HEC Paris
HEC Paris rose to first place in the rankings from second in 2018

Europe is often portrayed as a sort of Goldilocks porridge of business education: not too hot, like the dynamic new Asian markets, but not too cold, like the US, where demand for most MBA courses is in decline. There is no guarantee, however, that the climate at European business schools will always be “just right”.

The number of applications to full-time MBA courses was up at 63 per cent of European business schools this year, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), the entrance exam administrator. Growth in demand was driven by a rise in international applications. Most of the institutions surveyed by GMAC reported year-on-year increases in interest from abroad, although for half of those courses international demand was up only slightly. 

One of the top reasons candidates pick European schools is the quality of the continent’s education system. They also see a degree from a European school as an asset in their pursuit of an international career. However, that does not mean European schools can rest on their laurels.

Insead, the provider of Europe’s highest-ranked full-time MBA course for the past three years, and global number one in 2016, announced in May it was entering the crowded market for masters in management courses. It hopes its new 10-month degree will help it attract a younger cohort to its Fontainebleau campus than currently come for its flagship MBA. The extra 100 students expected on the first MiM class will be particularly welcome.

FT European Business Schools ranking 2019

HEC Paris is the number one school in the FT European ranking of 2019
HEC Paris is the number one school in the FT European ranking of 2019
The table in full

Find out which business schools have made it to the top 95 in the 16th edition of the FT European schools ranking. Also, learn how the table is compiled.

Demand for most of the world’s highly ranked full-time MBA programmes — which are largely in the US — fell this year. Rising costs have been blamed for the decline at these top schools, where tuition fees have risen the fastest and highest.

There has been significant change in the positions of several institutions in the FT’s 2019 European business school ranking, though not at the top of the table. The leading six schools have shuffled places but are the same group as last year. 

London Business School loses the crown of top European school to HEC Paris but slips only one place. The fact that it, or other UK MBA providers, have not fallen further reflects a surprising aspect of the business education market in Europe: the way the UK has defied the negative predictions after its 2016 referendum vote to leave the EU.

While Brexit has caused political paralysis and been blamed for economic malaise at home, UK business education has gone from strength to strength, with demand for business masters degrees rising, especially among non-EU applicants. 

When GMAC surveyed non-UK citizens who applied to British business schools about their attitudes to Brexit at the end of 2018, 54 per cent said it had made no difference to their decision to study in the UK. Of course this might change in the coming 12 months if the UK’s divorce from the EU goes ahead, GMAC notes in its research.

One of the biggest concerns in Europe, as in other parts of the world, is an increase in visa restrictions for overseas students, according to Sangeet Chowfla, GMAC chief executive and president. “If we are to maintain a healthy climate for aspiring candidates, we need to make it possible for people from different regions and backgrounds to study and work in the location they desire,” he says.

The FT’s European ranking recognises schools that perform strongly across a range of masters degree programmes and short courses. ESMT Berlin is the joint highest climber in this year’s ranking, up from 24th place to ninth, a reflection of its strength across MBA and executive education classes and its high percentage of faculty from outside Germany. (Nyenrode in the Netherlands also rose 15 places, to joint 36th.) 

The most proactive schools are investing in new degree programmes and support services that strengthen their alumni base, according to Alfons Sauquet, director of quality services at the European Foundation for Management Development, a business school accreditation agency. Top-tier schools set themselves apart by being able to secure high-level jobs for their students following graduation and useful networking opportunities with alumni to build a career afterwards, Sauquet notes. 

The payback for schools is that if students progress to the highest levels in their careers, they are more likely to donate funds to their alma mater, enabling institutions to build facilities that attract yet more high-quality students.

“It is not enough to get big numbers of students,” says Sauquet. “You need a high quality of applicant, rather than quantity.”

Top school: HEC Paris 

© Biais Jean Marc

The French business school tops the composite European ranking, compounding its second place in the 2019 global masters in management table and number one position on the executive MBA list. High alumni salaries and pay increases for masters in management and EMBA graduates contributed significantly to its overall success. But it does not score highly in every category — it has one of the lowest proportions of female faculty at 18 per cent, joint third-lowest on the table. 

