Nowadays, degree holders are a dime a dozen – just throw a stone and it’d hit a degree holder; throw a rock and you probably can kill a dozen. Given the manpower crunch in Singapore, and the good times (that’s going to end soon), there is no doubt that fresh graduates are getting way better pay – some times even more than another graduate who had worked there for 2 years (the poor chap either didn’t perform as to expectations or the company deprived him of a “pay adjustment”).

Anyway, some people may feel compelled to take a postgraduate degree for various reasons. One may do it for the sake of learning, which I thought is rather good, while another may do it hoping that he’d be able the “rest of the graduates” and perhaps throw in some hope for a pay rise. The sad truth is, it’s not always the case, especially when someone takes on a postgraduate degree course that contributes little to whatever that he was doing.

The sad truth is… he’d have to start from the bottom all over again. Of course, I’d love to give a deeper insight… but I’m quite rushed for time, so this will make do for now. =P

WHEN Mr H. Loh, 38, decided to sink US$90,000 (S$124,000) into getting an Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA) degree, he applied to the best business schools in the world.

A National University of Singapore (NUS) computer science graduate with 14 years’ work experience, he thought a degree from the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business (GSB) would give him a leg up in the corporate world.

He was contemplating a move from a multi-national high-tech company to management consulting.

‘I wanted a platform for a mid-career switch but could not afford to take two years off to do a full-time programme in the United States,’ said the father of three.

Given the chunky investment, he expected his post-master’s remuneration package to reflect his higher educational achievement.

So it was a reality check when a management consulting firm offered him a relatively junior position last year – at a 25 per cent pay cut.

‘It came as a shock initially,’ he said. ‘I felt short-changed but hopefully future growth will make up for the upfront hit.’

Unlike fresh graduates or those with a couple of years’ work experience seeking to master generic business concepts through a full-time MBA course, mid-career professionals like Mr Loh look to build on their experience through the executive programme, known as EMBA.

Typically, EMBA candidates range in age from the mid-30s to late 40s, with at least 10 years’ working experience. Because they have mortgages to pay and other commitments, they are loath to disrupt their careers for full-time two-year courses.

The EMBA programmes are structured such that students come together for an intense week-long session, then return to their day jobs for the rest of the month, over 11/2 years – a hefty toll on those who work and study simultaneously.

In Singapore, there are at least five EMBA programmes that rank highly in annual global rankings conducted by US business news media.

Chicago GSB and Insead feature regularly in the top 10 and offer full degrees here. Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey, rolled out its programme in January.

Meanwhile, the University of California Los Angeles offers a joint accreditation with NUS; the University at Buffalo in New York offers a joint degree with Singapore Management University.

More executives have been going back to school in recent years with Spring Singapore launching a $20 million Management Development Programme at NUS and Nanyang Technological University last year.

Mid-career professionals seem willing to shell out big bucks to attend brand-name schools, which have raised fees and expanded. About half are sponsored by their companies, but many invest their own savings.

At the Chicago GSB here, the fees have almost doubled to US$102,000 this year from US$65,000 in 2000, when it started with its first intake of 90 students. Its EMBA programme is ranked the seventh best in the world by the Financial Times.

It is building a new campus at Tanglin Village with 18 study rooms, a student lounge as well as 29 offices and meeting rooms. Its current premises at the historic House of Tan Yeok Nee on Penang Road have become too small.

Insead, ranked ninth by the Financial Times this year, is the only other business school among the top-ranked with a satellite campus here. Its fees have also gone up, from US$131,000 in 2004 to about US$138,500 for this year’s intake.

Two years ago, Insead centralised its global EMBA programme with enrolment out of its Fontainebleau campus in France. Just this year, its Asian campus here started offering a joint EMBA with Beijing’s Tsinghua University.

What makes the EMBA so coveted is the anticipated increase in salary after graduation. Chicago graduates polled by the FT reported an 87 per cent increment; Insead graduates reported a 65 per cent rise.

Alas, the hefty increments do not seem to apply to EMBA holders in Singapore.

Said Mr Charles Moore, managing director of executive search firm Heidrick and Struggles: ‘I think there is an over-expectation by EMBAs. They expect high salaries upon graduation but that’s not how it works in this market.

‘Employers here tend to take a more pragmatic approach. They do value top-class EMBAs but only as a factor that is helpful in choosing the right candidate.’

Other headhunters tell the same story.

Mr Gerard Chai, managing director of Korn Ferry, explained that it is natural for employers to choose the cheaper candidate since white-collar workers here mostly have good first degrees, given Singapore’s emphasis on education.

‘Local employers tend to be much more cost-conscious. A company will hire the candidate that returns the best value for money,’ he says.

Ms Ria Sugita, Chicago GSB’s marketing director, said: ‘It’s true, EMBA graduates may have to accept a relatively junior position. But given their work experience, most rise faster up the ranks and get promoted quicker.’

Nevertheless, to cater to those who might not recognise the value of an EMBA degree but still want to improve their business skills, the top schools here are branching out into shorter, more affordable courses.

Chicago is planning to offer five-day courses in leadership, negotiation, pricing strategy and the like. Insead already offers a two-week course called the Asian International Executive Programme.

�For Mr Loh however, such courses are not the same as a complete degree.

He said: ‘With hindsight, I would do it again but probably a bit earlier.’

joannel@sph.com.sg

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 10th April 2008 – have you filed your income tax yet? there are 5 more days!



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