factors that may influence your employer's decision

Your employer may fear you will resign from the organisation at the completion of your qualifications and take your newly acquired skills and knowledge with you, or that you will fail before completing the course.

To allay such doubts, you can agree that if you resign from your employer within (say) 12 to 18 months of completing your course, you will reimburse an agreed percentage of the education costs paid by the firm. You might also propose that if you fail or withdraw from the course, you will reimburse a percentage of the fees paid by the employer.

Your employer may also be concerned about the impact of postgraduate study on your workplace productivity and availability. However, postgraduate programs are generally structured so most lectures are outside normal working hours. In situations where lectures impinge on your working day, you should offer to make up the time by working extra hours. If the time spent away from the workplace is minimal (less than two hours per week) some employers allow you to write that time off with no penalty.

When calculating your time away from the office, don't forget time off for exams and study leave. You can offer to take annual leave at the time of exams, although it is not unreasonable to ask for a day’s study leave per subject per semester and a day off for exams.