The Financial Times took the extraordinary step of removing IE Business School from its latest MBA rankings when a series of mandatory checks it performs turned up a peculiar problem: To its surprise, the newspaper noticed that surveys meant to be completed by alumni from IE’s Class of 2014 were coming in from other people.
Separately, a group of alumni from IE’s Class of 2011 are urging the school to take a series of steps in the wake of the controversy. In a letter signed by 42 alums, including managers at Accenture, Deloitte, General Electric, Oracle, NetFlix and SAP, the group expressed concern that IE’s removal from the ranking has resulted in reputational damage to the school.
“The negative press and potential indication of ethical violations from the Financial Times leads to significant credibility issues and undermines what we as former students know to be the ethos of the school,” wrote the alumni. “International demand for IE Business School programs might drop, and admissions will be adversely affected…INSEAD and IESE, both of whom already have extensive global brands will become unchallenged regarding ranked programs on the continent, further reducing IE’s market share.”
IE REMOVED FROM RANKING WHEN A SERIES OF SOME 20 ROUTINE CHECKS SHOWED PROBLEMS WITH ALUMNI SURVEYS
The letter, sent to IE University Executive President Santiago Iñiguez, IE Business School Dean Martin Boehm and Vice Dean for the International MBA Program Erik Schlie, outlined a series of steps they are recommending to insure that the Spanish school is ranked in the FT’s list next year.
Meantime, Helen Barrett, the FT’s editor for work & careers, told Poets&Quants that the issue with IE’s submissions became apparent when the newspaper’s data editors ran a routine series of about 20 different checks on the data that comes in from both schools and alumni it surveys.
“Through our checks, we found a handful of surveys completed by people other than the alumni named on the form, and at five we stopped counting,” explains Barrett. “We alerted IE, who were unable to explain what had happened. Then we urged them to tighten their procedures. That’s really where our involvement ended.”
“There was a separate mix up with alumni email addresses, as IE said originally, but that was really of secondary concern.”
SECOND SCHOOL REMOVED FROM GLOBAL MBA RANKING IN TWO YEARS
For Barrett, a five-year FT veteran who had taken over the business school beat 18 months ago, IE was the second school excluded from the influential global MBA rranking. On the year-earlier list, the FT also removed an unnamed school after discovering a problem with the credibility of the completed alumni surveys.
“Regarding the other school we disqualified, as you know we don’t name and shame,” adds Barrett. “But the most common reason for disqualifying a school, other than failing to meet the minimum response quota, is lobbying alumni to complete forms.”
IE’s removal, however, was considerably different. For one thing, the school had been highly ranked by the FT for years. In 2017, for example, IE was in eighth place, above such prestige players as MIT Sloan, the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Never before had a top ten school been taken out of the MBA ranking by the Financial Times.
FT MANAGING EDITOR JAMES LEMONT NOTIFIED EDITORIAL TEAM THAT IE WAS OUT IN EARLY JANUARY
Secondly, the decision to remove IE—made by the newspaper’s managing editor, chief legal counsel and Barrett—was somewhat more sensitive because the newspaper has an existing business relationship with IE in custom executive education programs. The venture, called the FT | IE Corporate Learning Alliance was announced in late 2014 and enlists the involvement of the FT’s journalists.
That is why James Lamont, the FT’s managing editor, felt the need in early January to notify the newspaper’s entire editorial staff that IE Business School would not appear in the ranking that would be made public later that month on Jan. 29th.
“Every year the FT business education section publishes a highly authoritative ranking of the world’s top business schools’ MBA courses,” wrote Lamont. “These rankings are based on alumni surveys. This year we have taken the position to exclude IE Business School because of irregularities in the submission. Helen Barrett has contacted the school’s leadership to requiest that it urgently tighten its data collection procedures so that IE can be included in future rankings.”
When the ranking was published, the FT did not disclose that IE had been excluded from its 2018 list of the world’s best full-time MBA programs nor why it had taken such a harsh action. Barrett explains that it is the policy of the newspaper not to “name and shame” schools it excludes from its ranking.
‘WE HAVE NOT BEEN ABLE TO IDENTIFY THESE PARTICULAR CASES FROM OUR END’
It is still unclear how the alumni surveys got into the hands of people who were not intended to receive them. It is also equally unclear who in fact responded to the surveys when they were clearly meant to be filled out only by alumni from the Class of 20114.
IE has told alumni that the school initiallly learned about what it called “certain anolmalies” when IE was contacted by alumni who apparently had not received the FT’s surveys. “In good faith, we encouraged them to contact the Financial Times directly and seek clarification,” wrote Santiago Iñiguez, executive president of IE University and the former dean of IE Business School. “In the meantime, we discovered that some of the alumni email addresses were incorrect. This may have been due to a lack of updating as well as errors in the process of uploading. Notwithstanding those incorrect contact data, we had hoped that the number of responding students would be sufficiently representative.
“In addition, the Financial Times informed us about a few submissions that were completed by people who were not who the Financial Times thought they were. We have not been able to identify these particular cases from our end but we will continue to investigate further. As a result, the Financial Times became concerned about the accuracy of our alumni contact data and excluded us from the ranking.”
FINANCIAL TIMES SAYS IT RELIES ON THE INTEGRITY OF SCHOOLS AND ALUMNI TO PRODUCE ACCURATE DATA
Iñiguez told alumni the school has dismissed two staffers who were responsible for managing and uploading the data and has asked the person responsible of the unit that deals with rankings to resign. The school also decided to change the front-to-end management of rankings under the new aegis of the Dean of the Business School and designed new processes that, he said, would “guarantee the accuracy and integrity of the collected information.”
The FT attemps to insure the accuracy of the data it receives from schools with some 20 different checks on incoming data. “I won’t say what the checks are because they are integral to the ranking,” adds Barrett, who concedes it would be easier for a school to game the ranking if it knew the nature of the checks. The accounting firm of KPMG also does audits on school-provided data every five years on a rolling basis.
Generally, however, the newspaper assumes that schools will provide accurate information. “It’s certainly true we rely on the integrity of the schools and the integrity of the alumni to produce the data,” she says. “I think it would be misleading for any ranking producer not to say there is a degree of trust involved (in creating a ranking).”