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The rise of Asian business schools in global MBA rankings

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Much of the editorial that has accompanied the MBA rankings of The Financial Times and The Economist in recent years has focused on the rise of Asian business schools. This is for good reason, of course, as a growing number of MBA and Executive MBA programmes in Hong Kong and mainland China are now competing with the leading business schools of North America and Europe for a place at the top table.

Over the same time period, Hong Kong business schools have seen a sharp increase in the number of GMAT scores they have received from potential applicants. Much of this demand has been driven by candidates in China and the rest of Asia. In 2007 Hong Kong received 3,642 GMAT scores from Asian citizens, while in 2011 this number had increased to 8,021. But the rest of the world is also showing a greater interest, with a 106% increase in GMAT scores over the same time period.

You could argue about which came first – increased demand for an MBA from Asia, or success in the rankings to generate more demand? Either way, observers expect to see the leading business schools of Hong Kong and mainland China continue to climb their way up the global MBA rankings. But should that be the measure for candidates trying to find the right business school for them?

Critics of the MBA rankings – and there are many of them – point out that the rankings typically only measure what is easy to count, such as post-MBA salaries, GMAT scores and the percentage of international students and faculty members. The over-reliance on self-reported data is also called into question, as is the absence of any meaningful indicators for teaching quality, personal development, or the impact of the alumni network.

So what happens when you take all the MBA rankings collectively? has compiled the results of the big five MBA rankings to produce a Ranking of Rankings, the MBA50 Premiership 2012.

Business schools are separated schools into four regions (U.S., Europe, Canada and Asia-Pacific) to account for the fact that only the FT and The Economist make direct international comparisons. Overall performance is calculated by looking at the ranking position within each region, and taking an average of those results based on the number of rankings in which the schools appear.

In Asia, the business schools of Hong Kong and China continue to dominate, with three of the top six positions. HKUST remains #1, while the University of Hong Kong enters the rankings for the first time after recognition in both the FT and The Economist. CEIBS slips one place as a consequence of their fall this year in The Economist.

So how much should we read into these 2012 media rankings ? Each ranking uses a different methodology and weights the use of different data to produce their league tables, so it is important for candidates to understand what is being measured.

In very simple terms :

  • For the FT MBA ranking, MBA salaries three years after graduation account for 40% of the overall score;
  • BusinessWeek places emphasis on the satisfaction levels of students and recruiters;
  • Forbes business school ranking relies on a very simple calculation of ROI;
  • US News & World’s methodology includes a survey of business school deans and MBA directors;
  • The Economist favors the international make-up of the school and post-MBA career opportunities.

For HEC Paris associate dean Bernard Garrette, the reality is that very little separates the top business schools as measured by the data used for the rankings. But he points out that there is a tremendous difference in terms of the student experience that rankings simply cannot capture. “A world-class MBA should be a transformational experience, so it is far more important to choose a programme that corresponds to the personality and objectives of the individual. Nothing will replace interacting with the school and its students and alumni to determine whether the MBA offers the right fit.”

Rankings at least have the merit of providing potential applicants with certain data that would otherwise be unavailable. Given, though, that the methodology of each ranking is subjective in its choice of criteria, and that the difference between a school ranked 18th or 25th is probably not that great, the results should never be the most influential factor when identifying the right school for you. The personality of the institution, course length, location, cost, school strengths, alumni, and other personal aspects are key to finding the right fit.

As Bob Bruner, dean of the Darden School explains: “A life decision, such as accepting a job offer or admission to an MBA programme, shouldn’t hinge on just the obvious criteria such as dollars, title or location. You must focus importantly on the work you want to do and how this choice can help you do it. ”

For Bruner the question remains: “Where can you do your best work?”

MBA50 Premiership 2012 Methodology: has calculated overall performance by looking at each ranking position compared to other regional schools. For example, if a Spanish school ranked #33 in the overall FT ranking and #18 in the overall Economist ranking, but among European business schools was #12 in the FT and #5 in The Economist, then this regional figure was used for the calculation.

The idea of the Premiership is to compare the performance of schools in multiple rankings, and therefore does not include the many business schools, particularly those from outside the U.S., that appear in only one ranking. To be included in the Premiership, a U.S. business school must appear in at least four major rankings, and all other schools must appear in at least two major rankings. This means that schools such as the Indian School of Business, Canada’s Queen's University, and the UK’s Imperial College, outstanding business schools as recognized by their positions in the FT, Economist and BusinessWeek, have not been included for 2012.

Matt Symonds

Matt Symonds is the co-director of Fortuna Admissions, an MBA coaching dream team of former business school professionals from top-tier institutions, including Wharton, INSEAD, Harvard Business School, Chicago Booth, London Business School, and UC Berkeley Haas. He is also chief editor of

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