Discovering a better online MBA

28 March 2024

Ian Hawkings examines what might drive online MBAs, what this means for business schools and those that rank them

The Financial Times has now run its Online MBA ranking for ten years. In this year’s list, IE comes out top, Imperial College Business School comes in second, and Warwick Business School rounds out the top three.

Warwick and IE have been the top two programmes in 8 out of the 10 years that the ranking has been running and Imperial has featured in the top three every year since it has been able to meet the FT criteria since launching. The rest of the list has been fairly consistent in recent years with a familiar group jostling to make up the rest of the ranking.

But there are only ten schools.

If you dig into the literature, you’ll find that 25 schools submitted data this year, and that the FT whittled them down. In some previous years there have been as many as 20 that have made the listing – and in others there have been 15. Quite why this has chopped and changed is a bit of a mystery.

But given that in our forthcoming Tomorrow's MBA 78% want some element of online study, with 12% of the sample looking for entirely online MBAs, it’s clear that there is demand for information on the world’s leading online programmes.  

Look at the methodology of the ranking and you’ll immediately notice that for programmes to qualify, only 70% of the programme needs to be online – opening the door for blended provision of some variety. The data from Tomorrow’s MBA ‘24 shows us that 42% of students want blended provision, so it’s evident there is a significant market there also.

What the FT might want to consider is that 24% of respondents said they would like a hi-flex programme – by their nature, where the student decides how much of the programme they do online, and how much in person, it would be hard to admit these programmes into the ranking as it stands.  Schools developing such courses might want to think about this.

A few other points that might be interesting for schools to think about; 66% of respondents who want entirely online provision consider cost very or extremely important in their decision-making, 56% are aged 33+, and 49% want self-directed learning.

There’s little question that the online MBA marketplace is in the process of maturing, but with both schools and those that rank them still trying to get to grips with what a quality online programme looks like, it’s clear there is still much to be discovered.

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