Short executive courses are more focused and can be spread out according to your time restraints ONCE YOU HAVE resolved to return to the classroom, you have to think about what type of programme would best suit your needs. There are many people who consider an MBA a no-brainer. It is recognised in the marketplace and certainly adds value to a resume, but is it really the most time-efficient and cost-effective way to realise your goals? 'MBAs are good for someone who has studied something totally unrelated to business, such as engineering, architecture or medicine,' said Joanna Leung D'Ettorre, director of Academic and Continuing Education, the Hong Kong office of Australia's largest recruiter of international students. 'That is how they were originally intended. They were for people who had studied something else and suddenly found themselves in management positions. They had to be able to supervise or manage people performing tasks such as human resources, marketing or accounting, without having to be an expert in each of those areas.' Ms Leung D'Ettorre, who has a degree in business administration, recommends a Master of Science (MSc) in a specific discipline. 'They should already have an overview of how business decisions are made, and extend their knowledge to the specific field they are working in,' she said. Another option is to do a series of short executive courses. 'You can learn the same things you would learn in an MBA. One advantage is that you can spread the courses over a period of time, studying specific topics as the need arises. Another advantage is that short courses have a more practical focus, whereas MBAs are more theoretical,' Ms Leung D'Ettorre said. Still, an MBA has an undeniable cachet, and studies in the United States and Europe indicate that when all other factors are equal, those who possess an MBA earn more than those who do not. Robin Edwards, director of external relations at Macquarie Graduate School of Management, said an MBA degree was instantly recognised in the market. 'An MBA represents the pinnacle of formal management education for many managers. Some master's degrees are intended as a rigorous management qualification that sits at a level just below the MBA. Master's degrees of this type are a pathway to an MBA. This is the case at the Macquarie Graduate School of Management.' In many cases, master's degrees in specific subjects have a more vocational, or practical, focus. 'They are intended to further the education of a manager along specific lines. A master's in professional accounting is an example of this type of programme,' Ms Edwards said. Executive short courses usually cover specific skills or topics. 'These courses tend to be shorter and less in-depth than the award-bearing courses. Some executive courses come in modular mode and have an assessment component. This allows candidates to join together a number of executive courses and have them count towards entry to an award-bearing programme with exemptions,' Ms Edwards said. 'Managers seeking to close a specific knowledge gap, or wanting to engage in company team-building, should consider doing an executive or in-house corporate programme. 'Managers wishing to further develop their vocational knowledge would be best served by enrolling in a functional master's degree. Managers aspiring to a globally recognised qualification that is transportable across borders and professions would be wise to consider enrolling in an MBA programme of proven quality,' Ms Edwards said. Candidates who cannot commit sufficient time to a course will not get the most out of the experience and should consider focusing on non-study related goals until they are ready to return to the classroom. In the case of longer-term study programmes, such as the MBA, it is important to have the support of colleagues, family and friends. If that is not possible, an executive short course is the best option. Kathleen Slaughter, associate dean for Asia at the Richard Ivey School of Business, warned against becoming overly specialised in a field of study. She said a growing number of organisations were looking for managers with a 'cross-enterprise perspective'. 'To lead an organisation at any level, you must understand the issues and opportunities faced in all areas. Specialisation often results in a narrow focus, and only continues the silo mentality that most successful organisations have eliminated. 'Organisations today are struggling to develop their management talent and the most requested development is expanding the scope of organisational knowledge,' Professor Slaughter said. Ms Edwards said recommendations from friends and colleagues could be helpful when choosing the most appropriate option. 'Factors such as the cost of the programme, the reputation of the programme, the stage in your career, the need for international recognition and the need for flexibility during the course of study - all these should inform your final decision as to what type of study to take,' she said.