FT rankings, the future and a Teutonic solution?

05 March 2022

Ian Hawkings reflects on what we can learn from the unsung merits of German business schools.


In the last few weeks the FT Business Education pages have published a few articles that caught my eye.

The first one was an MBA rankings piece with the headline “FT Global MBA Ranking: US Schools Dominate”. You could add ‘AGAIN...’ to the end of that.

The second piece was one about the rise of German Business schools in recent years – stating that although Germany had no real heritage in management education, its elite schools were now ‘booming’.

Thirdly, there was an article on how business schools the world over are now having to compete with digital providers (ie: not business schools, but edtech companies) for the attentions of executive education participants.

And finally was a piece from Andrew Jack, on how business school rankings must change in order to meet the changing needs and desires of a post-pandemic customer base.

So how do these all link together?

US business schools have dominated the FT MBA rankings for years (on the whole). This is because, despite various efforts, the ranking is still largely dictated by salary levels for graduates. And in the US, salaries are higher, and salaries jump up more post-MBA. You could argue about why the latter may be the case. Is it because the US lauds the MBA degree more than others around the world? Maybe. Could it also be that the investment for students in the US is so astronomically high that huge salaries are a necessity to make it all worthwhile? Either way, until more serious measures are taken to shake up the ranking methodology, there is a good chance we will continue reading this headline for the foreseeable future.

German business schools are great, in my humble opinion. They innovate, they tend to have great faculty, they’re well-resourced and, in my experience, they have this kind of positive, free-thinking energy that others sometimes struggle to replicate. They are also generally very good value (very, very good value if you’re German) and they sit in a vibrant, diverse, global economy that offers good outcomes for students. I think this all comes from the fact that, as the article states, they kind of started from scratch 15 odd years ago and designed programmes and a learning culture well-suited to the modern world.

CarringtonCrisp research has explored the future of business and executive education extensively in the last two or three years, and if there is one broad conclusion from the various studies we have published, it’s this: the world’s business schools now face serious competition from the edtech world – particularly in part time formats and short-courses such as in executive education. Those caught sleeping will be in trouble.

And so, back to rankings – and some of our own research. Andrew Jack’s piece outlines how the world of business education has changed since the start of the pandemic – remote working, new market entrants, a reduced carbon footprint for business programmes due to lack of international travel. But he also says that student sentiment has changed. Salary is no longer the key driver for many to undertake an MBA; students now want purpose in their study, they want sustainable programmes and sustainable careers – something that has been a feature of almost all of our recent studies and was reinforced in our most recent Tomorrow’s MBA report.

And so we come full circle; at the end of his article, Jack says that the FT will be making further efforts to reduce the weighting given to salaries in forthcoming MBA rankings. Which is good news – rankings that reflect more closely the new reality of management education would be very welcome. But as the world evolves beyond the boundaries previously marked out by the world’s business schools and the media that list them, the schools themselves have a huge role to play too.

Taking a leaf out of Germany’s business school playbook might be a good start for many.

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