Appeal of MBA continues to grow
Though the number of GMAT test-takers from UAE citizens continued it’s decline in 2012, the appeal of an MBA from one of the world’s leading business schools continues to grow across the GCC, as young professionals look to stand out in the job market. So the results of the full-time MBA ranking published last month by BusinessWeek will have been closely followed by potential applicants who use these tables along with those of the Financial Times, The Economist, US News and Forbes to help determine their shortlist of target schools.
Critics of the MBA rankings, and there are many of them, point out that they typically only measure what is easy to count — things like post-MBA salaries, GMAT scores and the percentage of international students and faculty. The over-reliance on self-reported data is also called into question, and the absence of any meaningful indicators for teaching quality, personal development, or the impact of the alumni network.
But what happens when you take all the MBA rankings collectively?
Business schools are separated schools into four regions (US, Europe, Canada and Asia-Pacific) to account for the fact that only the FT and The Economist make direct international comparisons. Overall performance is calculated by looking at the ranking position within each region, and taking an average of those results based on the number of rankings in which the schools appear.
In Europe, the London Business School maintains the top spot, with an impressive 12-month performance that sees it as the #1 European Business School in three of the major rankings. IESE Business School climbed into the top 3 following the school’s strong performance in both the BusinessWeek and The Economist rankings, with France’s HEC Paris also rising at the expense of Spain’s Esade.
In the UK, Oxford University’s Saïd Business School has overtaken rival Cambridge Judge based on their strong performance in BusinessWeek and The Economist rankings. And for the first time a German business school is closing in on the European top 10, with Mannheim entering the ranking on the back of some great results, though they are yet to be ranked by the Financial Times.
The four top places in the US continue to be dominated by Harvard Business School, Chicago Booth, Stanford GSB and The Wharton School. But further down, the volatile financial markets may have contributed to the slip of the Columbia Business School and NYU Stern, while the University of Virginia’s Darden made it into the top 10 on the back of its teaching quality and student satisfaction. Cornell’s Johnson School also moved upwards, following a strong showing in BusinessWeek.
In Asia Pacific, schools from Hong Kong and mainland China fill 3 of the top 5 places, while in Canada, the big winners this year are York University’s Schulich and McGill’s Desautels Faculty of Management.
But as McGill-Desautels dean Peter Todd explains, there is no ‘best’ business school in the world, but there may be a ‘best’ business school for each individual. “Rankings measure a variety of things, and are a useful tool for candidates, but they are only one component of many to ensure the best fit. A school’s approach to teaching, the blend of classmates, and a management education that ensures career development and prepares students to do right in the world are all part of the bigger picture.”
So how much should we read into these 2012 media rankings ? The Economist admits that comparing “a one-year Danish programme with a cohort of 50 students with a two-year American one with 1,000 is tricky. Some would say futile.” Each ranking uses a different methodology and weights the use of different data to produce their league tables, so it is important for candidates to understand what is being measured.
For HEC Paris Associate Dean, Bernard Garrette, the reality is that very little separates the top business schools as measured by the data used for the rankings. But he points out that there is a tremendous difference in terms of the student experience that rankings simply cannot capture. “A world class MBA should be a transformational experience, so it is far more important to choose a programme that corresponds to the personality and objectives of the individual. Nothing will replace interacting with the school and its students and alumni to determine whether the MBA offers the right fit.”
Rankings at least have the merit of providing potential applicants with certain data that would otherwise be unavailable. Given, though, that the methodology of each ranking is subjective in its choice of criteria, and that the difference between a school ranked 18th or 25th is probably not that great, the results should never be the most influential factor when identifying the right school for you. The personality of the institution, course length, location, cost, school strengths, alumni, and other personal aspects are key to finding the right fit.
As Bob Bruner, dean of the Darden School explains, “a life decision such as accepting a job offer or admission to an MBA programme shouldn’t hinge just on the obvious criteria (dollars, title, location, etc.) You must focus importantly on the work you want to do and how this choice can help you do it.”
For Bruner the question remains, “Where can you do your best work?”