Ten Biggest Surprises In The Economist’s 2019 MBA Ranking

The Economist

The Economist is one of the most respected media brands in the world

6) Is The Economist‘s MBA Ranking Below The Economist‘s Prestige?

Among the world’s many business and economic publications, no brand gets more respect than The Economist. Many people refer to it as an affinity brand for the number of university professors and college students who prop it under their arms, happy to associate themselves with the brand’s prestige and status. So why do the editors of The Economist put up with a ranking that has so little credibility?

Everything about this ranking defies what The Economist‘s brand stands for. The magazine is known for its deep and thoughtful analysis. Yet, as we pointed out earlier, there’s not even a story that analyzes this year’s ranking results. The Economist is widely respected for its fact-based opinion and puts heavy emphasis on the facts. Yet the magazine’s reporting of its ranking is shockingly sloppy.

The moment you dig a little deeper on The Economist‘s data points for its ranking, the more likely you are to find the errors which, of course, give little confidence in the overall results. Let’s start with the table of the top schools published this year by The Economist (see below). At the risk of being accused of nitpicking, The Economist reports that the increase over pre-MBA salaries at Wharton is the lowest of all the top schools: Just 22%. It also reports that the increase for HBS grads is 59%.

Yet the magazine’s own data show that these percentage changes are inaccurate. At Wharton, for example, incoming students left jobs paying $90,241 and while post-MBA salaries were $142,701. The difference between those two numbers is not 22%–it’s 47.1% For HBS grads, by the way, the percentage change, based on The Economist‘s reported numbers, is 29%–not 59%.

These are not idle errors. When you parse the numbers in the ranking, you find a good number of odd results and contradictions. A glimpse at the cost of an MBA at IESE Business School in Spain. The Economist reports that an MBA from IESE costs more than any other top 20 school: $107,295. First off, that would be the cost for the entire two-year program at IESE. If you look at the entire cost of Wharton’s MBA tuition, it comes not to $81,378 but rather twice that sum: $162,756. And if you do the currency calculation on IESE’s tuition, the number doesn’t come to $107,295 but rather $99,120.

To be fair, the ranking requires an unusual amount of data crunching. For just the 100 ranked schools measured on 21 different metrics come to 2,100 numbers alone. And that doesn’t even include the calculations to derive many of the metrics, including percentage change over pre- and post-MBA salaries or the underlying data to determine the ratio of faculty to students. Even so, you’d expect better from The Economist.

The Economist 2019 MBA ranking

The top 20 schools in The Economist’s 2019 MBA ranking published in the magazine

HEC Paris MBA students

7) HEC Paris: A Top 10 Program In The World? 

Historically, INSEAD and the London Business School have ranked 1-2 in international MBA rankings. Occasionally, IESE or IMD might snag the #2 spot. Ultimately, INSEAD and LBS would come out on top thanks to higher graduate pay and student satisfaction.

The notable exception, of course, has been the rankings produced by The Economist. Here, programs like HEC Paris and Warwick Business School would often leapfrog this dynamic duo. In past years, such differences could be attributed to The Economist’s idiosyncratic methodology that relied heavily on vague student surveys. In 2019, the rankings may have jumped the shark by placing HEC Paris at #3, above the likes of the Wharton School, Stanford GSB, and Columbia Business School – not to mention INSEAD and LBS.

That’s not a criticism of HEC Paris. Known as a CEO factory, HEC Paris is a deeply immersive international experience that differentiates itself with some of the world’s best programming in leadership development, luxury marketing, and digital disruption – not to mention a highly diverse student and alumni base. Those strengths play well to The Economist’s ranking methodology. 

Take “Potential To Network,” a catch-all category that accounts for 10% of the ranking’s weight. Here, HEC Paris ranks 1st in both the breadth and internationalism of alumni – not surprising for a program where 95% of the 2021 hails from outside France. However, HEC Paris truly excelled in the area of “Increase In Salary,” which makes up another 20% of the ranking. The school placed 2nd overall in this category, including 5th for post-MBA salary. Notably, pay jumped from a $50,900 pre-MBA salary to $127,410 after graduation. In other words, graduates enjoyed a 153% increase in pay thanks to their MBAs, according to Economist data. 

At the same time, HEC Paris ranked 14th in “Opening New Career Opportunities,” punctuated by a 3rd-place finish for the diversity range of recruiters who visit campus. In addition, the program finished a respectable 25th in “Personal Development and Educational Experience.” This place HEC Paris higher than LBS and only slightly lower than INSEAD and IESE in a category that amounts to 35% of the ranking’s weight.

That said, HEC Paris can improve in several areas. Notably, the program ranked 67th in career services according to student surveys. In the same survey, HEC Paris placed 46th and 50th respectively for student and faculty quality. Of course, survey respondents pegged faculty at 4.53 and student peers at 4.56 – on a 5.0 scale. In other words, they are considered as way above average according to students. While alumni breadth and internationalism are major selling points at HEC Paris, the actual effectiveness of alumni could be questioned, as surveyed students ranked the program 41st in this category (at a 4.45 score, however).

How did HEC Paris climb from 13th in 3rd in just one year, overtaking the likes of The Wharton School, Stanford GSB, and Northwestern Kellogg in the process? For starters, the school held firm to its strengths. It ranked #1 in “Potential To Network” and #2 in “Increase in Salary” – not different than the previous year. However, the program rose from 47th to 14th in “Opening New Career Opportunities,” spurred by higher placement rates and student scores on career services. In addition, “Faculty Quality (68th to 50th) and Alumni Effectiveness (60th to 41st) reflected a program making strides in addressing its perceived deficiencies.

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.