More reasons why the Business Week ranking have come under fire

(4.3/5)   5 Votes

The questionable value of student opinions

On the face of it asking those who have been to business schools to give their views seems the ideal test of customer opinion. Necessarily, however, the Business Week survey cannot be a true sampling of student feedback since respondents cannot compare their own business school with ones they did not attend. Moreover, students are widely advised (if they did not already know) that the value of their MBA after graduation will depend on the school's rating in the market place - something that is more than likely to shape their judgements. Asking business education customers for feedback is not the same as asking a Sony customer what he thought of its latest CD player - the latter has little or no vested interest. "I would bet that all schools have excellent median rankings... and differ only according to a small vocal (and stupid) minority of disgruntled students', says the same professor. Business Week's vulnerability on this score surfaced last year when the magazine warned schools that they would be penalised if evidence was found that they were trying to influence student opinion.

The FT business school rankings are widely regarded as among the most exhaustive on the market - but not necessarily the least flawed. Indeed the very breadth and complexity of the assessment - a range of indicators covering indidvidual career progression, diversity and research - prompts criticism that the newspaper has presumptuously assumed the right to define a standard for what constitutes a 'good' international business school. "The criteria we have chosen reflect in our opinion the most important elements of an MBA programme, while allowing comparision between schools globally", the FT wrote in its Business Education Survey in January this year. The very process of listening to complainants and seeking to be fair - a compliment paid by a number of deans - merely reinforces an impression of the Pink Paper playing God. Among specific concerns are The FT methodology's perceived bias against European schools, the emphasis on salary and salary increases achieved by alumni, and apparently arbitrary weightings given to issues like women students and faculty and the international proportion of students and teaching staff.

The FT goes out of its way to try to avoid charges of bias and attacks on its methodology. The 20 criteria are scrupulously set out with the salary data, for example, standardised (because they are reported in different currencies) by conversion to US dollars with purchasing power parity exchange rates estimated by the World Bank. The benchmark salary comprises 50 per cent of the average salary for graduates from the relevant graduating class and 25 per cent each of salaries of classes from the previous two years to avoid short-term fluctuations. There are further adjustments for the variation in salaries between different sectors. These niceties notwithstanding The FT's detailed criteria can be challenged on a number of counts such as:

The high weighting in the rankings - 40 per cent of the total - given to student salary performance (both in absolute terms 'today' and the percentage increase since the start of the MBA course). Schools that typically admit mature students with a higher starting salary (say those in their late 20's) complain that the potential salary uplift is far less than it is for those who join the class at a lower age with only two to three years of work experience. Students turned entrepreneur - those brave individuals who often take a substantial salary cut for a number of years to establish their own business - presumably do not do their alma maters a favour in the process. Moreover, the implication in The FT weighting that all MBAs are driven by greed, if not fear, is surely contentious. "Asking one of our students how much their salary went up after an MBA course - as if this was the main purpose of the exercise - is so far from the point that it's quite ridiculous", says a European involved in providing her school's data to the rankers.

The dubious definition of what is meant by 'international' faculty - those whose nationality is different to their country of employment. 'I can point to Americans on our faculty who spend 50 per cent of their time travelling in Asia who are far more international and open minded than others who have been born with a different passport', observes a US programme officer.


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