The FT MBA Rankings 2012 – Winners and Losers


The Financial Times has just published its 2012 full-time MBA ranking, starting another year of controversy and mistrust that always accompany such media league tables.

The headlines will no doubt belong to the Stanford Graduate School of Business, which takes the #1 spot for the first time since the FT MBA rankings began in 2000 (they have been #3 or #4 in ten of the previous twelve rankings, and fell as low as #7 in 2004).

The Harvard Business School climbs up one place to #2, pushing the Wharton School and London Business School down from the #1 position that they had shared in two of the last three years.


So who are the other winners and losers in the 2012 FT MBA ranking?

At first sight it might seem that U.S. business schools are in the ascendancy this year, with 8 MBA programs moving up in the top 25, and only 4 moving down. UC Berkeley – Haas jumped up 11 places to #14, with Duke – Fuqua and Northwestern – Kellogg also making gains of 5 places. In turn, Yale SOM and Michigan – Ross both fell by 5 places.

Of the European business schools in the top 25, 2 went up, 2 went down, and 3 remained unchanged. Oxford – Saïd rose 7 places to #20, and the Warwick Business School moved a massive 31 places up to #27, leapfrogging 5 UK rivals in the process. And while top Spanish schools IESE and IE, and France’s HEC Paris all maintained their position from last year in the top 20, Esade and Italy’s SDA Bocconi both saw double digit drops.

But the full list of 100 business schools tells a different story, with as many U.S. schools moving up (26) as moving down. So while the results suggest a good year for many of the top tier programs, second tier programs may have become less globally competitive.

In Europe, 20 business schools fell in the table with only 7 schools climbing. Of these, 6 disappeared from the top 100 altogether. 12 UK business schools lost ground, and in the case of Durham, Lancaster and Strathclyde the fall was dramatic. It is too soon for these schools to have been affected in the rankings by a decline in enrollment numbers linked to UK visa changes, but this will be further bad news for an embattled jewel in the country’s higher education crown.

Elsewhere, the recent advances of Asian business schools towards the top 10 have taken a hit, with the highest ranked schools from India, China and Singapore either falling or stalling. That said, two business schools from Hong Kong – CUHK at #28 and UHK at #37 – and mainland China’s Peking University at #54 all made an impressive debut on the ranking, as well as South Korea’s little known Sunkyunkwan University at #66.

In any case, the delight of students and alumni whose schools have risen in the FT this year will be matched by the disappointment of others whose schools have fallen. For many staff and faculty there will be the legitimate concern about the influence media rankings have on potential applicants, who may overlook the different methodologies and limitations of these surveys.


Rankings in context – finding the right school for you

The various media MBA rankings all measure different things, but do they measure the aspects of a business school that matter to the MBA candidate, and help them to find the right fit? A superficial list cannot compare with committed research and dialogue with the schools themselves, to understand the personalities of each institution, and consider factors such as course length, location, cost, school strengths, alumni, and other personal aspects.

In the case of the FT, the two most heavily weighted components of the ranking – ‘Weighted salary (US$)’ and ‘Salary percentage increase’ – combine to contribute 40% of the rank for each school. Needless to say, this plays well to schools whose graduates secure lucrative positions on Wall Street, blue-chip consultancy firms or new media. Stanford, Harvard, Wharton and Columbia claim four of the top five positions for “Weighted Salary (US$)’.

And this year it is business schools from Asia and Latin America that have seen the highest salary increases, reflecting the war for talent in BRIC countries and other fast growing economies.

But when it comes to ‘Value for Money’, many of the top U.S. two-year MBA programs struggle, with Northwestern-Kellogg, Chicago Booth and Wharton occupying the bottom 3 places out of 100. Meanwhile, South Africa’s University of Cape Town and Brazil’s Coppead join one-year programs in Europe such as Vlerick Leuven Gent to offer the best value for money.


So how did the FT do?

A general cause for concern with the FT rankings is the significant year on year fluctuations in the results, in an industry that rarely makes great changes overnight. In the 2012 FT results, 27 business schools moved up or down by more than 10 places from the previous year. There were also 12 new entrants to this year’s MBA ranking.

While the Warwick Business School will be delighted to have climbed 31 places to #27, the MBA programs at Durham, Ipade and Lancaster will be hard pressed to understand why they fell so sharply.

As Conrad Chua, Head of MBA Admissions at Cambridge’s Judge Business School explains in a thoughtful blog on the FT rankings, this volatility may be explained by the role that exchange rates and Purchasing Power Parity play in the calculations, notably affecting the British Pound and Chinese Yuan.

But the considerable efforts of the FT staff and the participating schools provide some fascinating data about the business schools. The results show for example that INSEAD requires two extra languages of its students upon completion of the MBA, while Thunderbird is the only U.S. business school to require one extra language. Is it safe for the other U.S. schools to assume that English is the only language of business?

The Cass Business School and University of Edinburgh in the UK, and the Wharton School deserve mention for the % of women students on their MBA programs, while Switzerland’s IMD impresses with the results for aims achieved and placement success.

The FT data also hints at a correlation between alumni recommendation of schools from which they would hire MBA graduates and post-MBA salaries – we see the same cluster of usual suspects, namely HBS, Stanford, Wharton and LBS. But it is some of the smaller MBA programs, including the UK’s Birmingham Business School and Canada’s McGill-Desautels that can claim the highest % of employment 3 months after graduation.

Finally, European schools predictably dominate the ranking of % international students, but we were puzzled by some of the school responses. Both Lancaster in the UK and RSM in the Netherlands have 98% international students, leaving little room for any British or Dutch nationals on their respective programs. But the school of management at Bradford University beats them all with 100% international students. Wasn’t business in the 21st century supposed to be both global AND local?

For the full FT results, click here.

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