It seems that when times are tough there is nothing like taking a business course. Perhaps you want to improve your CV, master the latest technology, or even pursue a Masters degree. Traditionally this is all part of continuing professional development, but in today's economic climate it could mean the chance to ride out the recession before plunging back, better prepared, into the job market.
"In times of difficulty, people seek to improve their chances of employment. Getting a senior business degree from a top school is a way to do this," says Vin Hammersley, director of communications at Warwick Business School. "What you have to do is educate your way out of these situations."
He says applications are up across the board; in fact, they can no longer fit anyone else into the lecture theatres for the Bachelors degree in management. There's been a 57 per cent rise in applications for the distance learning MBA, as well as an increase in demand for the full-time course from people with a finance background – either they've lost their job in the City, or they fear they are about to. "They see it's time to go back to education," says Rachel Killian, the MBAs marketing and recruitment manager. Such is Warwick's confidence about the future that they're investing millions in new buildings.
Periods of high unemployment are good for education; at least that's what UK universities are hoping. So far, it appears to be true. A recent survey from the Association of Business Schools found that undergraduate demand from domestic and EU students is up, especially for Masters courses. "The evidence from previous recessions is that business schools and universities tend to benefit during an economic downturn," says Vicky Robinson, head of marketing communications.
So are people turning to business courses because of the current crisis? "Yes and no," says Isabelle Szmigin, professor of marketing at Birmingham's Business School. "It all depends on the course." She reports a high demand for business management at undergraduate level, which students see as a route to a good job. The MSc in marketing is also popular – especially among final year students who can afford it.
But when times are tough, why do people choose business? "If a graduate applies for 50 jobs and gets rejected they may think, 'I need business acumen behind me'. It gives people confidence," says Szmigin. Then there are those who think if they can just get some business knowledge, perhaps by doing an entrepreneurship course, they can set up on their own.
The current economic situation also means many business schools are adapting their syllabuses. Oxford Brookes University Business School has introduced a range of short courses into its business futures division, entitled "Get a Grip on..." as well as adding a new undergraduate module on economics in context.
At the School of Management and Science at the London College of Fashion, a new member of the ABS, students can now examine how window displays entice customers to part with their hard-earned cash. They can also compare retailers that are going out of business with those doing well.
Meanwhile, Kingston University has opened its doors to the people it describes as the human fallout of the financial crisis. The Faculty of Computing, Information Systems and Mathematics has offered "spare" seats in 70 courses for "credit crunch casualties". The flat fee per module is £460.
This might mean coming in every Tuesday morning to study web development. "The idea is to push up people's skills," says Dr Rob Mellor, the faculty's director of enterprise. "It's not a big, expensive course where you have to be there every day."
Kingston seems to be the first UK university to open its undergraduate and postgraduate modules to the general public. Only a few people have taken advantage so far, but a lot more are expected with the next intake in January.
For those who want to improve their business skills by studying from home, perhaps combining it with a part-time job, then the Open University has a range of distance learning courses. While there has been no real difference in the number of people applying for continued professional development courses in business, this may change. "Numbers are probably likely to increase in January," says an OU spokesperson. "This is when people re-focus for the New Year, have a re-think about what to do, and prepare for new challenges."