Ranking The World’s Most ‘International’ MBA Programs


Forty years ago, MBAs pictured global commerce as the great equalizer. As more countries all over the globe embraced open markets, middle class consumers would emerge and their purchasing power would sustain growth, create opportunities, and drive innovation.

To help realize this vision, business schools became increasingly global themselves, lagging behind business itself but slowly and surely getting more international. They recruited faculty and students from overseas. They added more global case studies and multi-national examples into their courses. And they tightly wove global trips, exchanges, and projects into the curriculum. In this new world, administrators reasoned, MBAs needed to master more than financial modeling and marketing strategy. Instead, the best lessons would stem from teaming up with peers who spoke different languages and overcoming the inevitable cultural barriers that can get in the way of good business from Bogota to Bangalore to Beijing.


In the public’s eye, no school offers a more international business curriculum than INSEAD. Ranked by the Financial Times as the top MBA program in the world, INSEAD portrays itself as “the business school to the world.” And the school easily backs up this assertion. With campuses in France, Singapore and Abu Dhabi, INSEAD boasts 1,000 member full-time MBA classes consisting of nearly 80 different nationalities, with the school taking pains to ensure no nationality dominates the class.

With such renown and diversity, you’d expect INSEAD to rank as the most international MBA program in the world, too. Yet, if you look closely at recent data collected by the Financial Times, the real champ is actually Switzerland’s IMD, which tops all MBA programs in nearly every category the FT uses to measure international reach – despite having just a tenth of INSEAD’s full-time MBA population.


This surprising insight is part of a new ranking methodology used by Poets&Quants. To test how ‘international” a program is, P&Q pulled five data points from the 2016 Financial Times Global MBA rankings. The goal was to identify which schools offered the strongest international infrastructure and experience–at least as measured by the FT. Here were the five categories that P&Q used to create the ranking:

Financial Times

International Students: This measures citizenship – “the percentage [of students] whose citizenship differs from the country in which they study.”

International Faculty: This is the flip side of international students – “the percentage of [faculty] whose citizenship differs from their country of origin.”

International Board: The third and final assessment of citizenship: This covers “the percentage of the board whose citizenship differs from the country in which the business school is based.”

International Mobility: Unlike the previous three categories, which rely on percentages, this is a ranking based on a mix of data gathered by the Financial Times “on whether alumni worked in different countries pre-MBA, on graduation and three years after graduation.”

International Course Experience: Again, this is a ranking “calculated according to whether the most recent graduating MBA class completed exchanges, research projects, student tours and company internships in countries other than where the school is based.”


Think of these categories like this. Traditionally, students learn heavily from their peers. As a result, the percentage of international students reflects the diversity of thought and experience that students will encounter in their respective schools. The same is true of international faculty, who often bring a broader worldview to the classroom. What’s more, a greater representation of board members from outside the school’s home country is one way to judge how committed schools are to infusing global concerns throughout the program.

At the same time, international mobility can indicate both the breadth of international experience that students bring to the classroom, along with the value that global employers ascribe to particular schools. Similarly, course options offers some insight on the volume and variety (though not necessarily the quality) of the global education options available to students. And that’s key, considering many MBAs will soon be managing overseas talent and operations (if not living outside their home country).

It’s important to note that schools which are at the extreme levels of the FT’s way of measuring globalization may in fact be displaying a weakness rather than a strength. A business school, for example, may not be good enough to attract quality domestic students to its fold so it must open its doors wide to an international applicant pool. Or a school also may be unable to hire the best faculty to put its professors in greater balance and therefore must be overly reliant on importing whatever professors it can get to fill out its faculty roles. High international mobility may actually tell you less about mobility and more about the difficulty a school has in placing students in a home market, either because of visa restrictions or employer preferences.

So it’s certainly possible to look at the FT’s measurements as little more than a revealing sign that the best performing MBA programs aren’t nearly as good as others that have more balanced populations of international students and faculty. Indeed, a better measure of globalization than whether someone has a foreign passport is how many students have worked in a non-native country and therefore can bring far more valuable context and perspective into a class discussion. Four out of every ten students in Harvard Business School’s Class of 2016, for example, have worked outside their home country. That fact may be far more important than the percentage of international students in a cohort.

IMD is ranked third among the top 50 business schools outside the U.S. by Poets&Quants.

IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland

To create a school ranking, P&Q gave each FT category a 20% weight, with the top-ranked program for each metric earning 100 points and the lowest-performing school assigned one point (though schools with a 0 in any category received a zero in the index). From there, the total points were divided by five to create an index average.


So how did IMD manage to get ahead INSEAD (by a nominal 1.2 index points for that matter)? For one, 100% of IMD students reportedly hail from outside Switzerland – a percentage only matched by the UK’s Birmingham Business School and France’s Grenoble Ecole de Management. This is a mild surprise, considering the omnipotence of banking in the Swiss economy. However, this number comes with a caveat. In IMD’s 2015 Class, for example, you’ll find one Swiss national and four students where Swiss is among the nationalities cited – raising a serious red flag because it can mean that IMD’s reputation in its own home country isn’t strong enough to attract domestic students. That said, 88% of the 2015 Class – the last class with a report available at IMD – has spent six months or more working outside their home country and speak, on average, four languages according to the school – making them a rather formidable lot.

Alas, IMD’s Achilles heel is GMAT scores, with the newest Bloomberg Businessweek numbers showing that incoming IMD students averaged a 672, far lower than INSEAD (703) and the London Business School (700) – both of whom also scored high in the percentage of international students (95% and 93% respectively). In other words, IMD may be slightly more diverse with 45 nationalities among its 90 students, but INSEAD’s student body may possess more intellectual horsepower–at least as measured by GMATs which clearly have their own issues.

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.