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Wed 22 Jul 2009 04:00 AM

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The study of business

CEO Middle East takes a look into the increasing value of getting an MBA during these turbulent economic times.

The study of business

CEO Middle East takes a look into the increasing value of getting an MBA during these turbulent economic times.

At a point where the world's economy is shrinking and the un-housed hordes of the redundant are amassing their troops, it would perhaps be wise to avoid the crunch and make the most of your time to study.

With competition for jobs increasing by the week, qualifications can no longer be considered a luxury and for institutions offering an MBA, the market couldn't be better.

First, it was the credit crunch. Then, there was talk of a financial crisis. Next, the world was hit by an economic downturn. Finally, limping last in the succession of woe, there came recession. Yet, though these events have dominated international markets in recent months, the education sector in the Middle East seems all but unmoved. As businesses begin to feel the pinch, the study of business grows and grows.

And this trend is not surprising. Recent research commissioned by the Consultative Committee for Professional Management Organisations shows that going back to school could help secure you a long-term career. The results indicate that those who obtain qualifications beyond traditional academic routes see a nine percent increase in their long-term employability. They can also earn up to 37 percent more than their colleagues who only have an undergraduate degree - or around £152,000 ($251,000) over a lifetime.

For institutions offering the Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree in the region, there is no better time than a recession to entice executives towards study, says Nigel Banister, CEO of Manchester Business School Worldwide (MBSW), which runs MBA programmes from its Dubai campus.

During tough economic times, top business schools tend to do really well. There are people from some sectors whose earnings are not going to be high for a while, so they think it's a good time to improve their skills. There are others who recognise that it's going to be more difficult to be well-placed against the competition and want to increase their chances.

Stefan Szymanski, associate dean of MBA programmes at Cass Business School, regionally based at Dubai International Financial Centre, agrees that economic downturn gives executives a chance to further their education without compromising their job prospects.

In times of trouble there's a flight to quality. People need to differentiate themselves - they need to do that much better. In good times, anybody can get a job, but in the difficult times, people need skills. The cost of taking time out of the labour force is not nearly as great in difficult times.

Savvy companies whose long-term goals are not obscured by leaner finances also take advantage of the opportunity to invest in the future of their employees.

"Companies that are far-sighted realise it's not going to be so easy in the next few years," Banister says, "so they focus on having a management team that's even better skilled." Szymanski agrees. "In times of recession it's more critical than ever for companies to hold on to their best staff, so offering an MBA and then tying them down - the golden handcuffs - is indeed quite a smart strategy."

The Times newspaper in the UK reported earlier this year that MBA applications to British business schools are showing a significant upwards trend, and that the 2008-2009 recruitment round reflected a huge spike in demand. It added that in January 2009, applications and enquiries were already up for the year, suggesting companies and individuals are seeing the value of an MBA.

And it is not just British business schools that have gained in popularity, with many US schools also reporting a surge in interest.

Aside from the obvious benefits of a qualification, it could be that people are beginning to realise that it makes sense to take time out and study during a period in which your career might be in stasis anyway.

During periods of extreme growth it is less easy to convince oneself that the merits of an MBA are greater than the opportunities that could be utilised at work during your time at study.

And while critics of the MBA may be cynical and call it a poor substitute for experience, it looks to be here to stay. After all, as long as there are people in the world there will be businessmen, and a need to train them, and update their skills.

As Pablo Casals, a world renowned Spanish cellist born in 1876, once said: "In modern business it is not the crook who is to be feared most, it is the honest man who doesn't know what he is doing."

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