FT MBA Rankings 2018 Analysis – Business School Rankings

February 08, 2018 | by Matt Symonds

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Stanford‘s ascent to #1 in the FT Global MBA Ranking 2018 is sure to make headlines.

GSB graduates are reporting remarkable salary figures – the first time a b-school has published average alumnus salary over $200k three years after graduation, so this result isn’t surprising. The FT rewards weighted salary (20%) and salary increase (20%) more than any other business school ranking, and combined with Stanford GSB’s strong showing for research (a further 10%) the school has garnered first place for only the second time since the FT began its ranking in 1999.

INSEAD should not be too disappointed with second place after two invaluable years at the top. At Fortuna Admissions, we have seen a steep rise in enquiries over the past two years given the global recognition the FT results has championed. Given the increasingly popular one-year course format preferred by the majority of European and Asian business schools, INSEAD also benefits from a terrific ROI. And the much-reported Trump effect is encouraging a notable number of MBA candidates to look beyond the US for their business school experience.

But this result is part of a broader trend that emerged last November in the MBA ranking published by The Economist, which views US schools on the rise with the strengthening US dollar of the past three years. HBS is the only M7 school to have lost ground in this year’s FT ranking, in part because of the lower faculty research output the FT measures each year. Indeed, there is no another US school besides HBS that dropped places in the top 20.

MIT Sloan and Booth enjoy solid gains. UC Berkeley Haas continues making a great case for referring to an M8 club, and this FT result will not do those notions any harm. One of the stand-out results among the top US schools was Cornell Johnson, perhaps the first signs that its strategy to bring the program closer to recruiters in New York City is paying dividends. UCLA Anderson has also prospered on the back of the continued strength of the Southern California economy, as well as close ties to content-focused tech firms like Netflix. And the US capital now has a school in the top 30: Georgetown McDonough is something of a hidden gem, and its competitive salaries and great placement rates are part of this year’s strong showing.

Further down the table, Houston’s Rice University Jones has risen faster than oil prices, climbing 19 spots to #45, followed by Washington University Olin in St Louis, with a jump of 18 spots to the top 50.

Among European programs, LBS reasserts its position in the top 4 and Oxford Saïd rose six places to #27. The bagpipes will be playing in Edinburgh to celebrate the business school’s 18-place gain. But elsewhere many top European schools drifted downwards. A sharp illustration of this trend is Cambridge Judge, falling eight places to #13, and in the process losing any FT bragging rights they held over LBS for the past year. Further down, Lancaster has dropped a dramatic 28 places.

That isn’t to say that European business schools are in decline – quite the contrary.

As I discussed in a recent article, a combination of factors have rocketed demand among the top schools, from Milan to Manchester.

My personal thoughts go out to the team at IE Business School, whose MBA program is absent from this year’s ranking for the first time in 19 years. Citing irregularities in the school’s alumni survey, the FT made the momentous decision to exclude the Madrid-based b-school, which last year ranked #8. IE continues to innovate and deliver a great MBA experience for students, so I foresee they will be back among the top ranked schools next year. Indeed, not appearing in the FT ranking because of the alumni sample is at least preferable to falling by 30 places based on poor performance. But their disappearance from the MBA ranking is sure to damage their typical top 5 status in the FT’s European Business School Ranking published in December, and in the Fortuna Ranking of Rankings published each year on Forbes.

In the zigzagging world of business school rankings, there is much to learn from this incident, with potentially wide-reaching consequences. In my own work with the WSJ and Times Higher Education on a new business school rankings project, we have spoken with over 200 business schools to understand their concerns and gain their input. The schools have been an incredible source of insight and thoughtful feedback, and it has been a fascinating exercise. They rightly expect high standards of dialogue and transparency with the media, and are mindful of the impact rankings can have.

So from Boston to Palo Alto and Madrid to Fontainebleau, there will be the usual mix of groans and cheers that accompany every ranking. But this doesn’t dissuade the 155 business schools that took part in the 2018 edition in hopes of appearing among the top 100 featured in the annual league table. For those that have fallen from the list this year, or who hover invisibly below the cut-off, take hope from eight of the 11 schools that feature from #91 to #100. None of them made the top 100 last year, and their achievement is celebration-worthy.

I’ll end with what I see as the real story at the heart of this year’s FT Global MBA Ranking.

That story is Asia, and China in particular. China is predicted to become the world’s largest economy before 2030, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report. And what of China’s business schools – could they be on track to overtake Stanford GSB, INSEAD, Wharton, LBS and HBS?

For one, a record number of Asian business schools appear in the 2018 ranking. They are led by Shanghai-based CEIBS, which rose 3 places to #8 – the first time a mainland Chinese school has made the global top 10 (HKUST ranked #8 in 2013). After their absence last year, Renmin University and Fudan University School of Management are re-entries at #39 and #42 respectively. Singapore can claim the highest new entry with Singapore Management University vaulting into the world’s top 50 at #49. The island city-state also sees National University of Singapore ascending eight places to #18, and Nanyang Business School up to #24.

Can CEIBS go on to reach the #1 spot?

They can take inspiration from INSEAD, which ranked #8 in the FT MBA ranking of 2006, and 10 years later reached the top. Much like predictions for the Chinese economy, the answer may not be ‘if,’ but ‘when.’


Fortuna Admissions Co-founder and Director Matt Symonds is bestselling author of Getting the MBA Admissions Edge, sponsored by McKinsey, Goldman Sachs, BCG and Bain. He co-produces the CentreCourt MBA Festival and writes about the MBA for Forbes, The Economist, BusinessWeek, the BBC, and AméricaEconomia. A version of Matt’s article was originally published on January 29, 2018 in Forbes.

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