This year’s Business Week MBA ranking

Bloomberg Businessweek has released their annual ranking of business schools for 2016. Curiously, they chose to release their ranking of US MBA programmes before Thanksgiving and made non-US schools wait till yesterday to learn where we stand in the ranking of international MBA programmes.

I have always found this nomenclature amusing. Instead of calling it a ranking of non-US schools they choose to call it the international ranking, almost as if US schools cannot be international, or that non-US schools cannot be similar to regional US MBA programmes. I experienced the same sense of puzzlement when I first learnt that the Major League Baseball finals was called the World Series when only North American teams could participate.

The Cambridge MBA moved up to 4th place in this year’s ranking, up 4 places from last year. Any joy in this improvement in overall rankings is tempered by the facts that rankings are generally volatile but even that can’t explain the huge movements in this year’s ranking where the previous top ranked school Ivey tumbled to number 10. The main reason behind its drop seems to be a drop in the employer survey from being ranked top last year to 6th this year. The employer survey accounts for 35% of the total score for a school so that drop has a big impact on the overall score.

Most candidates will look at the headline figures and not understand that in part, the employer survey is actually an alumni survey because schools are allowed to list alums who return to the school to recruit on behalf of their companies as employer contacts who are then surveyed. Businessweek has some way of balancing this by taking the alumni employer contacts into consideration when calculating the “quality” of an MBA programme to employers but not the “reach” of an MBA programme. Both the quality and the reach factors go into the eventual employer survey score. There is no way to tell how prevalent the practice of citing alums as employer survey contacts is but in the interests of full disclosure I can say that we only listed one alum as an employer contact and I have no way of knowing if that alum actually returned the survey to BusinessWeek.

I agree with Poets and Quants that there are some flaws in the employer survey methodology but I can’t see any way that would ensure consistency across years while also ensuring a large sample size. John Byrne of P&Q suggests that we should use a system where the top corporate recruiter from each of the top companies that recruit MBAs be polled but the fact is that if you did that, the sample size is reduced considerably. I understand that the response rate from employers when BW used that methodology was extremely low, and that was also the reason why Cambridge was not ranked in 2012. At that time, there was a different team at BusinessWeek who was in charge of the rankings and while I was asked to submit a list of corporate recruiter contacts for the employer survey, I was not told whether Business Week actually contacted any of those people who recruited at Cambridge.

Ultimately no rankings is devoid of flaws and, as I have always said, candidates should not just take rankings at face -value because it is impossible to reduce the value of an MBA to a single number.

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