IESE business school in Spain reported a 60% rise in applications to start in 2003, compared to 2002, said topcareers, publisher of The MBA Career Guide.
In the UK, Manchester Business School reported a 34% rise. London Business School had not yet compiled figures as applications were still coming in, but said 2003 was likely to be 'a very strong year'.
Nunzio Quacquarelli, editor of the MBA Career Guide, said applications to all the top US business schools had risen more than 10% this year. Some, such as Tuck Business School, were reporting higher rises.
'The trend is up for cyclical reasons, because studying is a good way to enhance a CV in a downturn,' says Quacquarelli. 'The underlying trend is up too. People increasingly value a good MBA.'
He said many people were choosing to do an MBA because their promotion prospects had stalled in the economic downturn. Often the firms they worked for, including banks, were paying for the course.
However suggestions that the unemployed are piling into business schools seem misplaced. A survey of MBA applicants in the UK by topcareers.net found that 9% at most were jobless, while 80% were in full-time employment.
A total of 48% of applicants globally wanted to use an MBA to change career. In the UK the figure was 62%.
Just over a quarter of applicants, globally and in the UK, hoped to start their own business after finishing an MBA.
UK applicants were older than the global average, aged 29 compared to 26.9.