Top of the class: HEC heads the ranking for the second year running
Top of the class: HEC heads the ranking for the second year running

In normal times one of the biggest inconveniences for MBA students at Imperial College Business School is the walk to the campus, as they dodge the tourists heading for the Natural History and Science museums on London’s Exhibition Road. But these are not normal times.

For months, Exhibition Road has been deserted because of pandemic lockdowns. For the students, frustration has switched to the logistics of study, with the school allowed to fill only one in three seats in lecture halls to maintain social distancing. The rest of the class must attend online via Zoom web conferencing.

FT European Business Schools ranking 2020 — top 90

Esade Business School in Spain

Find out which schools are in our ranking of European business schools. Read the methodology section at the end of this article to learn how the table was compiled.

Despite all of this, Imperial dean Francisco Veloso says the school has much to be grateful for this year. First, it has created a hybrid of online and face-to-face teaching by fitting the lecture halls with high-definition cameras, video screens and ceiling-mounted microphones to help make those in the building and watching from home feel part of the same class. The dean is also pleased by record numbers of applications for masters courses this year and relieved that no-shows have been minimal.

“We’ve seen a decade’s progress on digital transformation in six months,” he says. “We were worried about people not turning up for classes, not least because the UK government has not done the greatest of jobs in managing the pandemic, but fortunately that has not happened.”

There has been much to trouble European business school heads in 2020, from the messy divorce of the UK from the EU and its implications for cross-border research to the shutdown of campuses during the pandemic, raising concerns about students turning up for the start of term.

However, many leading European business schools are also likely to look back on 2020 as a year of considerable achievement, certainly compared with other parts of the world, in the development of new teaching methods and reaching out to new audiences for business education.

The pandemic sparked a sharp rise in applications for postgraduate management degree courses as the collapse in employment in many economies fed demand for the kinds of skills offered by business schools. But European institutions have capitalised on this better than peers in other continents, according to the latest data compiled by the Graduate Management Admission Council, which administers the internationally recognised business school entrance exam GMAT.

There are several reasons why the European business education market could be seen as a better bet than other regions. Europe has some of the world’s most respected institutions, now mostly teaching in English but charging much lower tuition fees compared with US peers for courses that, in many cases, last half the time.

But perhaps most significantly in the current economic climate, where university leavers face a jobs vacuum, the European system is home to the masters in management course, a postgraduate qualification usually studied immediately after completing a bachelors degree.

Sangeet Chowfla, GMAC president and chief executive, says European schools have therefore tapped into a market of twentysomethings eager to remain in higher education to prepare for a jobs market that is becoming more competitive and demanding new leadership skills.

“We are seeing an unprecedented increase in application volumes pretty consistently across the world, but schools in Europe have reported stronger growth,” Chowfla says. “It is a feast for European business schools, which is likely to continue into 2021.”

One of the reasons has been the attractiveness of European schools to students from other parts of the world. Of the European schools surveyed by GMAC, 68 per cent reported increases in international applications, compared with 47 per cent of US schools. Chowfla attributes this to European hubs such as London, Amsterdam and Berlin being a direct flight from most continents, as well as the perception that European countries were doing a better job of controlling Covid-19 infection rates.

“A lot of masters in management growth has come from China, where the one-child policy has made parents more concerned about safety when their children go to university,” Chowfla says. “The note of caution I would add is that application growth does not necessarily translate into enrolment growth. We have seen a decrease in yields as the percentage of students accepted has dropped. Requests for deferrals of places have almost doubled globally.”

‘Unprecedented’: Sangeet Chowfla of GMAC says schools around the world have seen applications increase, but those in Europe have had the greatest growth
‘Unprecedented’: Sangeet Chowfla of GMAC says schools around the world have seen applications increase, but those in Europe have had the greatest growth © Charlie Bibby

Studying overseas for a masters qualification can be tricky even for those who have already made the move to Europe. Yinuo Yu, from China, started Insead’s masters in management programme at the Fontainebleau campus outside Paris in September, having completed a bachelors degree in fashion and design at the University of Southampton in the UK. However, she still had to wait six weeks for her visa to be processed, having returned to China in the meantime.

“My aim is to work in the luxury fashion industry, so being close to the industry in France will be a real advantage,” she says, adding that if she had not received her visa from the Chinese government in time she would have deferred for a year. However, she had to convince her family that she would be safe.

