Investor Jim Rogers has a typically blunt view of MBAs: 'A waste of time, money and energy.'

And that is not all. While many covet the degree, Singapore-based Mr Rogers said that 'much of what you learn is incorrect, you have to start over and you're a couple of hundred thousand dollars or so out of pocket'.

It is a damning assessment from a man who was a professor at Columbia Business School, where he taught MBA classes in the late 1980s.

The MBA, or Master of Business Administration, is a one- or two-year graduate course covering business disciplines such as finance, human resources, operations and marketing.

Attending a reputable MBA school is a popular choice for people with both business and non-business backgrounds hoping to gain more traction in the corporate world.

But according to Mr Rogers, 'the whole image of MBAs is a myth'.

MBA finance courses, for example, teach things like modern portfolio theory and the efficient market hypothesis, which are 'totally incorrect'.

And if you want to learn about commodities, 'no business school is going to teach you whether there's coal in the ground or whether there's too little or too much cotton', he told The Straits Times in a recent interview.

However, Mr Rogers does concede that MBAs may be useful when it comes to landing a job: 'If you ask successful people if their MBA helped, I think they'll say the MBA might have helped them get their first job or two, but after that, it didn't do any good.'

His point: 'Your success does not come from what you learn at business school.'

Other business people told The Straits Times that an MBA has some value, but also highlighted opportunities elsewhere.

Mr John Stephenson, senior vice-president and portfolio manager at First Asset Investment Management in Toronto and a commodities enthusiast, said: 'The world probably needs fewer MBAs, since it is a generalised degree, and we could probably do with a few more petroleum engineers and geologists.'
These are booming fields for new graduates, and offer much better opportunities than a 'me-too' MBA, noted Mr Stephenson.

Others in the corporate realm said an MBA does provide an edge when it comes to employment.

While there are many successful people without MBAs, 'sometimes it makes all the difference', said Ms Cheah Kim Lean, co-founder of Acorn Marketing & Research Consultants in Singapore.

A candidate with an MBA has a better chance of landing an interview, especially in Asian countries, where people are paper chasers, said Ms Cheah.

'MBA schools allow networking among business cohorts and provide experiential learning you do not get from a first degree,' she added.

MBA students The Straits Times spoke to felt the same way.

Ms Rachel Lim, a 29-year-old MBA student at business school Insead, used to doubt the networking aspect of MBAs, but not any more.

'Among my closest friends are a Malaysian in consulting, an Indonesian in consumer goods, an Indian in agriculture and textiles, an Israeli in real estate, and so on,' she said.

Mr Sal Singh, 26, decided to pursue an MBA because a bachelor's degree is 'not enough any more'.

To climb the corporate ladder, he felt it was necessary to obtain an MBA qualification - something his competitors are also likely to have.

And in doing an MBA, he will not just be learning what is taught in books, he said.
'It's the networking I get to do with the experienced professors, as well as fellow students, who will have an average of five to six years' working experience,' said Mr Singh.

Recruitment consultancy Robert Walters told The Straits Times most employers' key prerequisites for hiring are direct job experience and a strong track record.

But the consultancy, which specialises in the placement of mid to senior level candidates, stressed that an MBA is essential for roles in certain areas, including the strategy departments of various companies.
 
It is also largely sought after in investment banking and management consulting.