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Get a Masters degree

You may be doing perfectly well in your professional life yet something is amiss.
A higher degree may give you the competitive edge you are seeking.
By Ananya Mukherjee

Credentials never hurt. A systematic higher education in your field of interest could be interesting and provocative; least of all, it could translate a set of prescriptive recommendations into higher productivity. In addition, being enrolled in a top school for a higher degree could give you a coveted platform, open doors to new jobs and key people who would otherwise be difficult to access. “In the increasingly competitive job market I believe that having an MBA enhances the possibility of landing a good job. Thirty years ago, especially in Asia, it was more an exception than a norm that people had University degrees. These days, how one looks on paper has become a lot more important. And almost everyone in executive positions have been to University, so having an advanced qualification like an MBA from a top school would very likely improve one’s chances of landing a good job,” Marvin Yeo, an entrepreneur with an MBA degree from a reputed institute says.

Market trends
Singaporeans as well as foreign talents working in Singapore have learnt to appreciate the “marketability” as well as
“portability” of a Masters qualification. In an increasingly borderless world, people are no longer willing to restrict themselves to job opportunities available in their home country. Possession of a higher degree will allow them to have an immediately recognisable qualification that is recognised and valued globally – generally wherever MNCs can be found. “Most of the enquirers for our MBA programmes tend to be from a professional, non-business background. They can be engineers, executive or lawyers who recognise there is a gap in their knowledge of business which was not covered in their chosen path of study early on,” Amy Tee, Marketing Director, Kaplan Higher Education Institute Singapore, says. This realisation of their shortcoming usually hits them when they are put into positions that exposes to the business side of their jobs, she explains. For example, an engineer who has been given a management position in his organisation will now have to worry about managing people, amongst other resources, for the first time.

With this awareness follows interest, and then ultimately an increase in demand. As more and more people become discerning about which Masters programme they wish to pursue, many schools and universities are coming in to give them an abundant array of choices to fit every need.

Ong Ai Ling, Programme Manager, Master of IT in Business, School of Information Systems, Singapore Management University says that most of the students who apply to the Master of IT in Business (Financial Services) programme want to be better equipped in IT knowledge and skills to prepare them for the next level in the corporate ladder or career change. Masters degree will also enhance their ability to communicate better across different business units and management by “bridging the gap” in the business environment. The other obvious pull is networking opportunities offered through the seminars and events.

Women & higher degrees
Another trend, experts observe is that in the past, women formed the minority in taking MBAs mainly because most business schools required its applicants to have several years of working experience first. The average age of people pursuing MBAs or higher education programmes were in their 30s. Usually at this age, most women in the past would already be concentrating on settling down, and/or having children and raising a family. This was a common deterrent for many women in the past not to embark on demanding post graduate studies. However, with the recent trend of women marrying later and starting families at a later age, this gives them time to pursue higher studies to remain competitive in the market. In addition, the “glass ceiling” mentality is no longer in existence in almost all modern economies and all this helps limit the number of reasons for women not to pursue further education.

Rachel Lew, Account Specialist at Canon Singapore, is a recent graduate of the Hull EMBA programme offered at Kaplan Higher Education Institute. She is also one of the top students in her cohort. Rachel decided to take up the Hull EMBA programme with Kaplan Higher Education Institute following her husband’s completion of his MBA studies and she saw it as an avenue that will widen her knowledge and career opportunities.

In addition, she was also encouraged by her general manager, a fellow Hull EMBA graduate, who also took up the same programme. “There’s never a perfect time to take on a part time study. It’s a matter of balancing your work, having the family support and most importantly, putting the commitment to do it. Above all, one must see it as a journey and enjoy the process,” she says. She adds that she has chosen Kaplan because it is a reputable and reliable private educational institution.

“The Hull MBA was my choice because it is a valuable MBA offered by a reputable business school in the UK. The course offers the right duration, academic quality, networking opportunity and is reasonably priced. This MBA programme has broadened my understanding of the changing field of business and sharpened my thought processes. It has also widened my opportunity set in my job and career scope. On a personal aspect, I have forged many valuable friendships along the way and this is something I cherish very much.”

Starting at the right time
Also, on the whole, irrespective of gender, the average age of people embarking on their MBAs has fallen. Younger people are realising that, unlike in the past, a bachelor degree is no longer a guarantee for career success. MDIS affirms this trend and notes that there seems to be a slight shift towards younger people taking on MBAs with many embarking on it at an average age of 28 years as compared to early to mid-30s in the past.

The application numbers for the NUS MBA are on the rise, and have more than doubled since 2006, says Associate Professor Quek Ser Aik, Vice-Dean of Graduate Studies, NUS Business School.

“We have also seen an increase in the quality of the applicant pool, with many of them having worked for at least 4 years, with an average of more than 5 years, and possessing good managerial work experience.” There are indications that the market is increasingly interested in international management, as well as skills for integrating people and functions, within the wider context of leadership development.

It is important to remember at this point, however that each student represents a unique case. “When we speak to prospective students for our Executive MBA programme many of them speak of the need in terms of several factors: a) Acquiring new knowledge and skills b) Updating existing knowledge c) Expanding professional and personal networks across the globe and industries d) Earning a new credential to strengthen their position in the labour market,” says Glenn Skyes, Associate Dean of Asia and Europe Campus, The University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

In sum, you want to come out of the programme different than when you came in. Earning the degree requires a signifi cant time commitment as well as financial resources. Whether it is the right step for an individual depends on that person’s unique situation. Seeking answers to that individual’s set of important questions with staff from the school as well as current students and graduates will help someone determine whether or not it is the right decision.

Organisation support
Most organisations and MNCs are supportive of their employees or senior executives taking up such higher academic programmes as it prepares them with applicable and relevant skills for a leadership career within the company. “Our participants have a commitment from their employer to allow them to attend the 18 months EMBA program. In some cases, employers allowed them to choose their preferred school and also agreed to pay a percentage of the tuition fees and travelling expenses. Most importantly, these companies planned the programmes into the employees’ career development” noted Cary Chan, Business Development Director from Aalto Executive Education.

Prof Quek from NUS Business School corroborates, “Organisations with wellstructured talent development programmes have sponsored – fully or partially – their employees on the NUS Masters programme.” In the case of Executive MBA programmes, such sponsorships can well exceed $100,000, he says.

A lot of firms are sponsoring their staff, some as much as full tuition fees and living allowances especially foreign and international sponsors, says Soriano Nicanor Lazaro, Director, Marketing and Admissions, The Nanyang MBA, Nanyang Business School, Nanyang Technological University. “Some even have their salaries intact while taking the programme,” he shares.

Thirty per cent of the student population at Manchester Business School Southeast Asia are sponsored by their employers. “Renowned MNCs have seen the need to groom the future successors and MBA studies is the fastest and most effective way to enable the employees to hit the ground running. Our part-time and flexible programmes will also ensure a promising and faster ROI to sponsors, as the employees may apply the knowledge immediately at their workplace, as compared to a full time programme,” says Lim Bee Ing, Centre Director, MBS South East Asia . This programme is also supported by SPRING Singapore to develop the next generation of trailblazers in local SMEs. Talented employees working in qualified SMEs can apply for the SPRING Management Development Scholarship which provides funding of up to 90% on related tuition fees. Students in these programmes are supported by their employers at many different levels.

Some are fully supported financially in the program with employers covering tuition, fees and even travel. Others will receive partial financial support. All of our students are supported in the time required to attend classes, Skyes corroborates. In addition to financial support from their employers other organisations may be willing to support further education such as foundations, governmental agencies and banks.