“My parents were really happy when I got my place at Insead, but then they became concerned when the news emerged about health issues in France. My grandparents were strongly against me going.”

For many schools, however, fears about students being unable to travel to campuses and corporate executive education clients cancelling courses have proved unfounded or at least less of a problem than initially thought. The rapid adoption of online teaching happened much more smoothly than many expected and, unlike in the US, many European campuses have been able to accept students in person for the new academic year.

The decision to switch to purely online teaching at several brand-name US schools worked in favour of European schools in locations that have had less onerous restrictions than many American campuses.

Caroline Diarte Edwards, San Francisco-based director of Fortuna Admissions, an advisory service for prospective MBA students, says European schools have been a popular choice for her US-based clients this year. This is because schools such as Insead have “pulled out all the stops” to make it feasible for its incoming MBA class to come to its French campus, she adds.

“US schools such as Wharton, where the programme is fully online, are suffering from more pushback from students on issues such as tuition fees,” Diarte Edwards says. “There is still no substitute for an in-person experience at a top business school, given the importance of relationship-building.

“The network is a more critical factor to an MBA programme than any other graduate degree and it’s still harder to develop life-long bonds with a large cohort online than in person.”

Top European school: HEC Paris

HEC Paris heads the ranking for the second year running, thanks in part to a sharp rise in the global MBA table from 19th to ninth. There were also improved performances in the custom and open executive education tables. The school was ranked second for its Masters in Management. One graduate recalled benefiting from the school’s global brand recognition. While cold-calling employers in the Asia-Pacific region, the individual attended a coffee chat and landed a job because “the MD had heard about this small but elite business school from the other corner of the world”.

Top for MBA: Insead

© Alamy Stock Photo

Insead is among the top 20 business schools in four out of the five FT rankings used to compile the European table. MBA alumni from the French institution receive an average weighted salary of $181,277 three years after graduation, nearly $10,000 more than any other European business school. Alumni from all schools recommend hiring an Insead graduate more than those from any other in Europe. In the MBA ranking, Insead cannot only boast highly successful alumni but can also pride itself on student diversity, with 96 per cent of participants from overseas.

Back in the top 10: ESCP

ESCP rises six places to eighth in the European ranking this year. The last time the school was in the top 10 was in 2012. The school is also 10th in the table for custom programmes and ranks highly in Europe for its EMBA. Executive MBA alumni appreciated the personal development they gained from the programme. “I learnt a lot about myself during this EMBA. As a result, I had a much better idea of what I wanted to achieve professionally and it gave me the confidence to pursue [my] professional goals, which I did successfully,” said one graduate.

Top for Masters in Management: St Gallen

Not only is the University of St Gallen the top school in the 2020 global MiM ranking, it has headed that table every year for the past decade. The length of time that the Swiss school has dominated is underscored by an impressive weighted average salary three years after graduation, at $113,175. St Gallen’s students rank highest for gender equality, with one female student for every male. The cohort of students is also very internationally diverse, with 96 per cent from countries other than Switzerland.

Top for custom programmes: Iese

Iese in Barcelona rose two places to fourth overall in the European Business School ranking and is top in the world for custom executive education programmes — tailored to clients’ needs — for the sixth consecutive year. It heads the custom ranking after reaching the top five for 13 out of 15 assessment criteria. Notably, it is top for international clients and faculty diversity. It is also sixth in Europe for its open-enrolment courses and fourth for its MBA, while its executive MBA is ranked fifth. Iese’s faculty and design team has attracted much praise from clients.

Top for open programmes: IMD

© Alamy Stock Photo

IMD is not only the top European school for open-enrolment executive education — it has also headed the global version of the ranking since 2012. Competition is fierce in this category, but the Swiss school remained number one for the ninth year running thanks to its highly rated teaching methods, faculty and facilities. Its open-enrolment programmes also scored highly in the aims achieved category — the extent to which participants’ course expectations were met — with only three schools ranking higher.

Top in Scandinavia: Stockholm School of Economics

Stockholm School of Economics rose five places to joint 21st. EMBA and MiM alumni reported higher salaries and salary increases this year. This elevated SSE to joint 60th in the EMBA table and seventh in the MiM ranking. About 30 per cent of recently surveyed alumni work in consultancy, a sector that tends to offer high wages, which could explain higher incomes. One graduate described the EMBA as a confidence booster: “It’s an experience I would recommend to anyone looking to gain a broad, international network.”

