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MBA Business School Careers, MBA rankings

The latest MBA Rankings – what they say and what we miss

The fall season of MBA rankings arrives a little late this year. I think that was also the case for Easter, but I always get confused about full moons, equinoxes and the combining of lunar and Gregorian calendars.

In the case of business schools the delay in the 2008 calendar came about with the Wall Street Journal’s decision not produce a full-time MBA ranking in their traditional mid-September slot. Since they jumped into the b-school rankings business in 2001 the WSJ had built up momentum, last year publishing as many as four separate rankings under various headings. Now they are having a stab at an Executive MBA ranking.

In any case, after years of witnessing the global media thirst for MBA rankings, we are now down to, … er, … well, …hmmm , let’s just say that there is now one fewer. Is it a case of The Empirical Strikes Back or Strikes Out?

So the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) got to fire the first Anglo-Saxon shot of the new academic year (America Economia published in late August). Up next will be BusinessWeek in October, the FT in late January ’09, US News & World in the Spring and then a gap before Forbes publishes it’s bi-annual ROI ranking. With a lack of common data from one publication to another it is no wonder schools struggle with the staff resource to respond to each ranking survey.

The latest results come at a tense moment for business schools and their graduates, particularly in the US and London. The convulsions and crisis in the financial markets, and a professional uncertainty that goes beyond Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch has seen business schools responding with emergency career coaching sessions and appeals to alumni networks to identify alternative job opportunities.

In an interview with the Boston Globe this week, Wharton School professor Thomas Donaldson commented “We send a third or more of our students into banking or financial services, so this is a big thing for us. It’s got our attention as educators and students.”

The EUI is not alone in collecting data for their ranking to assess new career opportunities, increase in salary and diversity of recruiters. This data was collected in the Spring 2008. One wonders how respondent answers would have changed in the last four or five months.

At BusinessWeek the student survey is distributed three weeks before graduation, usually in early May, and is live for three months. The recruiter survey is distributed in early July and is live for two months. It has been a turbulent summer for both groups. BusinessWeek considers amongst other criteria the satisfaction levels of students and recruiters. It will be interesting to see how the surveys assess the responsiveness of Careers Services to the current crisis.

Compiling the FT 2009 survey has recently begun, with surveys goes out in the coming weeks to prepare for their January 2009 publication. Given that “Weighted salary (US$)” and “Salary percentage increase” together contribute 40% of the FT rank for each school we might see some movement in the next set of results. Schools like Columbia Business School, Chicago GSB and London Business School have traditionally placed high numbers of their graduating students in financial services, so they will need to rely on their strength in other sectors to compensate.

That said, for all three of these rankings the data gathered for the current year’s survey carries 50% of the total weight, with data from the two previous years carrying the remaining 50%. We are unlikely to see any significant jumps, perhaps more a re-shuffle.

What is interesting to note in the EIU ranking is the continued ascension of the European business schools.  The strength of the euro, combined with their students having more years work experience is influencing graduating salaries. And those schools that do not overly depend on the financial markets for graduate higher are doing very well. Vlerick Leuven Gent is a case in point. They are the fastest climber in the EIU top 20, moving this year to #14. Graduates from a general management MBA such as this are as likely to place in the IT and biotech cluster around Brussels or a European multinational as they are at Fortis. The Vlerick class that has just graduated is reporting a healthy increase in salary and benefits.

But Director of International Business Peter Rafferty is not getting carried away. “Whilst rankings need to be correctly interpreted it is highly encouraging to see that our consistently strong performance over recent years has permanently placed us in the top league of world MBA programmes.”

The need to place rankings in a context is not lost on the team at the EIU. As they acknowledge in the preamble to this year’s ranking, “The rankings should form only part of a student’s selection process. It is equally important to look at issues such as school culture, employment prospects and areas of speciality. To gain a rounded picture, it is essential to look at several different rankings. No two rankings will seek to measure exactly the same things, so be sure you understand the methodology of the survey and whether or not what is being measured is an important consideration for you.”

Ironically it seems that they more rankings you have, the more balanced an overall picture a candidate can gain, provided they study and understand the methodology being used in each case.

So should schools regret the absence of WSJ from this year’s rankings cluster? Do they agree with the EIU assertion that “business schools themselves are slowly coming around to the idea of rankings too. It is fair to say that at first they were antipathetic to them—after all, no one really likes to be graded by outsiders—but now many recognise rankings as a legitimate tool for prospective students.”

Look forward to your replies below, or by email to matt[at]symondsGSB.com.

For editors and journalists, feel free to contact us about this topic and other ideas that appear on the Facebook MBA group or the SymondsGSB blog.

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About symondsgsb

Matt is chief editor of MBA50.com, a website dedicated to the world's outstanding business schools. He is an internationally recognised business and graduate school expert, consulting to the world’s top business schools, and has written for many of the world’s leading publications including : Forbes, The Economist, BusinessWeek, BBC, Newsweek, CNBC, America Economia, Washington Post, The Independent, Boston Globe, Handelsblatt, 21st Century Herald, South China Morning Post, Vedomosti, San Francisco Chronicle, Expansion, Beijing Daily. Matt was Co-Founder of the QS World MBA Tour Matt is co-author of Getting the M.B.A. Admissions Edge, a B-school admissions bestseller sponsored by Goldman Sachs and McKinsey. His new individual school guides will be available in the fall.

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