YEAR in and year out, universities here see a rush of applicants for their business courses.
Here is one fact that might explain why: The overwhelming majority of this year's graduating classes from the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) business schools landed a job well before they donned their convocation gowns for size.
Eight in 10 students from NUS and nine in 10 from NTU's Nanyang Business School (NBS) were offered work before they graduated - with some even getting job offers six months early.
This 'headhunting' is a result of the booming financial sector here. But foreign firms are also muscling in on local talent and some graduates have landed jobs as far away as Mexico City and Dubai.
The figures were contained in findings of graduate employment surveys released early this week. And while business students grabbed the limelight, the roaring job market also meant graduates in other disciplines are not missing out.
The NTU survey showed that its entire batch of 4,847 graduates last year drew an average starting salary of $2,900, a 7.8 per cent increase over the $2,690 drawn by the previous graduating class.
Nine in 10 also got jobs within a month of graduating.
The NUS released only figures for its business school graduates, and they showed a similar trend: The average starting salary of last year's cohort of 328 students went up by 13.6 per cent to $3,079.
Banks and accounting firms are leading the charge for business school talent.
Said Ms Claire Teo, a senior human resources executive at Citibank: 'It is a very competitive market, so we have a first-mover advantage the earlier we start.'
The company organised a campus talk at NTU last August to attract students to its management associate programme. To date, it has offered places to 11 students and is looking out for more.
Accounting giant KPMG was on the lookout for talent as early as one year before graduation.
Said Mr Philip Lee, head of people, performance and culture at KPMG: 'From the students' standpoint, accepting a job offer early provides the certainty of employment, giving them peace of mind as they prepare for their final examinations.'
Competition is so keen among employers that about three-quarters of students at both universities received multiple job offers.
Mr Teo Kian Hao, 24, was one of them. The accounting student at NBS received three offers, including the one he eventually accepted from Dubai-based Tatweer Group.
He will join the firm as a business analyst and will be involved in the development of an industrial city in Dubai.
The $60,000 annual salary offered was attractive, Mr Teo said, but Dubai's vibrant financial and tourism sectors sealed the deal for him.
'They are not paying me significantly more than Singapore companies, but it's valuable experience that is hard to come by,' said Mr Teo, who leaves for the Middle East next month.
Over the past three years, business and business-related courses like accountancy and economics have been top choices for A-level and polytechnic students heading to university.
Last year, NUS received about 34,000 applications for around 6,600 places, while NTU received 35,000 applications for 5,850 places.
The Singapore Management University received about 12,900 applications for 1,500 places.
This article was first published in The Straits Times on May 29, 2008
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