Two years after the collapse of investment bank Lehman Brothers signalled the start of the global financial crisis, it's still tough to get a job for university graduates. The 'Great Recession' is anything but great for those looking to launch and re-launch their career. The Corporate Recruiters Survey by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) shows that the percentage of employers planning to take on new graduates with master of business administration (MBA) degrees has increased this year to 55 per cent of respondents, up from 50 per cent last year. However, it's still a decline from 59 per cent of companies that were looking to hire MBAs in 2008, before Lehman went bust that September. 'The economy is on the rebound, but people are hiring cautiously,' says Dave Wilson, president and CEO of GMAC, which owns the GMAT test used by many business schools for admissions. 'I don't think they're hiring staff at the same clip as they have in the past.' While investment banks and management consulting companies have seen their influence drop, health care, pharmaceuticals and alternative energy are increasing in importance, and their hiring of MBAs. Demand for executives with post-graduate degrees is also increasing from the information technology, telecommunications and consumer goods industries. Employees with higher degrees in business command higher salaries than their counterparts who haven't gone to business school. Globally, the average starting salary for MBA graduates this year was US$80,508, GMAC reports, almost twice the US$41,860 average for graduates with a bachelor's degree. The trend is even more pronounced in Asia. MBA graduates who are 27 or younger have seen an 82 per cent increase in their salary after getting an MBA, while MBA graduates aged 28 to 34 got a 62 per cent boost - but off a bigger base than their younger groups. There is some concern that the flourishing of MBA programmes around the world has devalued the degree. MBAs are one of the most profitable offerings at most universities, and they have scrambled to broaden their offerings with speciality MBAs, part-time MBAs and executive MBAs among others. There are 4,650 graduate business programmes offered by 1,900 universities in 81 countries, according to GMAC. That makes for a competitive environment. Business schools have to stand out to attract students and to ensure their graduates are in demand. As the business world becomes more globalised, companies are often looking for senior management with experience working in other countries, or with overseas business degrees. Business schools are increasingly global, too, often opening small campuses in cities such as Hong Kong or setting up partnerships with schools in other nations. 'Businesses today operate on a global stage,' says Professor Robert Widing, dean of the Macquarie Graduate School of Management (MGSM). 'This requires business leaders to have a global mindset and the ability to create sustainable prosperity for their firms and communities. Australian, American, European and Hong Kong business schools all face similar challenges in creating global citizens to perform in an ever-changing business environment.' Widing says the benefit of taking on managers with advanced business school degrees soon becomes clear to the companies that hire them. That's why the school, with its main campus at Macquarie University in North Ryde, Sydney, has opened another campus in the Sydney central business district, near Circular Quay, and offers classes in partnership with the Hong Kong Management Association in Wan Chai. 'International and Australian research tells us that there is a direct link between management practices and productivity in companies, and that the more skilled and educated the managers are, the better their businesses will perform,' Widing says. 'There is a strong positive relationship between good management practices and firm productivity.' According to the Financial Times ranking of MBA programmes around the world, the MGSM makes the top 100 business schools in the world. MGSM produces graduates that make an average salary of US$113,796. In the rankings, the school rates highly in terms of value for money, at No30, and particularly in terms of career progress, where it places 12th. The school also ranks highly in two specialities. The Financial Times rates it as the eighth-best global MBA programme for finance and the fifth-best in the world for accountancy. The good news for graduates of MGSM is that they are all typically employed within three months of finishing their degree, according to the Financial Times. To Widing, that's because they join the executive ranks with skills that set them apart. 'We develop leaders with a global mindset who create sustainable value,' he says. 'These are professionals with a command of the functional areas, who listen to their customers, and have the ability to integrate across the functional areas.'