Applications to Executive MBA programmes are Increasing Year on Year and the Trend Shows No Sign of Abating

 | August 20,2010 11:19 am IST

As business education has boomed, a major increase in applications to the relative newcomer to the family, the Executive MBA (EMBA) Course, has also seen a dramatic overall rise in applications of 9% in 2005 and a 16% increase in 2006.

Arnold Longboy, Director of Recruitment and Corporate Relations at the Chicago GSB European campus near London's Guildhall, says, "We saw a record level of interest in our EMBA programme last year and all indications this year lead us to believe that interest is growing.


Meanwhile, the Global Trium EMBA, an alliance of NYU Stern, HEC Paris and our own London School of Economics, has seen applications jump by more than 140%. "The partnership has been an extremely successful model, as evidenced by Trium's continued growth," explains Tom Cooley, Dean of the NYU Stern School of Business.

The effect of this success is a proliferation of EMBAs and competition between schools to offer the best and most cost-efficient courses. In London alone about a dozen schools now offer EMBA programmes, and many showcase at the QS World MBA Tour.

Designed for senior managers or younger executives on fast-track careers, the EMBA is a relatively recent innovation. It provides expertise in the latest management practices that are vital to a company's success, giving businesses an edge in this world of high competition and a 'war for talent' between the world's biggest organisations.

The demographic of applicants to EMBAs also differs from that of typical MBA courses, generally featuring a more mature and experienced range of managers. Bego'a de Ros Ravent's, Assistant Director of Global Executive MBA at IESE GEMBA, notes, "The profile of our candidates is getting older. The average age in our class this year is 38 years old, with a range that goes from 30 to 55. Many did not get a chance to take MBAs when they were younger, and now want to acquire new skills, improve their earning potential, or simply be able to lead their teams better."


Kirt Wood, of RSM Erasmus University in Holland, adds, "Candidates are still pretty diverse; however, the majority of them come from the finance and consulting industries. There is a strong EMBA comeback in those industries following the downturn after 9/11, which is reflected in post-MBA hiring and career trends."

Part of the EMBA's success is the customising of the programmes to suit the specific needs of top-level management. Companies are taking a closer partnership in what they want their employees to learn, and business schools are providing elective courses with the expertise and faculty those companies need.

According to Nigel Banister of Manchester Business School, "Large numbers of corporates are willing to sponsor individuals and groups. KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers and BT are using these customised courses with greater regularity. It gives them an opportunity to retain their employees, so when a corporate sponsors students, the elected part of the course is designed to suit the strategic demands of that organization."


As a result, a larger percentage of EMBA programmes are fully or partially funded by a candidate's employers. This considerably helps offset the financial implications of such an undertaking for the individual and shows that companies are valuing their staff and taking their development seriously. Mark Norbury, Director of INSEAD Executive MBA in Paris, says, "The level of corporate sponsorship remains stable at around 55% of overall tuition fees paid, although we are seeing a reduction in 100% corporate sponsorship. A positive change we are experiencing is companies taking a proactive approach to identifying talent, working closely with INSEAD through admissions, programme management and career development. If well-managed, this promises to deliver more value to each sponsored participant, to the company, and to us as a school."


The value is clear to most EMBA graduates. Sam Pickering-Dunn, who completed the London Business School EMBA in 2003, says, "The Executive MBA programme opens doors to unlimited opportunities, intellectual stimulation and personal growth. For me, the most powerful and lasting benefit was the opportunity to build an enduring and extensive global network, which has been a critical factor in launching my career.


Also, EMBAs offer far greater flexibility than their typical MBA counterparts. They are generally part-time, taking place in the evenings or at weekends. The course content is customised to suit the needs of participants and the workload can be spread out over aperiod of two years, rather than the short, sharp shock of a full-time MBA. This is appealing to experienced candidates, many of whom will be advanced in their careers and have families to consider.

However, advice from Deans and graduates alike features the same caveat: an EMBA is far from a walk through a summer garden. "At around two hours extra work per day, balancing your time," according to Prof. Dominique Hau of INSEAD in Paris, is "definitely a challenge. Before our participants even apply, we emphasise the importance of getting the support of one's family, friends and colleagues. Our alumni speak personally with them about the 'balancing act' as, during the programme, the rhythm is intensive and requires excellent organization and time-management skills."


For the majority of EMBA participants the intense schedule is just part of the trade-off that sees them able to earn more and move ahead without interrupting their career. Bego'a de Ros Ravent's says, "In the EMBA Council Survey 2005, 68% of our participants were promoted during the program, and the average salary increased by 36% compared to a benchmark of 21% on typical MBA programmes." Other recent studies by the FT showed that those that stayed with their sponsoring companies were earning more than their peers three years after graduation. And with such a high return, the EMBA looks to have a very bright future.