A cyclist passes by the Cambridge Judge business school
Tiber Health will fund up to 20 staff to study at Cambridge Judge over the next decade © Robert Evans/Alamy

David Lenihan insists that he does not mind if the employees he funds to study for an executive MBA later move to rivals. “I’m fine with that possibility, because I believe that the team members in whom we’re investing will want to remain with us,” says Lenihan, the chief executive of Tiber Health, which uses virtual learning to train doctors.

“And those who do decide to move elsewhere will not only be enthusiastic about referring high-quality individuals to us who can fill their roles; they’ll also be eager to partner or collaborate on projects that are mutually beneficial to us and to their new employers,” he adds.

Lenihan’s enlightened view of education has resulted in him funding up to 20 of his executives through the University of Cambridge Judge Business School EMBA over the next 10 years. “Because they’re highly specialised in the business of academia, our medical school’s executives and administrators haven’t had an opportunity to be exposed to professionals from different backgrounds who work in other business sectors,” he says.

“By interacting with their fellow students in the Cambridge EMBA programme — who hail from a wide variety of global industries and areas of expertise — our team has gained a dramatically improved understanding of the fundamentals of running an organisation. This knowledge has sharpened everyone’s abilities, skills and awareness, and is delivering improved results for us,” he adds.

FT Executive MBA Ranking 2022

A lady teaching at Cranfield School of Management
UK’s Cranfield school is back in the FT league table of EMBA degrees

Find out which schools are in our ranking of EMBA degrees. Also learn how the table was compiled and read the rest of our coverage at ft.com/emba.

As an executive MBA graduate himself, Lenihan understands that an EMBA can benefit both sides. For the employee, sponsorship substantially reduces the cost and the degree can be a life-changing experience. Meanwhile, the employer brings fresh knowledge and skills into the business and retains talent that otherwise might move on. Depending on the country, organisations that invest in developing employees’ skills are also often eligible for tax-free training allowances or training credits.

However, the number of EMBA participants receiving financial support from their employer has declined steadily in recent years. “Students who receive a full corporate sponsorship are now very rare,” says Barbara Stöttinger, dean of the WU Executive Academy at Vienna University of Economics and Business, “and the pandemic further accelerated the trend towards self-funding.”

Marie Taillard, associate dean for executive education at ESCP London campus, sees evidence that some companies are still sponsoring high-potential individuals, particularly in the current “tight talent market”. “Some HR directors are using benefits such as sponsorship of an EMBA as incentives to retain talent, but they are doing so in a highly selective manner,” she says.

Some students prefer to self-fund, as corporate sponsorship can come with strings attached — an obligation to the organisation paying the bill. As an EMBA often serves as a stepping stone to another industry or another career level, many students prefer to keep all options open after finishing their studies.

Reducing the cost of an EMBA

Schools often offer scholarships for high-potential students, female leaders, applicants in financial need or those from minority groups, as a means of helping them to achieve their educational and career goals. “Our admissions committee considers the personal situation of each scholarship applicant and decides on an individual basis whether a scholarship will be awarded and in what amount,” says Barbara Stöttinger of WU.

Early-bird bonus
You might be entitled to a substantial discount on the tuition fee if you hand in your application documents to your chosen school before a deadline.

Payment in instalments
Rather than paying the entire tuition sum up front, ask if you can break it down into several smaller payments. In effect, it is like receiving an interest-free loan.

Tax refunds
In some countries, tuition fees, travel expenses or even accommodation costs are viewed as tax deductible expenses. In Austria, for example, about half of all costs will be refunded by the state for those earning more than €60,000 per year. In France, under the “contribution à la formation professionnelle” tax paid by larger employers, employees are able to access €3,000 a year for “continuing education”.

Postgraduate loans
These are available from banks as well as from specialist providers, including Prodigy, Future Finance, and Lendwise.

Future earnings agreement (FEA)
This is a private version of the salary-linked student loan schemes that some governments offer to undergraduates. The amount you pay for your EMBA will depend on earnings after you graduate, with repayments deferred until you earn above a minimum threshold. Providers include StepEx, which works with London Business School, Insead, Iese and Cranfield.

Corporate support
Asking for sponsorship is worth a try, says Stöttinger. “Even if financial support is now rarely offered, what we observe more frequently is companies supporting their employees with additional vacation days, or educational leave,” she says.

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