After tumbling 11 places last year in The Economist’s ranking of MBA programs to a 32nd place finish, Switzerland-based IMD pretty much had it. The long-time prestige business school decided that it would opt out of the ranking just as Harvard and Wharton have done so in the past.
Trouble is, The Economist, due to publish its 2016 ranking on Thursday (Oct. 14), won’t allow IMD and its 90-person MBA program to walk away. Instead, the magazine has told the school it will use publicly available data as well as old graduate surveys to keep ranking its MBA program.
That has Ralf Boscheck, program director of IMD’s MBA, hopping mad. He believes the ranking is severely flawed and its methodology so vague as to make its calculations impossible to duplicate. “Even if they make us number one, the ranking is bogus,” he tells Poets&Quants. “We are a small school and we don’t want to put up with it. We won’t participate. We are the only one that is not participating.”
OVER THE YEARS, OTHER SCHOOLS HAVE UNSUCCESSFULLY TRIED TO BOW OUT
Of the five most influential rankings of MBA programs, The Economist has been consistent in one area: delivering remarkably quirky results (see Booth Tops 2015 Economist Ranking). Only four years before ranking IMD 32 last year, The Economist dubbed the school’s MBA program third best in the world in 2011 behind only Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business and the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. Not all that long ago, in 2008, The Economist actually ranked IMD as having the absolute best MBA program in the world. Now it’s between No. 31 Ohio State University and No. 33 Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
The Economist, which ranks MBA programs on 21 different metrics, openly cautions readers who use its rankings to essentially treat them with a grain of salt. “Results of rankings can be volatile, so they should be treated with caution,” according to the magazine. “The various media rankings of MBA programmes all employ a different methodology. None are definitive, so our advice to prospective students is to understand the ethos behind each one before deciding whether what it is measuring is what is important for you.”
Though IMD’s Boscheck is outraged by The Economist‘s decision to rank the school without its cooperation, the magazine’s decision is not without precedent. After Wharton fell from first place to fifth in Businessweek‘s ranking in 2002, then Dean Patrick Harker decided not to provide access to students for Businessweek‘s survey of MBA graduates, even convincing Harvard Business School to go along. But the magazine gained access to those email addresses, anyway, and still ranked the schools without their cooperation.
‘OUR GOAL IS TO HELP STUDENTS’
William Ridgers, the editor in charge of The Economist‘s ranking, defends the magazine’s decision to include a non-participating school. “We have always reserved the right to include schools that decline to fill out our surveys,” he tells Poets&Quants. “Our goal is to help to students when they are deciding on an MBA programme. It cannot be that we publish a ranking only of schools that like where they fall, and excludes those that are unhappy with their position. That is particularly true of world renowned schools such as IMD, which formerly topped our ranking, and which students would expect to see on the list. In such instances we must rely on using the latest available data, other published sources and estimates. That is of course unfortunate, though we will, as ever, be transparent about what we have done.”
After IMD’s steep decline last year from a rank of 21st a year earlier, Boscheck says he went to London last December to meet with Ridgers (see The Economist’s Ranking Guru).
To prep for that session, Boscheck says he crunched some numbers of his own, spoke with several other MBA directors and still couldn’t figure out how The Economist had ranked IMD as low as it did. “We had some data inconsistencies so I went and asked for clarification,” he says. “We had a nice, polite meeting. But when we got out of the meeting, we left puzzled.”