It's about the money... isn't it?

Salary matters, but it's not the biggest factor motivating students to enrol on an MBA, according to course directors

Career development and increased salary are the main reasons for doing an MBA; specialised MBAs are in big demand; and international MBAs are increasingly popular – true? Not so, according to a recent survey by Audencia Business School among 59 directors of MBA programmes. The survey claims that personal development is seen as the most important reason for taking an MBA according to 77 per cent of respondents; salary increase, often cited as a measure of success by the rankings, is rated highest by only 55 per cent.

The business networking website recently carried out a study on behalf of the University of Bath School of Management, which has more predictable findings. "Fifty-one per cent of the 150 students we surveyed said that career advancement was the main reason for doing the qualification," says Kate Jillings, director of the website. "Every month we interact with hundreds of MBA students and applicants through our site who tell us that salary and career progression are the major drivers."

Why were the responses among academics and students so different? Dianne Bevelander, associate dean for MBA programmes at Rotterdam School of Management, argues that candidates being interviewed for an MBA place are unlikely to say they're looking for big bucks. "While their original motivation may be about educating themselves they soon worry about the cost of the programme and how to repay it, and the need to get a good salary. Economic pressures including mortgage and family crowd in, though we find that after 10 years we get feedback that the most important thing is not a high salary but enjoying the job. Rankings, though, are the dominant motivation for schools by placing a continuing emphasis on salaries and career progression."

The 2011 Applicants Survey backs up the common perception about MBA motivation: 69 per cent of applicants put "improving career prospects" top of their list, while education ranked ninth with 32 per cent.

Just 16 per cent of the business schools in the Audencia survey offered specialised, or sector-specific, MBAs. Yet many others offer niche programmes – including wine marketing in Bordeaux, oil and gas at Aberdeen Business School and football management in Liverpool, though they have their critics. Professor Simon Stockley, head of the MBA programme at Imperial College Business School, says: "A specialised MBA is an oxymoron."

Chris Saunders, director of the full-time MBA programme at Lancaster University Management School, agrees. "The MBA has always been a programme to develop people for general leadership positions in senior management. It follows that you need to acquire broad knowledge by looking across the whole field of business rather than focusing on one area."

He suggests that smaller business schools should identify a niche market to make their name in a particular specialisation. "Often the move is driven by research interests in the school – it's a way of attracting people without having to take on the first-tier schools."

But there's a risk that a specialist MBA could close off your options for future career choices. Often students think they know where they want to go with an MBA, but after exposure to other options they change direction. Craig Danforth, director of sales at Gemological Institute of America, concedes this, but says that after a decade as a private banker he was determined to move to the luxury brand management sector. "My background in finance was irrelevant to my new career. Essec was the only business school offering an appropriate MBA in luxury brand management and it gave me practical experience in the luxury goods sector. Ten years on I'd always seriously consider a candidate with a specialised MBA that provides the savoir faire of our industry."

Leading business schools highlight the importance of international experience on an MBA, but the Audencia survey sample disagrees with this emphasis. Only 32 per cent of respondents believe the percentage of international students on an MBA programme should be 61 per cent or over.

"I'm surprised," says Professor Gianmario Verona, director of the full-time MBA at SDA Bocconi School of Management, where 84 per cent of students are international.

"I strongly believe that a modern MBA must be enriched with talent from every corner of the world. Creating barriers damages the quality of the programme. Today's students will be working in big multinationals, and must learn to deal with a variety of cultures."

Kundan Bhaduri, 29, has first-hand experience of this from his MBA programme at IE Business School, where more than 80 nationalities are represented. "Being in an international programme helps expand one's horizon, while learning about social intricacies and cultures," he says. "Little things matter, like how to accept business cards courteously in Japan, or what topics are forbidden in a Chinese corporate environment. One wrong move in a real job could be disastrous, so why not learn these skills at business school?"

The rankings have a knock-on effect for the international mix, says Professor Zahir Irani, head of Brunel Business School. "We have 95 per cent international students, many returning to Far Eastern countries where salaries are lower, so we're pitching against institutions whose graduates work in a high-salary environment. We're offering bursaries to home students to reduce the proportion of international students."

Nunzio Quacquarelli, founder and director of QS Consulting, points out that over 20 years European institutions have prioritised internationally diverse groups, with Insead, IMD and IE Business School among those taking more than 90 per cent of their students from overseas.

"The international diversity of European business schools is a chief point of attraction over top schools like Wharton and Harvard, which have just 35 per cent international students, and will protect them from the impact of the current European financial crisis," he says.

Clearly the findings of surveys are as diverse as the MBAs on offer.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Malky Mackay salutes the Cardiff fans after the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday
footballFormer Cardiff boss accused of sending homophobic, racist and messages
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Amis: Taken to task over rash decisions and ill-judged statements
booksThe Zone of Interest just doesn't work, says James Runcie
Life and Style
life – it's not, says Rachel McKinnon
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Year 5 Teachers needed for various roles across Berkshire

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Pr...

Year 6 Teacher

£110 - £130 per day + D.O.E - Competitive Rates: Randstad Education Maidstone:...

NQT Supply Teachers

£80 - £100 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: NQTs required for short and lo...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home