The case against...

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The case against...

But are B-School rankings as now administered the right solution to the problem? Even those that consistently come near the top of the leagues question whether rankings are truly reliable, whether the methodology they apply can ever be scientific and fair, and therefore whether they genuinely help the market they purport to serve. The general case against the rankings is as follows:

Devising an objective methodology is an impossible task. All the main benchmarks - student satisfaction, salary performance, recruiter attitudes - are superficially appealing but potentially misleading (see analysis of FT, Wall Street Journal and Business Week rankings). The league tables, moreover, wrongly assume that the needs of all employers and students are the same - that there is a single yardstick or set of yardsticks against which they can be judged. The 'best' school, is likely to result from matching the institution's strengths and culture on the one hand with the individual's aspirations and values on the other. 

Notwithstanding the genuine efforts of some publications to attach health warnings - ie that the rankings should be read with care - the headlines are often taken out of context by students and potential students. "Don't be fooled into thinking they don't matter" one prominent European dean told me recently. "The person who edits one prominent ranking has me very much by the short and curlies - and it hurts", he says pointing to the top of his trousers. Students, faculty and alumni all care deeply - whatever they say publicly - and implicitly or explicitly the administrators of schools know that ultimately a bad ranking can jeopardise their career. "I know schools in the US where staff below the dean have been told that if their school doesn't move up five points in the rankings they will lose their job", says one European professor.

The rankings are now so widespread and so powerful that schools' strategies and operations are being unduly distorted. In a competitive market B-Schools are rightly required to be as brand conscious as the most red-toothed corporation - but the pressure on those who fill in questionnaires, answer questions, and retrieve huge quantities of data for the rankers cannot be justified if methodologies are ultimately unsound. The sheer volume of rankings, moreover, has come to dominate reputation management in an unhealthy way, according to two researchers from Penn State's Smeal College of Business Education who interviewed leaders from the top 50 US schools earlier this year. "The rankings have taken on a life of their own, so schools must not only track them, but actively try to conform to their requirements, as well as try to change them, all the while attempting to maintain the integrity of business education", observes Kevin Corley, a doctoral candidate in Smeal's Department of Management and Organisation and one of the authors of the report.

Europe's diverse approach to management education makes comparisons very difficult and a built-in North American bias arguably puts European schools at an automatic disadvantage. Questions requiring evaluation of internships, for example, are not relevant for students studying on one year MBA programmes which are the norm in say the UK, France and Switzerland.

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