Stage 1: September 9th, 2016
Stage 2: October 28th, 2016
Stage 3: January 6th, 2017
Stage 4: March 17th, 2017
Stage 5: May 5th, 2017
Stage 6: June 9th, 2017
You’re to be forgiven if you imagine that going to the University of Oxford for an MBA would be a little like a stuffy, old-fashioned dinner party at Downton Abbey. After all, as one of the world’s great universities, it’s 800-plus-year history is filled with elitist images of gowns, dons, rowing crews and stone quadrangles.
“Some think that Oxford is some ancient creaking place where you come around and study classics in corduroy jackets,” laughs Dana Brown, director of the MBA program at Oxford’s Said Business School. ”They think it is an elitist institution available only to elite people. Overcoming that image of Oxford is hard. We try to present ourselves as a modern business school. There is a lot of innovation going on at Oxford, and we are looking for talent—not people who have gone to elite boarding schools. When someone sets their foot through the door of this business school, you realize it’s not what you might think it is like.”
Outside perceptions of Oxford as a place where making money is considered somewhat unintellectual if not dirty are false, says Dean Peter Tufano, a former long-time Harvard Business School professor who crossed the pond to take over the school in June of 2011. “That is ancient history,” he says, “and to think that these are European or British issues is a bit naive. The world has moved on and all the evidence on how we have reached out to the university is the proof that times are different. Can I find some anti-business folks at Oxford? Yes. but I can take you to Harvard, you can mask the accent, and you won’t hear much different.”
When MBA students arrive at Oxford for its intense, one-year program, they are treated to a substantially different business school experience. Unlike most business schools where MBA students are often isolated from others, at Oxford there is near total integration into the university’s 38 separate colleges. “All of my faculty and students are members of Oxford colleges,” says Tufano, who is a member of Balliol College, the alma mater of Adam Smith, the famous economist and philosopher. “That means they dine at those colleges, live there, and do sports there. They do social things there, from formal balls to intellectual activities. When I go to Balliol, I can’t help but interact with others around the university. This is the norm as opposed to the exception.”
And as you would expect, it’s remarkably diverse, even more so than many think for a relative newcomer to business education that began offering the MBA in 1996. Surprisingly few students are from Britain. Some 95% of the students are from outside the United Kingdom, representing 44 nationalities. In fact, only 10% of the current class of students is from Western Europe, with 31% from North America, 23% from South Asia, and 3% from Latin America, another targeted locale for would-be candidates. “Everybody is a minority at the school,” says Tufano. If you took the globe and sliced it in three big parts, that’s where our students roughly come from. We think that is a healthy thing and we are trying to enhance that global diversity.”
Unlike some of the more highly selective U.S. business schools, which tend to attract and enroll students from gold-plated undergraduate institutions and companies, Oxford seems far more egalitarian in composing its classes. The Class of 2015, for example, is just as likely to have undergrads with degrees from Princeton and Harvard as it is from Seton Hall University, Pomona College, and Penn State. Just 6% of the class hails from official Ivy League schools, compared to the more typical 33% at Wharton, 30% at Harvard, and 25% at Stanford.
The truly international makeup of the class certainly has something to do with that. Among the more represented feeder colleges to Said are the University of Mumbai in India, the University of Oxford, McGill University in Canada, the University of Melbourne in Australia, and the National University of Singapore. The U.S. contingent of students in the Class of 2015 did their undergraduate degrees at a wide variety of schools, from UC-San Diego and Boston University to Arizona State and Temple University in Philadelphia.
The same is true with work experience. Compared to the elite U.S. schools, the elite consulting and investment banking firms are barely represented. In the Class of 2015, there were a pair of McKinsey consultants but no one from Bain or BCG. There also were a pair of students with Goldman Sachs on their resumes and one from JP Morgan, but none from Morgan Stanley or any of the prestige private equity or hedge firms. The conclusion: Despite the university’s halo, the business school isn’t getting its fair share of the very best candidates. Though on the other hand, getting into Oxford’s MBA program seems to be based as much on intellect and demonstrated talent than it is on credentials.
Given the long-standing, through amiable, rivalry between Oxford and Cambridge, comparisons between the two are inevitable. Oxford’s MBA program is larger, appears to put greater emphasis on entrepreneurship and social enterprise through its highly regarded Skoll Centre, and has worked hard to tap into the intellectual assets of the greater university. Both Cambridge and Oxford are relative newcomers to the world of MBA programs and integrate students with the federation of colleges that is a distinctive part of the Oxbridge intellectual culture.
