FEWER mid-career people may be seeking executive business education now that the recession has passed, but admission levels of business schools here remain strong.
Traditional wisdom has it that most workers would find it more appealing to pursue further education during recessionary periods, when work is slow and not exceptionally demanding.
In econ-speak, the opportunity cost of spending time away from work is much lower during a recession, a time when monetary incentives are few.
Theoretically, when the recession is over, more people are expected to put studies on the back-burner and concentrate solely on work.
That, however, does not seem to be the case at all the main schools in Singapore offering an Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA).
Most have reported healthy admission levels throughout the crisis and through to the present.
Nanyang Technological University's Nanyang Business School admissions director, Mr Soriano Nicanor Lazaro, said: '2008 saw a significant spike in applications as this was the financial crisis year and that spilt into 2009. With the economic programme stabilising somewhat, we expect a lower number of applications.'
The University of Chicago Booth Graduate School of Business, which has its Asian headquarters in Singapore, also told the same story.
Mr Glenn Sykes, associate dean of Europe and Asia, said: 'We have seen an increase in the number of applications before the economic crisis. However, during the crisis period, while the number of our applications did not increase, it remained constant.'
Still, EMBA schools seem confident that applicant numbers will grow, despite workers returning their attention to their bread-winning activities.
The Singapore Institute of Management (SIM), for example, is so bullish about executive education that it is starting an EMBA programme in the second quarter of next year.
The enthusiasm for such mid-career programmes appears to be thriving despite the hardship involved.
I did an EMBA of my own, so I do not use the word 'hardship' flippantly.
Every night after work, I'd have to get my textbooks out and read ahead on what the class would discuss next in lectures. (In many an instance, I was reading behind and trying to catch up.)
Then, you have case studies that you have to solve with your assigned study group. The peer pressure is great. If you don't read the case and just show up with nothing to contribute, you become a pariah quite quickly.
Together with my group mates, we'd plough through case after case - either at night at someone's house or via conference call if someone was away.
With these EMBA courses stretching over 14 to 18 months, burnout inevitably sets in - and might sometimes spill over into the student's workplace as well.
Amazingly, quite a few people still find time to have babies during their study years. There were a few such in my class and I've known of others before and after my cohort who had babies during their EMBA years.
In fact, my brother-in-law, who is right smack in the middle of his EMBA course, is expecting his first child some time before he graduates next year.
When I asked him if he planned it such, he gave me this 'Are you crazy?' look. So we decided it was more a function of the fact that the average age of an EMBA student is 35.
Still, despite the hardship, more and more mid-career workers are committing to two-year management courses to give them a leg up in their careers and signal to their companies that they are ready to take on greater roles.
The one thing that has affected mid-career business students, however, is the value of an EMBA to employers. Many of these programmes require the worker to seek the support of their employers - in financial and other ways.
According to Ms Easter Weiss, programme director for the University of Buffalo, Executive MBA at SIM: 'We have fewer students who are 100 per cent sponsored and more who are either partially sponsored or completely self-funded.
'This is partly due to shrinking training and development budgets within organisations. Another reason is the impact of economic uncertainty in the students' motivation for enrolment.'
To cater to the increasingly different employment landscape for MBA holders, almost all the schools have added entrepreneurship modules to their programmes.
The University of Chicago has added an Entrepreneurial Strategy course in which students have to develop a business over the 18-month period and present their final business plan to alumni and faculty at the end.
SIM will do the same.
Meanwhile, Insead, the French business school which has its Asian headquarters here, has included a new business ethics module in the post-recession era, in conjunction with teaching entrepreneurship.
Such changes to stay relevant are expected to help the schools in their mission to attract new applicants - economic crisis or not.
Said the University of Chicago's Mr Sykes: 'We are always on the lookout for ways that we can change to improve what we do or the student experience.'