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When the FT first launched its MBA ranking a quarter of a century ago, most of the content was read in print, General Electric was among the world’s largest companies and neither Greta Thunberg nor the term ESG (environmental, social and governance) had been born.
The world has changed radically since that 1999 ranking. Digital technology has come to dominate business and society (including the rise of ft.com); globalisation and the associated political settlement is under threat in a more fragmented, multipolar world; and the future of the planet has moved more to the centre of public consciousness.
Meanwhile, the number of business schools and MBAs — as well as a range of other management undergraduate, graduate and non-diploma offerings — has grown sharply. The “great resignation” of the Covid pandemic and the prospect of renewed economic slowdown could provide new opportunities for universities.
Demand for education is typically countercyclical, and there is fresh interest from people of all ages in returning to study, such as Twitter employees who questioned Elon Musk’s macho call for an “extremely hardcore” working environment over an enlightened approach to work-life balance and working patterns. All the more reason for our more nuanced ranking to continue, to help drive accountability.
For many with an MBA, there remains a high “return on investment”. Vivek Murthy, the US surgeon general, describes its importance to his career in supplementing his medical training, especially through meeting people from different backgrounds, developing introspection, leadership skills, and the ability to reimagine the world.
Yet the direct, opportunity, and emotional costs of an MBA are high, and, as we report, there are signs of an increasing number of students seeking financial aid. There is an explosion of alternative ways to develop management skills and networks, and the digital revolution, including the advent of artificial intelligence, means the sector will face still greater disruption ahead.
We also sought the views of three academics who published an influential study last year showing no evidence that chief executives with MBAs increase sales, productivity, investment or exports. The biggest shift when a boss with a business degree took over, they said, was a fall in wages and the share of revenues going to the workforce. The CEO and shareholders gained, at least in the short term; other stakeholders lost out.
“The whole business school experience may need to be rethought,” the academics argue: a reform not only to teaching but also to the wider student experience, including how they develop and cultivate their future networks.
Students themselves have been among the greatest catalysts for reform, while recruiters and faculty often lag behind. Della Bradshaw, the founding editor of the FT MBA ranking, reflects on the background and evolutions of business schools over the past 25 years — including their reactions to the ranking itself.
From the start, despite opposition, she recognised the importance of tracking the share of female students, faculty and boards at schools in order to hold them accountable, provide signals for those deciding where to study and drive a greater gender balance. Happily, there has been progress, though it stops short of equality.
This edition of the ranking brings some significant changes in our methodology, so as to track and encourage an embrace of people, purpose and planet, alongside profit, in business. These values are difficult to instil and measure, but we have made modifications designed to track increased diversity in incoming cohorts of students, and in teaching and operations of schools around sustainability.
We now credit schools — or their wider universities — that set net zero targets and make public their carbon audits and teaching tools for cutting emissions. There has been a sharp increase in such activities, which provide agency and inspiration to future managers and entrepreneurs. European schools, in particular, have made advances.
These methodology changes reflect our wider efforts to report on business schools’ activities to engage with societal challenges, including through our Responsible Business Education Awards and report.
We also present other innovations in this report, including a sample teaching case — the classroom staple of many business schools. At a time when there is appetite for topical examples for debate, with a broader range of protagonists, issues and geographies, we describe a management dilemma for an African entrepreneur who was mulling expansion in the public healthcare sector.
For those who are considering a business degree, we recently launched periodic webinars to supplement our ranking and broader coverage of business education. We have also created MBA 101, a free email course to guide potential applicants through the process. As always, we remain open to feedback and suggestions.
Andrew Jack is the FT’s global education editor