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Rankings for business programs

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Business Rankings Many applicants rely on rankings to help them decide to which business masters programs they will apply. Although this is by no means inappropriate, it can be tricky. For one thing, the ranking of these programs is hardly an art form, let alone a science. The organisations and individuals undertaking these rankings are confronted by daunting methodological problems. From an immense amount of information, a few factors must necessarily be singled out and calculated in order to provide ‘scores’ that allow readers to differentiate among schools. Even in the simplest of universes, this would be difficult.

For instance, how important is it to have a student-faculty member ratio of 12:1 instead of 14:1? And how does that compare with having a study body GMAT average of 620 rather than 640? Is the school with a 12:1 student-faculty member ratio and a GMAT average of 620 better than the school with 14:1 and 640, respectively? Or is it equal to it, or worse? It is not obvious how the two schools should be compared even when relatively simple quantitative measures are employed. The problem is made infinitely more complicated when other factors are considered, especially because many of these are inherently subjective rather than easily and objectively quantifiable.

On top of these measurement problems comes one of even greater significance. The factors that are important to one candidate may be irrelevant to another. Fortunately, the various rankings are moving toward an interactive capability that allows users to weight the various factors according to the users’ requirements, thereby allowing a helpful degree of individual customisation. The value of customisation is greatest, of course, for those who know what they want in a program.

Influencial rankings 

The following discussion examines influential rankings with an emphasis on their methodologies. 

Europe

Arguably the most important ranking currently being produced is The Financial Times’ annual Masters in Management ranking . Eligible programs offer a pre-experience masters degree in general management (with titles such as MSc Management, Masters in International Business Administration, MSc Economics and Business or MSc Strategy and Management of International Business). The rankings are based on surveys of alumni who graduated three years previously and of the business schools themselves. The following criteria are used to measure (primarily) alumni career progress and diversity of experience on the program:
• weighted salary today (adjusted for variations in salary between industry sectors)
• value for money (looking at salary today relative to the cost of the program)
• career progress
• graduates’ aims achieved
• placement success
• diversity (women, international) of board, professors, student body
• international experience and mobility
• number of additional languages required to graduate
• percentage of faculty members with doctorates.

The rankings are clearly based upon a number of relevant factors, but as with most rankings the weights assigned are arbitrary. In addition, many of the measures are highly subjective. Alumni, for example, are asked to what extent they fulfilled their goals for doing the degree and how helpful the career services office was to them. These rankings suffer from a host of other possible problems, too. For instance, judging career progress by the size of the company in which graduates are employed – at a time when many people pursue business masters programs in order to work for (or found) smaller, more entrepreneurial organisations – seems misplaced.

In spite of such issues, The FT ’s rankings are valuable and highly influential. Their importance derives from being international (most rankings are national), multi-factor and a product of The Financial Times .

The United Kingdom Business rankings in the UK

The Times Good University Guide , published annually, ranks universities by subject. Its rankings are based on marks given to:
• teaching quality
• research quality
• A-level entry scores
• employment (number assumed to be employed six months after graduation)
• firsts and upper seconds awarded
• student-staff (teaching and research) ratio
• dropout rate.

Thus, the rankings are based upon a substantial number of obviously relevant factors. Despite this, however, the rankings suffer from a number of weaknesses.

First, the underlying data are, in part, generated by UK Government studies undertaken to make decisions about which universities and which faculties to fund. Although this may (or may not) lend some objectivity to the process, it also obscures the basis for opinions. It is hard to know how much to rely upon data emerging from a black box.

Second, the data are given in aggregated form, so much of the underlying information is obscured. As a result, you cannot readily do your rankings by weighting each factor according to your personal needs. (In addition, not all subjects are broken out and ranked separately.)

Third, and perhaps most important, the rankings are for the undergraduate, not the postgraduate, program. It is by no means clear how close the correlation is between the two.

Other British broadsheet newspapers rank universities in a similar fashion. Consult, in particular, The Guardian and The Sunday Times . Despite being available on the same website, The Sunday Times ’ rankings are separate from those of The Times .

Create your own rankings

Being able to consult The Financial Times’ ranking of a program is certainly helpful when you are choosing schools, but it is by no means essential. After all, you yourself can determine, in a rough way, the ranking of a program by considering:
1 The nature of the employers most commonly hiring its graduates. At top programs, the most frequent hirers are the leading firms in their field.
2 The overall reputation of the university at which the program is offered.
3 The demand for places on the program.

Using the rankings

The concerns about the rankings expressed above give rise to some guidelines for using them:
• Look at as many rankings as possible and consider the consensus rather than any one ranking.
• Consider even this consensus view as only an approximation of the appropriate level for a school.
• Since you should be looking for the best program to meet your specific focus and other needs, with an atmosphere in which you will thrive, the rankings have only a modest part to play in helping you find this program. They have little to say about which school will provide the courses that will be most useful, the connections that will matter most for the job and region in which you wish to be employed, the academic and social environment there, and other key factors.
• When rankings are suitably detailed, as is true of The Financial Times’ rankings, examine them to see what questions are raised in addition to what answers might be provided. For example, if a program’s graduates boost their salaries after graduation (relative to their salaries before the program) less than a peer school’s graduates, you should investigate what underlies the disparity.
• Check whatever rankings are done (or even republished) by reputable business-orientated newspapers and journals in whatever you intend to study or work. For example, if you are considering attending a business school in France, find out how well it is ranked by Le Figaro , Les Echos , and other local publications. 
• Also check the rankings of specialist publications in your field – recognising that many, however, are little better than wet-finger-to-the-wind efforts.
• Go well beyond consulting various rankings. Conduct in-depth research to evaluate specific programs, as is discussed in Choosing a Program .

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