Top for MBA: Insead

© Richard Davies

Insead is among the top 20 business schools in four out of five FT rankings used to compile the European table. Third in the Global MBA ranking this year, the French school is top among European MBA providers for the third year running. Almost all MBA students are international (97 per cent). Insead was second in Europe for executive education open-enrolment programmes and eighth for custom courses. It participated in the EMBA ranking with two programmes: its own and a dual degree programme with Tsinghua University in China. 

Top for MiM: St Gallen

Heading the global MiM table for the ninth year and its strong showing in other rankings contributed to St Gallen University’s fourth place overall in Europe for the third consecutive year. MiM alumni surveyed by the FT rated the careers service top, and it was joint first for graduates achieving their professional aims. One credited the service with helping find their “dream job”. “They taught us how to react to tricky motivational questions at job interviews . . . after the first few tries I improved my interview skills.” 

Top for open programmes: IMD

The Swiss school in Lausanne has topped the global open-enrolment executive education ranking for the past eight years, this time sharing the number one spot with Stanford. It is also third globally for its custom programmes (and second in Europe), with some 190 organisations worldwide choosing the school for tailored courses. IMD has the highest proportion of international faculty, at 98 per cent, and its MBA cohort is the second most international globally, with 99 per cent of students coming from abroad. 

Top for custom programmes: Iese

Iese is sixth overall in the European Business School ranking and is top in the world for custom executive education programmes — tailored to clients’ needs — for the fifth year running. It tops the custom ranking for its preparation of courses, incorporating clients’ ideas and the latest research, and also for effectively introducing new skills and knowledge relevant to their organisation. It is also joint third in Europe for its open enrolment courses and third for its MBA, while its EMBA is ranked eighth.

New to the top 10: ESMT Berlin

ESMT Berlin rises 15 places to ninth in the European ranking this year. The school is fifth in this ranking for open-enrolment executive education and 10th for custom courses. It also ranked well above average for its EMBA and MiM programmes. Alumni comments stressed “soft skills” and the outlook they gained. “EMBA in ESMT helped me . . . to become more mature in management of my department, especially in people-related issues. It also gave me a wider detailed understanding of how international business works. But the most important thing is the risk-taking culture — that was paid a lot of attention,” wrote one. 

Joint highest riser: Nyenrode 

© Sander Foederer

Climbing 15 places to joint 36th position in the European ranking, Nyenrode Business Universiteit is the joint highest riser with ESMT Berlin. The Dutch school fell five places in the MiM ranking, but its MBA ranked 32nd in Europe, boosting its overall performance. Several wrote about sessions with senior executives: “Meeting captains of industry and executives of global corporations in a personal environment has helped. This made me more confident and more able to talk on a personal level, and with hierarchical differences between people.” 

Highest new entrant: Trinity College Dublin

€80 million building for the Trinity Business School at Trinity College Dublin was opened today by Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar. Pic:- Chris Bellew-Fennell Photography
© Chris Bellew/Fennell Photography

Returning to the European ranking for the first time since 2007, Trinity Business School is the highest “new” entrant, at 60. This is the first year it has participated in both the EMBA and MiM rankings, ranked 46th and 66th in Europe respectively. EMBA alumni praised the style of group work: “The course was very practically focused . . . teams worked with private companies delivering strategic and scaling projects. The MBA teams also had the opportunity to give back through social entrepreneurship projects. This programme enhanced my leadership skills, self awareness and confidence.” 

Highest percentage of female faculty: EM Strasbourg

EM Strasbourg has the highest percentage of female faculty among ranked European schools — 56 per cent. It is ranked 85th overall despite participating in only the MiM ranking (placed 68th in Europe). One graduate praised the variety of study options: “I did an internship of one year after my year abroad . . . I then kept going with an apprenticeship, so I was studying half of the time and working the other half. [In] my experience, the right mix between theoretical and practical learning is the best way to improve your skills and develop your expertise.” 

Largest average salary increase: SGH Warsaw

SGH Warsaw School of Economics has the highest average pay rise across our five main rankings at 122 per cent, calculated from the published figures. The school is joint 69th in the European ranking, despite appearing in only the MiM table. Alumni referred to the international experience they received. “Warsaw offers a very wide range of possibilities to study abroad . . . I took part in a bilateral exchange programme and studied for one semester in Mexico. That was a hugely important experience for me, where I learnt a lot,” wrote one. 

School profiles by Tatjana Mitevska and Andrew Garthwaite

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