Why IE Business School Lost Its FT Ranking

IE Business School

This story has been updated to include a statement provided by the Financial Times to Poets&Quants. The latest update is here: ‘FT Excluded IE From Ranking After Receiving Completed Surveys From People Who Were Not Who We Thought They Were’

Never mind Stanford’s capture of the No. 1 spot in the 2018 Financial Times global MBA ranking, only the second time in 23 years of FT rankings that the GSB has gained top honors. The single biggest surprise this year is the absence of one of Europe’s most successful higher education institutions: IE Business School. The Spanish school has been in every single FT ranking from the very start in 1999 and only last year was ranked eighth best in the world and third best in Europe.

While schools routinely drop off the FT list every year, they are more commonly in the bottom quartile of the 100 ranked schools. Never before has an MBA program ranked in the top ten completely disappeared from the Financial Times ranking, the most influential ranking in Europe and Asia. This is the first time in the FT‘s many iterations of its global MBA ranking that IE was excluded. How was it even remotely possible for IE Business School to fall off the list (see Stanford Tops The 2018 Financial Times MBA Ranking?

in a statement released to Poets&Quants, the FT said the school was removed for what it vaguely termed “irregularities.” The newspaper’s editors say they have since urged officials at IE Business School to tighten its data collection procedures.


“The FT Global MBA rankings are calculated after extensive in-house analysis of data submitted by the schools themselves,” according to the statement. “This year we have taken the decision to exclude Spain’s IE Business School because of irregularities in their submission. We have contacted the school’s leadership to request that it urgently tightens its data collection procedures so that it can be included in future rankings.” A spokesperson, Katrina Fedczuk, did not respond to questions asking for more detail on what the newspaper meant by “irregularities.”

School officials had told Poets&Quants that it was excluded from the ranking because the British newspaper was unable to collect a representative sample of the program’s Class of 2014 alumni. It was not clear whether that meant IE was unable to meet the required minimum response rate of 20% to its alumni survey, with at least 20 fully completed responses, or whether there was something wrong with the sample the FT gathered. In its own editorial coverage of the ranking, the newspaper did not address why IE was not on the list. Typically, the 20% participation is not too hard a threshold to meet because the overall response rates on the FT survey tend to hover just around 40%.

But IE officials say that the school did not have updated email addresses for all of the 577 graduates in IE’s Class of 2014. It is not known how many MBAs from IE actually completed the survey which first went out on Sept. 11th nor whether the FT was able to get a clean sample of opinions from the surveys that were returned.


Often times, a school’s inability to reach a minimum response rate on ranking surveys is indicative of graduate dissatisfaction with a program or a school’s failure to track and cultivate its alumni network. Generally, disappointed graduates are less willing to criticize their alma mater for fear of diminishing the value of their degree so they may simply ignore a survey. In IE’s case, it appears the problem was caused by a failure to turn over enough updated email addresses to allow the FT to connect with its 2014 MBA graduates. A school of IE’s caliber would be expected to have a well-resourced alumni relations office to keep close tabs on graduates who have only been out of the school for three years.

IE’s emergence as a prestige European business school, moreover, has been greatly enhanced by its Financial Times rankings, the most closely followed list in Europe. For several years—2010 and 2009—IE performed so well in the FT ranking that its international MBA program was ranked sixth best in the world, ahead of MIT Sloan, Chicago Booth, and Northwestern Kellogg, and the third best in Europe behind only London Business School and INSEAD. Even at last year’s eight place finish, the school did better than Berkeley, Yale and Dartmouth as well as Booth, Kellogg and Sloan. Most MBA candidates make their application choices based on rankings and often return to them to make a final decision on which school to attend once admitted.

While the school is known for its marketing prowess, with 28 recruiting offices in 26 countries, its high position on the FT list is among IE’s most important promotional assets. Though the school’s disappearance is most likely a one-year anomaly, the drop off will impact other ranking lists, including the Financial Times European Business School rankings which are a composite of all the FT’s rankings and Poets&Quants‘ ranking of the best international MBA programs, both published in December. IE ranked third on the FT’s European ranking last year, behind London and HEC Paris. The school is already excluded from the newspaper’s ranking of custom executive education programs because it entered a joint venture in executive ed with the Financial Times in late 2014.


IE officials, however, are downplaying the potential impact of the FT ranking on its MBA program. “To be honest, I don’t expect it will cause that much fuss,” says Santiago Íñiguez de Onzoño, Executive President of IE University and the business school’s former dean. “We participate in more than 20 rankings. Our different stakeholders are not really aware of which rankings are out there. There is no correlation between a ranking and the performance of the school or a program. After pulling back from the FT’s ranking of custom executive education programs following our joint venture with the FT, we have more than doubled the performance of our custom programs. So I don’t expect much consequence from this.”

The school apparently found out about the problem in mid-October when several alumni of the Class of 2014 said they had not received a survey from the Financial Times. The FT usually sends three or four reminders to non-respondents before closing the survey. Because IE had met the newspaper’s threshold 19 prior times out of 20 surveys, no alarm bells apparently went off until it was too late.

“We learnt about this issue in the submission process when some of our alumni, who participate in this year’s ranking, contacted us to tell us that they did not receive the questionnaires from the FT,” according to a message sent to students by MBA Director Erik Schlie. “The IE Program Management staff encouraged them to contact the FT directly and share this information. Unfortunately, this happened very near to the closing of the rankings survey.”


The school’s exclusion from the FT list represents the first big challenge confronting IE Dean Martin Boehm, who only succeeded Íñiguez in the job exactly one year ago last January. Boehm is a German-born marketing professor and ten-year veteran of the school who had served as dean of programs since 2012.

Bohem told Poets&Quants that he agrees with his boss that the FT’s decision won’t have any real impact on application volume.  “For example our BBA program, which is not yet ranked, is growing at a faster pace than the rest of the portfolio,” he says. “The brand of an educational institution has several drivers including international acreditation, prestige among recruiters, the word of mouth of alumni, and of course academic reputation from peers. It’s not just the rankings.”

Alumni responses are crucial to the FT’s methodology. They account for 59% of the total weight of the ranking and inform eight of the 20 different metrics the Financial Times uses to crank out its ranking. A pair of numbers–current alumni salaries and the increase in salary from pre-MBA days–account for 40% of the entire ranking, the most heavily weighted portion of the list.


The school sought to reassure students that IE’s absence from the ranking would not occur again. “It is important to highlight that we will continue to be featured in future editions of the Global MBA ranking and also in all other rankings published by the Financial Times,” wrote Schlie. “In addition, we should not forget that other important ranking providers still feature us in their rankings. Allow me to highlight for instance our 8th position in the Bloomberg BusinessWeek ranking or the 3rd position in the ranking published by Forbes.”

Despite IE’s stated belief that the incident isn’t likely to impact interest in its MBA program, the school says it has implemented “measures to avoid this in the future. We not only reviewed and changed the existing processes for alumni to update their contact information, but also did create an alumni engagement committee.”

Most observers believe the school will bounce back next year. “After 18 years of great performance in the FT, I feel very sorry for them,” says Matt Symonds, a founder and a director of Fortuna Admissions, a leading MBA admissions consulting firm. “Not featuring in the FT ranking because of the email issue is probably better than falling by 30 places, because the school continues to innovate and deliver a great MBA experience for students. I’m sure they’ll be back again next year.”




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