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When Will Asia Reach #1 In MBA Rankings?

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China is predicted to become the largest economy in the world before 2030, according to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). But what about China’s business schools – are they on track to overtake Stanford, INSEAD, Wharton, LBS and Harvard?

Stanford‘s rise to the top of the FT Global MBA Ranking 2018 is sure to grab the headlines. With GSB graduates reporting eye-popping salary figures– the first time a business school has reported average alumnus salary over $200k three years after graduation – this result was to be expected. The FT rewards weighted salary (20%) and salary increase (20%) more than any other MBA ranking, and combined with Stanford’s strong showing for research (a further 10%) the school has reached the #1 position for only the second time since the FT launched the ranking in 1999.

After two invaluable years at #1, INSEAD should not be too disappointed with second place. At Fortuna Admissions we have seen a sharp rise in enquiries over the past 24 months with the global recognition the FT results has boosted. The school also benefits from an excellent ROI for the increasingly popular one-year course format preferred by the majority of European and Asian business schools. And the much-reported Trump effect continues to encourage a significant number of business school applicants to look beyond the US for their MBA experience.

But this result is part of a wider trend that emerged in the MBA ranking published by The Economist last November, which sees US schools in the ascendancy with the strengthening US dollar of the past three years. Harvard Business School is the only M7 school to have lost ground in the FT ranking, in part because of lower faculty research output that the FT measures each year. In fact there is not a US school other than HBS that lost places in the top 20.

Booth and MIT Sloan have seen solid gains, while UC Berkeley Haas continues to make a great case to now refer to an M8 club. This FT result will not do those claims any harm. One of the stand-out results among the top US schools come from Cornell Johnson, and the first signs that the strategy to bring the school closer to recruiters in NYC is paying dividends. UCLA Anderson has also had a great year on the back of the continued strong performance of the Southern California economy, and close ties to content-focused tech firms such as Netflix. And the nation’s capital now has a school in the top 30. Georgetown McDonough is something of a hidden gem among the top US schools, and the great placement rates and competitive salaries are part of this year’s strong showing.

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

Among European schools, LBS has reasserted it’s position in the top 4 and Oxford Saïd climbed six places to #27. The bagpipes will be playing in Edinburgh to celebrate the business school’s rise of 18 places. But elsewhere many top European schools drifted downwards. Cambridge Judge is a sharp illustration of this trend, falling eight places to #13, and in the process losing any FT bragging rights they held over LBS for the past 12 months. Further down Lancaster has fallen a dramatic 28 places.

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However, European business schools are not in decline. Quite the contrary. As I recently discussed here on Forbes, a combination of factors have seen demand rocket among the top schools, from Manchester to Milan.

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 nineteen years. Unable to collect a representative sample of the program’s Class of 2014 as part of the alumni survey, the FT took the momentous decision to exclude the Madrid business school, which last year ranked #8. The school continues to innovate and deliver a great MBA experience for students, so I am sure they will be back among the top ranked schools next year. Indeed, not featuring in the FT ranking because of the alumni sample is probably better than falling by 30 places based on poor performance. But their absence in the MBA ranking is sure to hurt their typical top 5 performance in the December 2018 FT European Business School Ranking, and in the Fortuna Ranking of Rankings published each year on Forbes.

In the roller coaster world of business school rankings, there is much to learn from this incident, with potentially far-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 get their input and understand their concerns. It has been a fascinating exercise, and the schools have been an incredible source of thoughtful feedback and insight. They are mindful of the impact rankings can have, and rightly expect high standards of transparency and dialogue with the media.

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So from Palo Alto and Boston to Fontainebleau and Madrid, there will be the usual mix of cheers and groans that accompany every ranking. But that doesn’t dissuade the 155 business schools that took part in the 2018 edition in the hope to appear among the 100 schools 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 eleven schools that feature from #91 to #100. None of them made the top 100 last year, and I hope they take the time to celebrate this year’s achievement.

Let me end with what I believe to be the real story at the heart of this year’s FT Global MBA Ranking. That story is Asia, and China in particular.

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

Can CEIBS go on to claim the #1 spot? They can take inspiration from INSEAD, which ranked #8 in the FT MBA ranking of 2006, and ten years later was at the top. Much like predictions for the Chinese economy, the answer may be ‘when’ rather than ‘if’.

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