Iese Business School in Barcelona
Iese Business School in Barcelona (above) tops the open-enrolment ranking, while Duke CE in the US is top for custom courses © Paul Mac Manus

European business schools dominate the top tiers of the FT’s 2023 main rankings of open-enrolment and custom executive education programmes — with some standout exceptions.

Business schools headquartered in Europe offer 11 of the 12 top-ranked open programmes — headed by Barcelona’s Iese — and nine of the leading 12 custom courses, individually designed for client organisations. But Duke Corporate Education, based in the US, emphatically bucks the trend, taking the top spot in the custom ranking.

Duke CE is followed in the custom table by France’s Insead, HEC Paris, Iese and ESMT in Germany. University of Michigan: Ross in the US is ranked sixth, and Fundação Dom Cabral of Brazil is in 11th place.

Among the top 12 schools in the open-enrolment ranking, Fundação Dom Cabral is the only non-European provider, in joint seventh place, while other highly ranked institutions include Oxford: Saïd, London Business School and IMD in Switzerland.

Financial Times Executive Education rankings 2023

Iese and Duke CE

View the twin main rankings of custom and open-enrolment executive education programmes, plus the combined top 50 table.

European providers led by HEC Paris, Iese and Insead in France also top the combined table, based on strong performances in the main twin rankings for courses open to all and for custom programmes. Duke CE does not offer open-enrolment courses, so does not feature here.

Executive education comprises usually shorter, non-degree programmes. The FT’s rankings of open-enrolment and custom courses are not comprehensive: each lists the top 75 of the total 105 schools which took part in the process. Some schools did not get enough evaluations from participants and clients to be included, while others, including some in the US, declined to participate.

The data shows the continued variety and strength of business school executive education providers, despite pressure on training and development budgets from employers and competition from alternative providers including edtech companies, consultants and coaches.

“There is a growing interest in exec ed among schools that often have a strong regional connection with businesses,” says Andrew Crisp, co-founder of CarringtonCrisp, an education consultancy. “In the wider market, economic uncertainty is a factor, alongside lay-offs in the tech sector, with training often an early casualty in corporate spending squeezes.”

Courses are frequently taught across multiple campuses to give students exposure to different cultures and to reflect their geographical spread. For example, Spanish school Iese’s programmes are taught in the US, Germany and Brazil, and HEC’s in Qatar and Insead’s in Singapore and UAE, alongside their French operations.

Consultant Andrew Crisp says the economic downturn has squeezed some training budgets

Geopolitical tensions around China and Russia have restricted some international programmes. However, Xiang Bing, dean of the Beijing-based Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business, says domestic demand remains strong, and he is also developing courses focused around “unicorn” businesses in Singapore, South Korea, Dubai, Japan, Italy and the US. “The key driver is our globalisation,” he says.

Many executive education courses were hit hard during the pandemic as employers focused on maintaining their businesses, but they have partly recovered as companies offer training as a way to retain and motivate senior staff, explore new strategies, build teams and enhance skills in areas such as digital transformation. Leadership, as well as topics including artificial intelligence, managing remote workers, sustainability and diversity, are among themes frequently sought by executives.

However, business schools are being disrupted by both the expansion of alternative forms of online provision following the Covid-19 pandemic and the emergence of new technologies including regenerative AI.

Josh Bersin, a corporate learning consultant, says some business school executive programmes perceived to offer “off-the-shelf” training were “losing their lustre”, but corporate clients were “willing to spend considerable sums for specialist, customised leadership programmes”.

While reducing the scope for face-to-face contact, online and hybrid courses have also cut the costs of training and reduced travel barriers for participants and speakers from around the world.

A range of business schools, some of which did not take part in the FT rankings, are continuing to expand and adapt, including Chicago Booth, which is relocating its Asian pillar back to Hong Kong after briefly shifting to Singapore during the pandemic.

Ranked schools must be approved by the US-based accreditation agency AACSB, or EFMD, its European-based counterpart, and have reported revenues of at least $1mn from their ranges of custom or open executive education programmes in 2022, depending on the ranking. They are rated on a range of criteria, including the evaluations of participants on a range of factors including course design, follow-up, and school survey data on faculty and student diversity.

Of the open courses, top-ranked Iese came first for overall satisfaction; HEC Paris, placed second, came top for course design, teaching methods, faculty and follow-up. Five schools, including Iese, reported a 50:50 gender balance. Kozminski University in Poland had the highest proportion of female students, at 67 per cent; the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad had the lowest, at 20 per cent.

Among custom courses, Duke CE was judged first by clients for programme design and teaching methods and materials, and Michigan: Ross for the quality of its faculty. Insead led for new skills and learning and ESMT in Berlin scored top for aims achieved and value for money.

For open programmes, schools submit one or two general management courses of at least three days, and one or two advanced management courses of at least five days. For custom courses, each school must have a minimum of 15 clients, of which at least five must complete evaluations.

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