Highest climber: Koç University

Returning to form, Koç University Graduate School of Business climbs 20 places to joint 58th in the ranking. Improved performance in the Executive MBA ranking has propelled the school further up the table. The Turkish school was ranked 49th in the global EMBA table — the highest position it has reached so far. Alumni had an average salary of $271,106 and a wage increase of 63 per cent — just above the average for all schools featured in this year’s EMBA ranking.

Highest new entrant: IBS-Moscow Ranepa

© Alamy Stock Photo

In joint 58th place, the Russian school made an impressive debut in the FT’s 2020 Executive MBA table as the highest new entrant, and achieves the same accolade in this year’s European ranking. The average salary of $316,009 for alumni of the Russian EMBA Strategy & Leadership degree is partly responsible for its success. Most graduates who answered our survey are in senior positions that typically attract high salaries, such as president, managing director or chief executive.

Most female faculty: EM Strasbourg

The French school has risen four places to 81st in the European ranking. For two years running it has recorded the most full-time permanent female faculty in the Masters in Management table, with 58 per cent in 2020, the highest in the European ranking. For the current MiM table, the average is about a third. Alumni surveyed for the ranking were impressed by the helpfulness of staff, especially when seeking advice on securing internships. “I am still in contact with some teachers who really care about our success”, wrote one graduate.

Profiles written by Leo Cremonezi, Wai Kwen Chan, Sam Stephens and Tatjana Mitevska

FT European business schools 2020: Methodology

This is the 17th annual Financial Times ranking of European business schools. It is a composite ranking based on the combined performance of Europe’s leading schools across the five main rankings of programmes published by the FT in 2020: MBA, Executive MBA, Masters in Management (MiM) and the two rankings of non-degree executive education programmes. The online MBA and masters in finance rankings are not included.

The European school rank is calculated after removing non-European schools for each of these main rankings. MBA, EMBA and MiM account for 25 per cent each of each school’s total performance. For executive education, the scores obtained for customised and open programmes each account for 12.5 per cent.

The ranking measures the schools’ quality and breadth of programmes. This year, quality has been given greater emphasis so that schools offering high-quality training but not providing all the different courses considered can still perform strongly overall.

An indexed score is created for each ranking. These scores are then added together, according to the weighting above, creating a combined total for each school, which comprises one-third of the final score. The remaining two-thirds is an average score, derived by dividing the total score for each school by the number of rankings in which it features.

Scores are not simply based on aggregation of published ranking positions. They are calculated using Z-scores — formulas that reflect the range between the top and bottom school — for the individual criteria that make up each component ranking.

Judith Pizer of Pizer-MacMillan acted as the FT’s database consultant

Key (Weights for ranking criteria are shown in brackets as a percentage)

The European Business Schools ranking is based on the overall scores that each school has achieved for each ranking in which it features, such as MBA, Executive Education, Masters in Management and EMBA. The composite ranking is not based solely on the data displayed in the European schools table.


European rank (25): position among European schools that took part in the 2020 FT global MBA ranking.

Salary today $: average alumni salary three years after completion, US$ by purchasing power parity (PPP). Includes weighted data from the current and two previous years, where available.

Salary increase (%): average difference in alumni salary between pre-MBA and now, three years after completion.


European rank (25): position among European schools that took part in the 2020 EMBA ranking.

Salary today $: average alumni salary three years after completion, US$ PPP. Includes weighted data from the current and two previous years, where available.

Salary increase (%): average difference in alumni salary between pre-EMBA and now, three years after completion.

Masters in Management

European rank (25): position among European schools that participated in the 2020 FT MiM ranking.

Salary today $: average alumni salary three years after completion, US$ PPP. Includes weighted data from the current and two previous years, where available.

Salary increase (%): average difference in alumni salary between completion and now, three years after completion.

Executive Education

Open programmes (12.5): position among European schools that participated in the FT ranking of open-enrolment programmes in 2020.

Custom programmes (12.5): position among European schools that participated in the FT ranking of customised programmes in 2020.


Female faculty: percentage of female full-time faculty.

International faculty: percentage of full-time faculty whose citizenship differs from country of employment.

Faculty with doctorates: percentage of full-time faculty with a doctoral degree.

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