2013 Financial Times Global MBA Ranking

A case study professor in action at Harvard Business School

The Financial Times today (Jan. 28) named Harvard Business School the best place in the world to earn a full-time MBA degree. It is the fourth time that Harvard has topped the FT list since it debuted in 1999. Harvard had captured the No. 1 spot in both the inaugural FT ranking in 1999 and again in 2000, but then waited until 2005 to regain its first place finish.

As earlier reported by Poets&Quants, Harvard essentially switched places with Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business to assume the top spot. The FT ranked Stanford second, Wharton third, London Business School fourth, and Columbia Business School fifth.

The Financial Times said Harvard edged out Stanford because it was “top for research and increased the number of international students on its program, both of which are measured as part of the rankings.” Harvard also introduced a global immersion requirement for its MBA students, another factor in the school’s favor due to the Financial Times’ methodology (a detailed analysis on how Harvard beat Stanford appears later in this article).

In the 15 years that the FT has ranked full-time MBA programs, Wharton has been ranked first more than any other school, some ten times. This year’s Harvard win now places the Boston school second, with four wins, followed by London Business School with three and Stanford with one.


But the bigger surprises on the list occurred outside the privileged top five institutions. Cambridge University’s Judge Business School jumped 10 places to finish 16th this year, from a rank of 26th last year. ESADE, based in Spain, rose 11 places to rank 22nd this year, from 33rd in 2012. Both schools made their moves on the basis of much higher average salaries reported to the Financial Times by alumni. Average salaries at Judge for alumni three years after graduation rose 10.4% over last year to $145,948 annually, while salaries for ESADE alumni jumped 10.9% to $127,500 (see Stanford Alums Make The Most Dough: How Credible Is The Financial Times’ Salary Data?).

Those increases significantly outstripped gains at most other schools, including the very best business schools as well as home country rivals. Stanford alums, for example, who at $195,553 in annual salary are the highest paid in the world, according to the Financial Times, last year saw only a 2.0% increase. Because compensation accounts for the largest single weight in The Financial Times’ ranking–some 40% in total–the reported gains helped to push both Cambridge and ESADE schools up the FT list. The British newspaper ranks global MBA programs on the basis of 20 different metrics, including several measurements that attempt to rate how global or international a school is. That is why most critics say the FT’s global ranking is biased against the U.S. schools.


In any case, it was yet another year of roller-coaster results. Exactly half of the 100 schools given numerical ranks by The Financial Times experienced double-digit rises of falls in their year-over-year standing (see Winners & Losers in The Financial Times’ 2013 Global MBA Ranking). One new school on the FT list, The Lisbon School of Portugal, debuted this year at a rank of 61 which implied a jump of at least 40 places in a single year. The school that gained the most ground in the FT’s 2013 survey was UC-Irvine’s Merage School which rose a remarkable 27 places from last year to finish 54th from 81st in 2012.

Wild year-over-year swings in a ranking tend to undermine its credibility because very little can generally change at a business school in a 12-month period. Such changes largely occur because the differences among the ranked schools is so small as to be statistically meaningless. That’s especially true the further you go down a list where the underlying data for each numerical rank can be just fractions of a difference. The Financial Times, unlike BusinessWeek and U.S. News, does not publish the underlying index numbers so readers can tell how close one school is to another.

Indeed, some 33 out of the 100 ranked schools shared a ranking because of a tie. In some cases, as many as three schools were awarded the same rank by The Financial Times. For example, the business schools at Washington University, Indiana University and UC-Irvine all were ranked 54th because the collective numbers from 20 different metrics led to the exact same result.