Winners & Losers In The 2013 Financial Times MBA Ranking

The arrival today (Jan. 28) of The Financial Times’ 2013 global MBA ranking will put smiles on some faces and frowns on many others. Some business school deans are rushing out news releases to trumpet their progress in the annual ranking, while other deans are probably worried about a backlash from their students and alumni.

The big winners among the top 100 schools on the FT list? UC-Irvine’s Merage School managed to jump a remarkable 27 places from last year to finish 54th from 81 in 2012. That was the single biggest gain by any school this year. Other schools gaining the most ground include the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School (up 25 places to rank 57th), University College Dublin’s Smurfit School (up 22 spots to finish 64th, and Babson College (up 20 places to rank 80th).

And the losers? They are led by Penn State’s Smeal School, which experienced a freefall, dropping 28 places in a single year to 77th, down from 49th last year. Boston College’s Carroll School fell 24 spots to finish 93rd, from 69th in 2012, and the University of Southern California’s Marshall School dropped 21 places to a rank of 82 from 61 a year earlier.


Smeal’s swoon in the rankings was due to significantly lower alumni satisfaction. Last year, the school ranked 15th among 100 for “aims achieved” which The Financial Times describes as the extent to which alumni fulfilled their stated goals for getting an MBA. This year Smeal crashed 57 places on this measurement alone, ranking 72nd instead of 15th.

The school also did much less well on several other key metrics. On the value of the degree–measured by alumni salary versus the opportunity costs and the actual expense of getting the MBA–Smeal fell 17 places, ranking 54th versus 37th last year. On the career progress of its alums, Smeal placed 76th this year, down nine places from the school’s 67th rank in 2012. And on increase in salary, the school’s alumni reported that three years after graduation they had a 106% rise over pre-MBA pay, down from 125% in 2012.

The portrait painted by The Financial Times of UC-Irvine’s MBA program is on the other extreme. Most notably, the school improved 32 places to rank 51, up from 83rd last year, in alumni opinion on the effectiveness of the career services group in their job search. Average alumni salaries were up 8.3% to $107,582–a positive difference of $8,249. And UC-Irvine’s MBA program ranked better on value as well, placing 73rd this year, up from 79th in 2012.


Some 30 schools that stayed on the list had double-digit movements, either up or down. Another ten schools, which fell off the list entirely, had to drop by double-digits to disappear. And another ten, which failed to make last year’s list, popped up on this year’s version in a numerical rank that implied a double-digit rise. One of those schools, The Lisbon School in Portugal, placed 61st, which means the institution had to rise by at least 40 places to rank that highly. Add it all up and it means that 50% of the entire sample was subject to fairly large year-over-year changes.

What do such topsy-turvy results say about the credibility of The Financial Times’ ranking? As we’ve noted before, it tells you that there often is little difference among the ranked schools. The underlying data that results in a numerical rank for each school is so close together that it often is statistically meaningless. The Financial Times, unlike several other ranking organizations, however, does not provide the underlying index that determines the rank of each school.


All told, 15 business schools that were ranked last year disappeared from the 2013 Financial Times ranking. They include the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School, which had been ranked 72nd last year. That means Carlson had to tumble at least 29 places to fall off the FT’s list of the top 100 schools. How was that possible? It turns out the school didn’t fall out due to poor performance on the FT’s metrics, but rather a decision by the school not to comply with a request for data from The Financial Times.

“The fact that the Carlson School of Management isn’t listed in today’s Financial Times ranking is unfortunate and doesn’t reflect the true performance of the school and its program,” says Steve Rudolph, a spokesperson for the school. “As part of its audit process, FT requested that we provide its auditor access to personal student data that University of Minnesota counsel said was in violation of both university policy and data privacy laws.  As a result, we were forced into making one of two choices: either comply with the request of FT’s auditors and permit access to our student’s personal information or be penalized in their rankings. We chose the latter which, in the end, was the only real responsible choice we had.”

Also meeting the same unhappy fate for whatever reason were Wake Forest University’s Babcock School, ranked 80th last year; the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz School and the University of Edinburgh’s Bueinss School, both of which were tied for 83rd place last year; the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza School, ranked 85th in 2012; Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School and Birmingham Business School, both ranked 86th; the Thunderbird School of Management, ranked 89th, as well as Aston Business School and the S.P. Jain School of Global Management, both tied for 91st place last year.

(See following page for the double-digit losers in the FT’s 2013 global MBA ranking)

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