Investing in an MBA can be one of the most important academic career decisions a management professional can make, so choosing the right school and programme is critical. The process can be time consuming and expensive, so it's not for the faint-hearted. It is also a decisive time for students to review and plan so that their studies will enable them to fulfil their career aspirations. Business schools stress the importance of matching a student's career goals and the MBA programmes on offer. They also recommend that, in addition to assessing reputation and class mix, students should also make sure the structure, delivery mode and curriculum meet their needs. According to Professor Chris Styles, deputy dean and director at the Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM), an MBA provides students with an opportunity to enhance their self-esteem and value as a result of the knowledge, skills and experience they gain. He says boosting earning potential is only one side of the coin. 'Other than salary, our students value the opportunity to engage in knowledge transfer, the emphasis on skills development, improving communication abilities, a rise in confidence and developing those all-important cross-cultural skills - these are integral parts of career and personal development' Styles says. He adds that employees holding relevant MBAs can improve their own career prospects, and also add to the potential of their employers. Styles highlights job satisfaction - which can improve staff retention - and the ability to take on bigger roles, which can help a company expand or adapt in a challenging business environment. 'If individuals want to develop their careers, they shouldn't be looking for an MBA programme that simply gives them a tool kit to fix problems. Instead, the programme should provide them with the skills and knowhow to identify and work through a problem. And these days, companies are experiencing challenges and problems they have never encountered before, which makes it all the more important they have the people with the skills to work through these challenges.' Styles believes the quality and relevance of an MBA can be measured by what it provides to the individual. 'Our AGSM MBA programme is designed around a curriculum that has a strong impact on students, a notable impact on the organisations our students work for, and a positive impact on the wider community,' says Styles. 'This is what students and employers tell us they are looking for.' Styles cites the example of an AGSM graduate - Bruce Buchanan, CEO of Jetstar, an Australian low-cost airline. 'He often talks about the huge impact his AGSM MBA has had on him and the way he conducts business. The impact is much wider than personal achievements because he has been able to open up international travel to people who would otherwise be unable to afford it.' Styles adds that the AGSM MBA programme, which has been available in Hong Kong for about 15 years, is designed and focused on expanding career options and equipping students with the skills to explore possibilities. 'We provide an innovative, flexible customised management curriculum especially designed for the busy Hong Kong and regional-based executives, with regional business career leadership ambitions in mind.' To ensure continuity, the MBA programme is delivered by AGSM's local and international fly-in faculty. Styles says instructors deliver courses that are subject to a robust review and refinement process. Underlining the growing importance of Asia in the global business environment, AGSM added an 'International Business Strategy in Asia' module three years ago which Hong Kong and Australian-based students study at the same time in the city. Styles says flexibility is also a key benefit valued by students who are investing in their careers. To help students balance their work, travel and study commitments, they can complete their MBA between 18 months and seven years. Professor Steven DeKrey, associate dean and director of masters programmes at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), also believes the quality and relevance of an MBA are directly linked to the career benefits a student is likely to achieve. 'The quality of an MBA programme and business school is the prerequisite. It includes factors such as research and teaching quality of faculty, diversity of students, programme design, and school facilities,' says DeKrey. He emphasises that every programme has its particular strengths and focuses. 'Students should always conduct in-depth research to find out if the programme curriculum, culture, teaching approach, network and career support can fulfil their career needs,' he says. DeKrey says reputation can serve as a short-listing criterion for MBA programmes. If students do not have an idea which programme to choose, they can assess the reputation of business schools by taking reference from well-recognised rankings, such as those by the Financial Times and QS. He says rankings allow students to get a general idea about the reputation, research and teaching quality of each school, helping them to narrow down their choices. When deciding whether to do part-time or full-time MBA, DeKrey says it depends what students want to achieve through an MBA. Taking HKUST as an example, he says full-time MBA programme is more suitable for those looking for a career switch in terms of location, industry or job function. 'The full-time programme offerings such as career support, student clubs and enrichment activities are designed to cater for such needs. Over the years, around 60 per cent of our full-time students find themselves in a new industry when they graduate,' DeKrey says. For students who are looking for career advancement or a wider network, DeKrey says a part-time MBA programme with diverse students in terms of job function and industry may be more appropriate. 'The key is if they are enjoying their current employment and following a successful career path, a part-time MBA programme can be ideal. If not, and they can afford it, a full-time programme may suit them better,' says DeKrey.