Raj never thought he would get into business. After all, he had a degree in electrical engineering from an Indian college and no business management experience at all.
But when the responsibility of handling the family business fell on to his shoulders, Raj, 29, decided to change his plans. He enrolled in an executive MBA programme at an international business school in Dubai, which allowed him to study while maintaining a full-time job. Achieving an MBA was hard work. Every day he would get up at 5am to review what he had learnt the previous day, go to work and then attend classes until 9pm. Weekends were spent working on assigned projects for school.
At the end of his programme last year, Raj joined a bank as a relationship manager. But last month he was asked to resign without severance pay as the company laid off workers. Though he searched for a new job, he says he is discouraged by the lack of job opportunities. Now he plans to leave the country and says he realises that his MBA was not the ticket to the top. "Despite the fact that I have an MBA from one of the best business schools in India, I am just not getting a break," says Raj, who requested his real name not be used.
His hard-luck story brings up the issue of the value of an MBA in today's economy. It becomes even more pertinent as business schools report a rise in the number of applicants. In recessions, many professionals seek additional schooling as a meaningful way to spend idle time. The Graduate Management Admission Council reported an 11.6 per cent increase in registrations for the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), a requirement for most business schools, since 2007.
The Manchester Business School Worldwide's Middle East centre in the UAE said it saw an 18 per cent increase in the number of applicants for this year, compared with last year. But does the MBA still hold weight with employers in the region? Hari Padmanabhan, the former chief executive of 3i Infotech, says an MBA programme teaches all the concepts one needs and is definitely worth doing, but it does not guarantee a job in the UAE.
"In the Middle East, an MBA is only your starting point in the job market because of all the filtering involved," Mr Padmanabhan says. "It will help in the initial process of screening and may get you just the interview." He says the usefulness of the MBA in the economic crisis may be slightly diminished as corporations change the criteria for employment. "Companies in the downturn will look for someone who has experience with the market; someone who knows how to deliver results and has the ability to manage projects," Mr Padmanabhan says.
But some UAE employers encourage their staff to get a graduate degree. Most of the UAE University's MBA students, who work at government-based organisations, are sponsored by their employers as a part of the country's Emiratisation policy, says Bob Lipsett, the MBA programme manager of the UAE University. Christopher Higgins, the director of the Manchester business school here, says the trend among UAE companies to support their employees' education is still slowly catching on.
"Our students do report greater interest from their employers once they have made a commitment to an MBA programme," Mr Higgins says. "Employers then often offer help, incentives, rewards, additional time off, and even promotions during the programme." While the ranking of the business school one attends is crucial, Mr Padmanabhan says MBA students should also see whether a part-time or full-time MBA will better suit their lifestyle.
He also suggests experience in the working world before graduate school and says developing contacts is also important, he said. "Don't get stuck up on being an MBA and understand what you are good at," Mr Padmanabhan says. "It's more important to get as much work experience as possible." For Raj, there are no regrets about getting his MBA, despite the frustratingly slow job search. The degree has helped him better understand his work.
"Those three, four hours in class were the best time of my day," he says. "The course gave me insight into managing a company." On returning to India, Raj plans to venture into the market and establish his own company in Singapore, once he has obtained enough funding. "From this course I learnt that entrepreneurship is my first love," he says. "I am now ready to test my knowledge and start my own business."