By Michelle Tay
As the economy slows, senior executives and managers in companies may be feeling the urge to go back to school.
Enter the Executive Master of Business Administration, or EMBA. The programme is seeing a surge in popularity as managers try to upgrade themselves on the company payroll. Most EMBA applicants are partly, if not fully, sponsored by their companies.
There are two opposing forces at work, say business schools here.
While a slowdown in the economy translates to a smaller training budget, it also means there is more time to get the training done.
Although companies are cutting costs, 'counteracting that is upper and middle management who want to do the EMBA programme while they still have job security', said Dr Nilanjan Sen, associate dean of Nanyang Executive Education at Nanyang Technological University's Nanyang Business School.
He added: 'They couldn't come earlier because of lack of time. Now that things are slower, they have more opportunity.'
Dr Sen said applications for Nanyang's EMBA programmes have surged by around 25 per cent this year.
In particular, the EMBA with a focus on entrepreneurship that is part-sponsored by enterprise agency Spring Singapore 'is picking up steam'.
He said: 'This year saw the highest intake of 18 students for that track.'
Mr Edward Buckingham, director of EMBA programmes at French business school Insead, which has a campus in Singapore, agreed: 'There are counter-cyclical elements that manifest themselves in different ways.
'More people are self-sponsored, and using this quiet period to reposition their skills over the next 18 months.'
Mr Buckingham said that enrolment for the Tsinghua-Insead EMBA programme - which combines international business education with a focus on Asia - is up 50 per cent from last year. The programme's first batch of students graduated in January this year.
'These are relatively new programmes in East Asia so there is a natural uptick, which is quite common for new products in any market.'
A spokesman for the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School's EMBA programme said: 'In general, applications have risen. However, the past year since the financial crisis struck has also been a challenge, since EMBAs are considered 'luxury goods' and companies have cut back on training.'
An EMBA programme can take about 15 to 21 months, depending on the school you go to, and can take you around the world. For example, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business' programme is taught in Chicago, London and Singapore, while Insead's programme is taught in Singapore, Fontainebleau and Abu Dhabi.
The programme is also a 'modular one', meaning that students would not need to spend all their time on campus and would therefore not need to quit their jobs to study.
Every six to eight weeks, they take about one week off work to attend class. Then they head back to the office to immediately try out some of the concepts they have learnt.
'We call it sandwich learning, where your work is your laboratory,' said Mr Buckingham.
Classes are also intimately sized, and are typically made up of middle to upper management employees of both large and small companies, and entrepreneurs.
Said Mr Bill Kooser, associate dean at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business: 'Our executive students are significantly older, with more experience than our full-time students.
'They are now reaching a point in their careers where they are required to take on broad, general management responsibilities (and) need exposure to all facets of business, from strategy to marketing to operations and finance.'
NUS said its EMBA students need to have worked for at least 10 years.
Added Dr Sen: 'They've already proved themselves in their respective functional roles, and now they want to move into general management or leadership roles. Everything is more focused.'
And don't forget the invaluable network one could gain during the course.
'Our executive programme...makes for a very cohesive group and outstanding networking opportunities. Students forge very strong bonds that last throughout their careers,' said Mr Kooser.
This article was first published in The Straits Times.