The Association of MBAs recently published its fourth survey of the salary and career prospects of MBA graduates.

The latest survey received a 21 per cent response rate (1,344 replies from 6,400 questionnaires sent to graduates of the MBA programmes accredited by the association).

It suggests that an MBA is certainly good for your wealth - MBA graduates now earn an average of£64,000 (median£50,000). This is an increase of more than 19 per cent on the figures derived from a similar survey in 1997, when the average salary of MBA graduates was£53,700 (median£44,000).

And 58 per cent of this year's respondents receive some form of performance-related pay.

People who can afford a two-year break from work and pay the course fees seem to receive the greatest financial return.

The average salary of MBA graduates who studied full-time is£96,500, compared with£67,000 for those who took one-year, full-time courses,£55,900 for those who studied part-time and£54,700 for distance learners.

However, health service managers who put in the hours of work required for an MBA may not see such high rewards.

MBA graduates working in the private sector command higher salaries than those in the public sector and the differential between them is significant.

On the other hand, graduates may not stick with the health service. Although MBA graduates generally stay within their sectors, the survey reveals two exceptions - a major trend towards graduates moving into management consultancy and a migration away from the public sector. Indeed, the two trends reinforce each other because graduates who go on to become management consultants principally come from the public sector (with others moving out of the finance, IT, building and construction sectors).

Still, It is not all about money. The vast majority of graduates believe that achieving an MBA has given them increased self-esteem, opened doors and given them access to like-minded people.

On the other hand, a third say they are under stress at work and more than half want to spend more time with friends and family.

Paula Glason, marketing manager with AMBA, says that public sector MBA graduates who subsequently set themselves up as management consultants usually stay within their own field of expertise. In other words, they use their skills to provide consultancy to health services management.

'The MBA gives them more confidence to set up on their own and provides more contacts. '

MBA graduates who leave their employer are often looking to have more opportunity to use the skills they have developed, she adds.