Rankings become a force for nature?

04 March 2023

Ian Hawkings crunches chews the fat on the latest FT MBA round of changes.

There were two key talking points in this year’s FT MBA ranking. The most striking was that Wharton, the most decorated school in the 25 year history of the Financial Times MBA, didn’t get a good enough alumni response to make the list – even though the ranking considered schools with a lower response rate to account for the disruption wrought by Covid. Top schools choosing to opt out of rankings for various reasons has been a theme for the last few years, but this is the first time a school of Wharton’s standing missed out entirely because they didn’t reach the response threshold.

The second, and more interesting, issue was the changes to the methodology - a reduced focus on salary outcomes, down from 40% of a school’s overall score to 32%, and greater emphasis placed on sustainability. Without going into the minor detail (the breakdown of the FTs methodology can be found here if you want to dig into it), the FT has found new ways to build a school’s ‘eco credentials’ into the ranking by looking at a couple of things; can they provide a recent carbon emissions report, and have they set themselves a net-zero commitment.

Interestingly, the FT have also revised the ‘international course experience’ criteria so that only excursions of more than one month in length qualify, the idea being that this discourages schools from jetting students here there and everywhere for numerous short, and ecologically expensive, trips.

The FT MBA ranking is very important to many schools around the world and has encouraged, even if indirectly, schools to focus heavily on the salary outcomes of their students if they want to do well. And although cold, hard cash still counts for a lot (as it should - students still want a good job that pays them well and justifies the often eye-watering fees), this recalibration towards rewarding schools for their approach to sustainability has put pressure on them to rethink how they operate.

Given the power the FT holds in the business education world, this shift in methodology could be a watershed moment, moving the debate on what is important in business education. No longer will rankings simply be about prestige, adding to the pool of information that can help students choose where to study, but might they also become a force for the good of the planet? The FT has made a start on this journey, there remains a long way to go.


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