INSEAD Tops Financial Times Ranking

One of three INSEAD campuses

One of three INSEAD campuses

Move over Harvard, Stanford, Wharton and London Business School. For the first time ever, INSEAD with its campuses in France, Singapore and Abu Dhabi has claimed top honors in the Financial Times 2016 global MBA ranking out today (Jan. 25).

INSEAD’s 10-month MBA program rose three places to capture No. 1 bragging rights in the closely-watched annual survey by the British newspaper. In the 18 years that the FT has been ranking full-time MBA programs, INSEAD had never been higher than fourth place and was as low as 11th on the newspaper’s inaugural list in 1999. It is the first time an MBA program shorter than two years has won the No. 1 spot on the FT ranking.

INSEAD, which boasts the trademarked tagline “The Business School For The World,” has a long way to go to beat several of the previous rankings. The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School has 10 No. 1 finishes in the FT to lead all MBA programs, while Harvard Business School has six, and London Business School boasts three first place showings. Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business was deemed first only once since the 1999 debut of the ranking, some 11 years after Businessweek magazine launched its MBA evaluations.


Nonetheless, INSEAD’s first place finish is a major coup for the school which enrolls slightly more than 1,000 full-time MBA students a year, more than any of its prestige rivals. That’s especially true because the school’s first campus in Fontainebleau was only established in 1957, its resources and endowment are meager compared to many of the top U.S. schools, and the school supplies more MBAs to consulting than any other in the world–43% of its Class of 2015 went into the field. At a time when starting salaries for most MBAs is rising, INSEAD last year reported that the median base for its MBAs declined 7% to $107,100, from $115,100 a year earlier, mostly the result of a depreciating Euro.

Still, INSEAD is one of the truly international MBA experiences, with students representing 90 nationalities and with no country accounting for more than 10% of enrollment. The quality of its graduates is affirmed by the world class companies that hire its MBAs, which include McKinsey, BCG, Bain, Amazon and Accenture. And despite the school’s relatively young age, it is the top producer of CEO talent in the largest public firms in Europe, having graduating a dozen CEOs across Europe and nine more chieftains of global Fortune 500 companies (see our One-on-One video interview with INSEAD’s Director of Admissions PeJay Belland). What’s more, the shorter length of the MBA program gives INSEAD an advantage when it comes to return-on-investment. The FT ranked INSEAD’s program 10th for value for money, while all four runners-up, given the two-year timeframe of their programs, are in the bottom quartile of schools on this dimension.

For some fans of the school, INSEAD’s No. 1 status is acknowledgement that its time has come. In an essay entitled Why INSEAD’s Time Has Come written for Poets&Quants, former INSEAD Director of Admissions Caroline Diarte Edwards argues that the school’s global focus, the quality of its faculty, the high return-on-investment of its accelerated MBA program, and now sizable international alumni network have combined to make it truly deserving of the FT honor.


“The school has constantly pushed the boundaries of what it means to be international,” believes Edwards, now a director at Fortuna Admissions, a prominent MBA admissions consulting firm. The FT 2016 ranking shows that the one-year MBA can deliver the sort of earnings power and salary increase to compete with the very best two-year programs. The school has increased investment in the past few years in the careers team which has clearly paid dividends.”

Rounding out this year’s top five schools are No. 2 Harvard, No. 3 London Business School, No. 4 Wharton, and No. 5 Stanford. All four schools slipped just one place each from last year to claim their new, slightly lower rankings. For many other schools, however, there was much more volatility, which certainly erodes the credibility of the list. It’s rare that there is any real change in an MBA program year-over-year so big jumps or drops in a school’s rankings should be viewed with a high degree of skepticism.

On this year’s list, 30 of the 101 ranked schools had double-digit changes in their rankings. If you include the eight schools that fell out of the ranking, a total of 34 MBA programs moved up or down by double-digits, an extraordinary level of volatility. The ranking includes nine new entries from six countries, with the highest-ranked newcomer, Renmin University of China School of Business, taking over 43rd place, which implies a rise of at least 59 places and puts the little-known institution ahead of long-established business school players at Georgetown University, the University of Texas, the University of Southern California, Emory University, and Indiana University.

This year’s ranking is notable in another way: For the first time ever, fewer than a majority of the Top 100 MBA programs reside in the U.S. Only 47 U.S. schools made this year’s list, largely because they were pushed off by new entrants from Asia. “This year for the first time we see less than 50 of the 100 schools are from the U.S.,” noted Della Bradshaw, the FT’s business education editor in a video interview who confirmed that this is the last ranking she will oversee. “And there are 13 schools from Asia in the ranking. When we first started there were none of those.”


School No. 1 FT Rankings Years At No. 1
Wharton 10 2011, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001
Harvard 6 2015, 2014, 2013, 2005, 2000, 1999
London 3 2011, 2010, 2009
Stanford 1 2012
INSEAD 1 2016

Note: In three of 18 years, two schools have shared the No. 1 mantle: Wharton and London in both 2011 and 2009 as well as Wharton and Harvard in 2005