Students describe the MBA program at Oxford as an enriching, supportive experience among a remarkably diverse group of super smart classmates. “Learning within the greater Oxford academic community is amazing,” explained one recent graduate. “It’s an extremely intense year, but worth it in every way. My class was made up with people from over 50 countries, and I still keep in touch with the majority of them.”
Admissions standards are fairly high, with average GMAT score of 691 and an average 5.4 years of work experience, though the acceptance rate here is hovers slightly over 30%.
Those numbers are likely to come under substantial pressure over the next few years because Dean Tufano is increasing the annual September intake into the MBA program by a third to 320 from 240 students to gain more critical mass.
In the short-term that large an increase presents an opportunity for many would-be applicants to get into a prestige university that might otherwise be unavailable to them. For Tufano, the increase in scale will provide more resources to hire additional faculty, offer more electives, and attract larger numbers of mainstream MBA corporate recruiters.
Among other things, the increase in enrollment will further distance Oxford from its perennial rival, Cambridge, which has no intentions of increasing the size of its much smaller 145-student intake. Ultimately, the increase makes Oxford a far more attractive place to recruit for the large-scale MBA recruiting machine and also makes its alumni network potentially more sizable and influential.
The school says that the increased size won’t impact the personal experience students get when they are at Oxford. “The one thing I like to say to people and I don’t want to sound like a cliché. We are very interested in each person who comes through the door. The team of people who work here know every student. We know where they came from and what they want to achieve. It is a personal and transformational experience. They are not just a number in the classroom. We are thinking of them as individuals and trying to tailor the program to their needs.”
Oxford’s MBA program has eight core courses, all required and taken in lockstep, and then a menu of some 35 electives, many team taught by professors from the university’s different departments. “There are no opt-outs,” says Brown. “You have to participate. My view is that people should help each other out. Even if you come from finance, you’ll learn from someone else. We provide very rigorous foundation courses in finance, operations, marketing, strategy, and analytics. All of our core courses are delivered by our best faculty.”
The program evolves around three “cross-cutting themes” explored in three courses and reinforced by guest speakers and student-run conferences and competitions: entrepreneurship, the global rules of the game, and responsible leadership. The global rules module examines the rules, norms and laws that shape the global economy, including international institutions and agreements as well as differences and disputes across countries that influence or constrain business opportunities. The responsible leadership module explores the design and purpose of the corporation itself, and the ethical decision-making of business leaders.
“The whole curriculum is built around what business is going to look like five or 20 years down the line and what do you need to think about that,” says Brown. “How can you really be prepared to engage with stakeholders and others who will shape some of the issues like water shortages and demographic change.”
At the University of Oxford, the educational experience is divided into four terms, each traditionally eight weeks long but extended to ten weeks for the MBA program. There is Michaelmas, followed by Hilary, Trinity, and finally the Summer. The MBA program starts with a three-week pre-term program called the MBA Launch Pad meant to leverage the diversity in the class and help newcomers acclimate to the culture. It kicks off in the third week of September for an MBA experience that ends in early September the following year.
“We try to get people comfortable with the environment and one another during those three weeks,” says Brown. We also try to heighten their self-awareness, to get them to think about what is possible. Making the most of yourself and the program is really important to us. So they will open up to one another and think about values and goals. Students have access to coaches.
“The first thing they are is competitive and they don’t work together effectively. So we teach about culture and cultural differences and then in the classroom when we create study groups we specifically and purposely put people from different backgrounds together. This is not a place where we tell you things and you absorb them. You have to learn from one another here. The professors throw the questions out there and they will try to get information from others. You don’t come here if you are shy about sharing what you know with others.”
At the start of Hilary term, there’s an entrepreneurship project in which business school students form teams with engineering students and develop new business ideas. “They test their ideas on the market and then they come back and are ready to start pitching the idea to potential investors,” says Brown. “That is mandatory.”
Which also makes it different. Few business schools, with Harvard being an obvious exception, require their students to attempt to launch a business. But entrepreneurship at Oxford is a significant differentiator. Dean Tufano created an Oxford LaunchPad, modeled after Harvard’s successful iLab that he was involved in founding. The incubator brings students together from across the university to work on new business ventures. There are venture capital competitions and seed funds for students. One result: Slightly under a fifth of the graduating class at Said does startups, far more than the typical 5% at most business schools.
