The average MBA graduate earns £60,000 upon qualifying, according to the lastest survey

Studying for an MBA is likely to bring a multitude of rewards, such as a higher salary, more opportunity to shift jobs or sectors, and a hike in self-esteem and confidence, according to the Association of MBA's fourth annual review of the salary and prospects of MBA graduates.

The 1999 survey, carried out by Middlesex University Business School, compared results with the preceding three in 1992, 1995 and 1997.

More than 1,300 graduate members of the Association responded, all of whom had attended an accredited programme. Eighty-two per cent were men, and just under half undertook full-time study.

The news in terms of financial rewards is rosy. The four surveys have shown a steady progression in terms of base salaries, and overall the earning power of MBAs has increased markedly from 1997, with the average salary of an MBA graduate rising 19 per cent from £53,700 to £60,000 in 1999. The number of graduates earning over £100,000 has doubled from 6 per cent in 1997 to 12 per cent. In addition to base salary, 58 per cent of 1999 respondents receive a form of performance-related pay.

And it seems that investing more time and money in your MBA pays a premium. As in 1997, the findings show that graduates from two-year, full-time courses enjoy the greatest rewards - their average salary is £96,500 compared with £67,000 for one-year full-time graduates, £55,900 for part-time learners, and £54,700 for those distance learners.

Overall, the average rise in pay for all MBAs was 40 per cent. Even allowing for inflation this represents a 25 per cent increase, giving a significant return on the investment. The impact on earning potential is greatest for those changing employers on graduation - as a third of those remaining employed while they study do. On average they enjoy increases of income of 41 per cent. That said, graduates who stay with their employer also reap what they sow; their average salary increase is 25 per cent, and 37 per cent are promoted.

While salary increases have been across the board, there is growing evidence that a new technical, information elite is favouring some, with smaller enterprises leading the way. Self-employed MBA graduates had the biggest salary hike with a mean increase of 52 per cent, while professional/technical graduates saw their mean salary grow by 48 per cent. In addition, most of the high earners within the sample tended to be located in micro companies - fewer than 10 employees - or small organisations with fewer than 50 staff, reflecting the rise of new sectors such as internet service providers and small consultancy businesses. More than a quarter of the respondents expect to run their own business in the future.

Not surprisingly, those working in the private sector command higher salaries than those working in the public sector. Finance and consulting have the highest mean salaries, along with telecommunications, which has increased significantly since the last survey in 1997.

There is good evidence of immediate and lasting career enhancement amongst MBAs. More than half the respondents now hold very senior management roles, and the number of MBAs still in junior positions has fallen considerably. Although most remain in their original industry sector, an increasing proportion are shifting into new careers in consultancy, with a marked migration from public services into this area. Around one-third of MBAs staying with their original employer use their new qualification as a means of shifting into a different function, with the emphasis firmly towards more general management roles. Those employed in finance, personnel, marketing and IT are more likely to stay put.

Not that there is any room for complacency. Despite the proven potential benefits of an MBA in terms of salary and career enhancement, 52 per cent of full-time students and 70 per cent of distance learners agreed with the statement "after my MBA, my employer did not make the most of my new knowledge", while 27 per cent and 44 per cent respectively felt that they were frustrated that their new knowledge was not recognised. Recent graduates were more prone to these frustrations, perhaps reflecting the higher expectations of newer intakes.

Nine out of 10 MBA graduates state that their principal objective for studying for an MBA was to improve their potential in the job market. More than 60 per cent think the MBA has indeed opened more doors for them, with two-year full-time graduates most confident of this impact.

Over half think the MBA has given access to like-minded people, although this was considerably less the case with distance learners. On a personal level, the majority said that the MBA had also increased their self-esteem, given them more confidence and allowed them to be more assertive. Most now feel they are able to compete with the best.