Rankings research: The business of Business School rankings – and how you can help shape its future

AMBA’s Research and Insight Manager Will Dawes reports on the launch of BGA’s research into Business School rankings criteria

Rankings are big business for management education institutions.

The visibility for Schools generated through major international titles such as The Economist and the Financial Times, along with its function of grading MBAs in order, means that these lists are firmly in the consciousness of Business Schools around the world.

During a recent focus group, one senior Business School professional highlighted the influence of rankings, commenting that ‘they are a very powerful tool in helping companies and prospective students know where to study’.

As the media shines a light on the highest-ranked business programmes, prospective students and employers become familiar with the best performing Schools, and those application flows and reputations grow or maintain strength. Schools with lower-ranked programmes, on the other hand, might review their strategy and respond accordingly. However, with little opportunity to gain traction on the rankings, Schools might be left frustrated over their lack of control around how meaningful improvements in business education contribute towards a higher position in the rankings.

But do these polarised positions really reflect the true quality of the Business School? Do they help foster healthy competition and drive performance improvements?

Senior Business School professionals do not appear to be so sure. One said: ‘Rankings have now become such a big commercial business that it’s created a culture of uncertainty and mystique. I think those in the industry find this concerning, and those outside of the industry find it confusing. It’s important to have a rankings system that everyone understands.’ 

It would seem intuitive that rankings should serve to foster a growth mindset. They should ensure that Business Schools are able to respond to rankings assessments and achieve real changes and improvements that make a genuine difference to students and employers. This means that rankings should be transparent and truly reflect the impact of the School. A Business School professional indicated that ‘[if I was a student] I’d want to know from rankings what difference this [programme] is going to make to my career and my life’.

Rankings certainly make Business Schools pay attention to their criteria, but do rankings have a stranglehold on the strategies employed by Business Schools? And are rankings criteria completely clear and fit for purpose?

AMBA is keen to better understand what different stakeholders within the business management sector think about rankings, what role they have in the future and what criteria they should include.

In May 2018, AMBA piloted some research at its Business School Professionals Conference.

The initial findings suggest that cohort diversity, career support for students, the level of faculty qualifications and the value for money of the MBA should hold the greatest weight in a rankings criteria. Meanwhile, the salary of graduates, a measure which has typically derived substantial weight in rankings lists, had the fourth lowest average weighting of the 19 criteria measured. 

We welcome your views on how rankings should be shaped in the future. Email w.dawes@associationofmbas.com

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