There’s also an optional project in the summer, typically a strategic consulting project in which teams of students hook up with organizations that range from the Disney Co. to the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Committee, for specific assignments. “Students can do one of three things,” explains Brown. “They can either finish their electives by the end of Trinity term and do their own internship over the summer. We still provide opportunities to do that in investment banking. Or they can use the summer to take electives and finish off their degree or do the strategic consulting project. It’s a chance to practice your skills in a company, and it is as good as if not better than an internship.”
Unlike most highly selective U.S. business schools, which tend to have three rounds of MBA application deadlines, Oxford has six stages. The admissions office also does a surprisingly fast turnaround on applications, notifying candidates whether they will be interviewed within two to three weeks after the app deadline.
Notes: NA = Not available, NR = Not ranked. The ranks by the FT and The Economist are global, while the rankings by P&Q, Businessweek and Forbes are for non-U.S. schools only which is why Oxford is ranked much higher.
Parsing The Rankings: Based on the last five years of data, one overriding fact pushes through these rankings for the Saïd Business School: Despite being a relative newcomer to the world of MBA education, Oxford has solidly established itself as a major European player. The school makes all the core rankings of MBA programs and it’s one-year, super-intensive MBA program is comfortably in the top ten outside the U.S. schools. P&Q’s composite ranking has put Oxford as high as seventh among non-U.S. players and currently ninth.
The Financial Times, which publishes the most reliable global ranking, has Oxford at 22 overall in 2015, but third in the United Kingdom after London Business School and Cambridge. The FT puts Oxford ninth among the larger batch of European business schools behind London, INSEAD, IESE Business School, IE Business School, Cambridge, HEC-Paris, ESADE in Spain, and IMD in Switzerland.
It’s worth noting that the FT has consistently ranked rival Cambridge above Oxford, 13th vs. 22 in 2015 and 16th vs. 23 a year earlier. We expect this gap to close somewhat in the future, largely because of Dean Peter Tufano’s to build MBA enrollment and acquire a bit more critical mass for MBA employers. But Cambridge isn’t standing still. The school is in the midst of a major expansion of its campus and expects to open a new building in 2017.
Digging a bit deeper into the FT’s rankings, you’ll find that Saïd’s MBA program is ranked 13th best in the world for “value for money” vs. Cambridge’s 5th ranking. The school is ranked 16th in the “career progress” of its graduates, just four below the 12th place ranking for Cambridge. Oxford beats its rival when it comes to “alumni recommendation” rank, landing at 34th vs. 39th.
But there’s a bigger, though unexplainable, gap when it comes to “placement success,” according to the FT, which puts Oxford in 46th place vs. Cambridge at 23. We say unexplainable because in 2014 both schools had equivalent job offer rates three months after graduation–90%–and Oxford’s average starting salary for MBAs was sightly higher at $98,856 vs. $97,045.
The school’s 2014 Bloomberg Businessweek ranking, which measures corporate recruiter and student satisfaction levels along with the publication record of faculty in key journals, has Oxford at No. 7 among 27-ranked schools outside the U.S., right behind No. 6 Cambridge. The best rank Businessweek has ever bestowed on Oxford has been fifth place in 2012, while the highest rank has been tenth n 2008. BW’s student satisfaction rank was seventh (behind Cambridge at No. 2), its corporate recruiter rank was eighth (well above Cambridge’s rank of 16), and its intellectual property or academic research rank was tenth (nearly even with Cambridge’s 10).
Oxford also comes up high on the biennial rankings by Forbes magazine, which measures MBA programs strictly on return-on-investment. In sixth place among one-year MBA programs, two places ahead at No. 8 Cambridge, Oxford’s ROI is impressive. Forbes calculations say the payback period on the degree is just 2.6 years (compared to 3.4 years for London Business School’s two-year degree) with a five-year total return of $103,500–after the opportunity costs of a year’s lost wages as well as tuition and fees.
As for The Economist ranking, which in 2014 placed the school 69th in the world, forget it. Few business school people take the Economist’s ranking seriously. And you can easily see that its significantly lower placement on the British magazine’s annual list is a complete aberration from what every other ranking shows.
One other important consideration when considering these rankings. They attempt the measure the quality of the MBA program, not the overall status or reputation of the university that grants the degree. Without question, Oxford is among a handful of the most revered academic institutions in the world. These rankings fail to take into account the school’s widely admired brand name which carries some real heft on one’s resume.
