width=280With talk of the global recession, mounting debts and bank collapses dominating the daily news, is there really a chance that you will find funding for a masters or PhD degree in the coming year?

The short answer is that for most international students the same amount of funding is available to them for graduate study as was available either last year or the year before. In fact, universities around the world have recognised that, in the face of increased economic uncertainty, more students are likely to consider returning to grad school as a means of shelter from the difficult international labour market, and supporting these students is likely to be a key factor in securing the most talented graduate applicants in the coming year.

Large-scale scholarship schemes, such as those offered by transnational organizations, like the World Bank, or national government schemes, such as the Australian Endeavour Awards, the UK's Chevening Scholarships and the US' Fulbright Commission awards are also relatively untouched by the current financial crisis. However, evidence suggests that these bigger scholarships schemes are very likely to be more competitive than in previous years with more prospective graduate students seeking to apply to grad school.

The British government's commitment to their flagship scholarship scheme, Chevening, continues in 2009, with no significant reduction in either the funds invested in more than 1,000 new scholarships for masters students under the main awards, or the additional 300 scholarships funded jointly with the corporate sector. The Chevening scholarships are likely to continue to attract candidates of the highest calibre, with more than 17,000 applications for the 1,000 or so central awards - competition in the years to come will be tough.

Banks, both local and international, are also continuing to do their bit for funding students seeking a graduate degree. While it is true that commercial loans for international graduate study are not quite as freely available as they have been in previous years, large international banks like HSBC and Banco Santander are committed to continuing their support for schemes for international students throughout Asia, Europe and Latin America. Indeed, Banco Santander is among the first banks, and certainly now the greatest investor from the banking and finance industry, to develop a higher education-specific focus that benefits universities as well as individual international students. In 2009, their 700th funded institutional link was signed bringing their total investment to more than €600 million over a 12 year period. With a range of projects being funded, Banco Santander has had a very real impact on the mobility of international graduate students seeking masters or PhD programs all over the world.

Scholarships and loan funding is available for students either already enrolled at a partner university or through open schemes advertised in local press depending on the exact requirements of the specific award. In 2007, 12,270 students and academic members of staff were awarded university scholarships for international study and other kinds of academic mobility.

The opportunity to secure a scholarship through the Santander Universities Global Division is significant for many prospective international graduate students. With a focus on a diverse range of countries and an emphasis on facilitating access to universities for students from lower income households, many of the Banco Santander scholarships are awarded to talented students that are ineligible for some of the more commercial loans schemes or international scholarship schemes. Although a Spanish-based bank, Banco Santander makes funding available to all students where their schemes and partnerships operate. One scheme that focuses on the promotion of international student excellence is the Carolina Foundation Leadership Scholarships, short-term mobility awards for 60 graduate students from Latin America, Spain and Portugal intending to study for a short period of their masters degrees in universities throughout Spain. Other awards under the Banco Santander schemes include those for graduate students from specific countries, such as that offered to students from Uruguay, who may apply for one of the ten full mobility scholarships tenable at European universities for a full academic program. Perhaps the largest scheme is the 200 graduate-only scholarships available to students of 32 of Latin America and the Caribbean's largest universities to study at another university in the region.

A further and very recent innovation on the more commercial side of funding international students is the introduction of banks making specific arrangements with individual universities for the exclusive benefit of their international students. Earlier this year, a number of US universities, including the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University concluded months of careful negotiation to replace their commercial funding agreements, that had become unworkable in the current financial circumstances, with new schemes in association with high profile and, perhaps more importantly, financially secure banks. Harvard University's agreement with JPMorgan Chase now provides graduate and professional students with access to private educational loans where they are not eligible for the USA's federal loan schemes.

Dan Shore, Harvard's Chief Financial Officer believes that by making an agreement with a commercial finance provider, the recruitment of international graduate students to one of the most famous universities in the world is secure. “We have a significant international student population and we pride ourselves on the contributions these students make to a diverse campus. With this agreement we are pleased to be able to say, once again, that a Harvard graduate education remains accessible to all talented students, regardless of where they live.

It is likely that more universities around the world will follow the Harvard lead and develop partnerships with some of the more stable international banks to facilitate the mobility of graduate students to either their masters or PhD programs. The advantages of such schemes are clear - with universities undertaking to share the risk of providing loans to international customers, students are able to access previously protected sources of funding and benefit from their often reduced rates of interest payments. Perhaps more importantly with these institutional agreements, the need for a local co-signatory is abandoned. Students no longer need a local sponsor other than their intended place of study - the university or grad school will take on that role.

Although the financial crisis has altered the economic reality for many of us, international students interested in pursuing their masters or PhD programs overseas continue to have a range of funding options open to them. With the large international scholarship schemes continuing for the foreseeable future, albeit with the possibility of increased levels of competition for the same number of awards, and banks offering a range of opportunities for students opting for specific universities or countries, the picture for international grad students may not appear to be as bleak as at first sight.

And despite these changed economic times, the rules for funding your international graduate study remain the same - plan ahead so that you can meet any required deadlines; remain flexible in case you are not successful with all of your funding applications; and look at all the options - there continue to be many options to fund your masters or PhD program.