How have the restrictions on visas had an impact on the applicant pool at the school? (Previously, non-European Union graduates could stay on to work in the U.K. for another two years. But in 2012 the U.K. government removed this option. However, as long as a non-EU student accepts a job offer from a U.K. company during the period of their 16-month student visa, they can stay on to work in the country.)
It’s taken nearly two years for the market to understand the implications of the visa change. Initially, it was the rhetoric of the change that shaped people’s perceptions, rather than the situation on the ground – but it wasn’t the case that overseas students couldn’t work here after graduating. Two years ago, applications dropped slightly but this year we are actually seeing an increase in the number of applications.
You’ve said that people pay way too much attention to rankings. But isn’t that true because applicants don’t entirely trust the marketing messages from the business schools?
Rankings are important for both students and schools, which are doing a better job now of explaining what they mean. From a school’s point of view, they are a great motivator. But many students assume rankings will measure the quality of their MBA experience. Poets&Quants are doing a great job at unbundling what individual rankings measure, and students need to understand which metric is important to them. Schools sometimes make strategic decisions which may run counter to rankings.
For instance, Judge a few years ago decided to reduce the PhD cohort so supervisors could give fewer research students more individual attention. But we’ve taken a hit on our doctoral rank, even though we feel it was the right thing to do. Students sometimes fixate on salaries and believe they’re worth it, but they need to understand employers don’t pay a salary based on business school averages; they pay based on what candidates bring to the table. Of course, an MBA will help, but if students are making a huge leap from a different background into a job they like, they may have to compromise.
So which ranking would you consider to be reputable?
I think reputable rankings which gather enough statistics on factors such as salary, employability and which use a robust methodology are a great one-stop-shop for students. It’s important to recognize that no one ranking is perfect – and to take into account international cohort and currency fluctuations for example. What observers don’t appreciate is the amount of work required to gather different data in order to take part in any one ranking. We don’t want our students and alumni to get ranking fatigue so we chose only three to take part in – the FT, The Economist and Bloomberg BusinessWeek.
You’ve talked about the “paradigm” of the typical MBA student and the need to recruit more widely. How are you going about that?
In reality the majority of MBAs will be mainstream – from large companies such as financial services, consulting or large industrial companies where they’ve seen their counterparts take an MBA and they know what it is. But we want to find people who have diversity in background and thinking. It isn’t easy to reach out to them as we have few established channels. If you look at our social media, we’ve been reaching out to people within sports, culture and the arts in order to understand what the issues in those sectors are and see how a business school can help solve some of those problems.
In culture and the arts, one of the big problems is how to monetize content, and how do they reach wider audiences. The sector may be distrustful of an MBA. We’ve already been providing a base for television executive master classes since January this year. Over time we will get students from those non-traditional backgrounds who can both benefit from an MBA and contribute to the overall learning of students from more traditional backgrounds.
What happens on your interview days? (Students are invited to Judge for a full program including Q&A sessions, a tour of facilities, an interview, and possibly a dinner the previous evening). Are students penalized if they can’t attend in person?
These are purely a platform for people to get to know one another, get a flavor of college life, and ask questions. We’ve been organizing these for the last four years and candidates did worry that they’d be competing against each other. But there’s a relaxed atmosphere – we just want them to understand the environment they are entering. They have to be open with one another and share. There’ll be some really good students on paper for whom that just doesn’t work. Applications peak during January so you might get 40 candidates at a time on those days.
Is there a downside to being surrounded by so much tradition and history?
The reason why leading universities are at the top is that they focus on the future – Cambridge isn’t only about its historical past. If you go further out of town you see the new engineering campus which is on a par with anything you’d see in the U.S. We challenge our students to get out of the business school, become embedded in university life, and understand what’s going on in science and the humanities. There’s a lot of cutting-edge research taking place. If our students want to go into certain sectors that broad intellectual stimulation is very important.