The most common question applicants have about rankings of non-U.S. schools is how a European or Asian school would legitimately compare with the truly world-class MBA programs at Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Chicago, MIT, Columbia, Northwestern, and Dartmouth. Though the FT ranking purports to measure all the programs on a global basis, the methodology so openly favors non-U.S. schools that it cannot be viewed as a credible ranking for this purpose.
The U.S. remains the dominant force in business and management education. Its business schools have the endowments and resources to buy the very best faculty and students, house them in the most up-to-date facilities, and generosity support the vital behind-the-scenes infrastructure in admissions, career development, and alumni relations that make the MBA degree one of the most valuable in the world.
Nonetheless, our view is that Saïd is among the top 35 to 40 MBA programs in the world in both quality and prestige, much of it derived from the halo effect of its parent university. That is saying a lot for a business school that has only been in the MBA game since 1996.
Some 90% of Saïd’s graduates reported job offers three months after graduation in 2014, with average starting salaries of $98,856. The five largest employers of the Class of 2014 was Amazon (5), McKinsey (5), the Shell Foundation (4), and Fung Group (3). Other employers hiring two or more grads each were Accenture, Al Jazeera, BCG, BP, Dalberg, Ernst&Young, Google, HJ Heinz, JaguarLand Rover, Millicom Services, Off-Grid Electric, and PA Consulting.
As is often the case with many non-U.S. schools, Oxford’s employment reports are among the least revealing. In fact, nine months after the September 2014 graduation, the school still only had its rather skimpy interim employment report up for the class. That report for 2013-2014 shows that the average salary was £58,143, or $89,082 at exchange rates as of June 2015, alarmingly down 4% from £60,584, or $92,824, in 2012-2013, likely the result of a less certain economic recovery in Europe.
The highest reported salary in the Class of 2014 was £128,263, or $196,518, while the lowest base was £9,357, or $14,336, inevitably for a graduate who took a job in the non-profit sector. Because of the well-regarded Skoll Centre for social entrepreneurship, an unusually high 10% of Saïd’s graduates landed jobs in the social sector–which no doubt brings down the average starting salaries for the school.
The largest percentage–25%–of Oxford MBAs in 2014 headed for the financial services industry, with 23% going into consulting, 19% into technology, 7% in consumer products, and 6% in media/entertainment.
In the interim report, MBA Careers Director Derek Walker noted that many more recent themes were repeated by the career choices of the Class of 2014. “In particular, the relatively large number of students establishing their own businesses remained close to the recent four-year average at 10% of the class,” the official said. “The not-for-profit sector remained attractive for around 8% of employed students. While most of the students entering employment headed towards the traditional destinations of Europe, North America and Asia, we are pleased to see 8% start their post-MBA careers in Sub Saharan Africa.”
Compared to many of its business school competitors, Saïd has a rather small alumni network. After all, the MBA program has been in existence since only 1996 and the size of its graduating classes has generally been under 200 a year. There are 2,786 living alums of Saïd, with 18 alumni clubs in 23 countries. Those numbers beat rival Cambridge, which only as 1,981 living alumni, but they pale in comparison to either London Business School or INSEAD, both of which have been granting MBAs in larger numbers for many more years.
LBS boasts a living alumni base that is nearly six times larger, with 11,290 living alums, and 92 active alumni clubs in 50 countries. INSEAD, which now graduates slightly more than 1,000 MBAs a year, has an alumni network that is nine times the size of Saïd: 24,807 alumni, with 129 active alumni clubs in 67 countries around the world.
That said, you can’t discount the fact that Saïd MBAs can and do leverage the broader and more powerful Oxford network, whether on campus or off. The fact that MBA students are placed into individual colleges on the Oxford campus helps to cement and sustain these bonds. They eat and drink together, compete with each other in sports, and engage in the kinds of intellectual conversations that are not all that common at most business schools.
“At Harvard Business School,” says Dean Tufano, “the alumni association consists of just HBS alums. Our alumni network consists of any Oxford alum who does business. Our students are members of colleges so they have access to that collegiate network. The further you go away, there are Oxbridge clubs and societies all over the world. So it isn’t just the MBA program alumni, it’s this much bigger group. You put those two networks together and it’s pretty powerful. We may not have a school where the sheer numbers of alums are massive, but we make up for that.”
A recent Saïd grad reinforces the dean’s argument. “I owe my discipline to the university,” he said. “I owe my first job out of the program to the alumni network, and I owe my perspective to my fellow students.”