INSEAD Claims First For Fifth Time In A Row

Outside the U.S., INSEAD has become the MBA program to beat. For the fifth consecutive year, the school with campuses in three regions of the world has captured first place for its full-time MBA experience in Poets&Quants’ tenth annual ranking of the best international business schools.

In the past ten years, in fact, INSEAD has now won top honors for six years, with London Business School the only other non-U.S. player to win first place. London has done so four times but not since 2014 (see chart below). In fact, in the past ten years, only two schools have cracked the Top Ten: Italy’s SDA Bocconi of Management in Milan and the National University of Singapore’s School of Business. This year Bocconi took sixth place, up from 19th in 2010, while NUS finished tenth, up from a rank as high as 22nd in 2012.

Rounding out this year’s top MBA programs abroad are No. 2 London Business School, No. 3 IESE Business School in Barcelona, Spain, No. 4 HEC Paris, and No. 5 IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland. After Bocconi’s sixth place finish this year, Cambridge Judge Business School placed seventh, followed by Spain’s ESADE in eighth place, Oxford’s Saïd Business School in ninth, and finally NUS. Only two schools in last year’s group of the Top Ten advanced this year, both moving up one place: HEC Paris and Bocconi.


This year’s ranking comes at a time of continued growth for both European and Asian schools. More international candidates are deciding against applying to the MBA programs in the U.S. as a result of both anti-immigration rhetoric and worries over getting visas to work in the U.S. after graduation. Instead, more of the MBA international applicant pool is turning to schools in Europe, Canada and Asia to realize their professional ambitions. “You have highly ranked European programs and candidates who are saying, ‘if I am not going to work in the U.S. after getting my degree I might as well study closer to my home country or in a shorter one-year program,” says Sangeet Chowfla, CEO of the Graduate Management Admission Council, the administrator of the GMAT test.

He notes that one of the big surprises this year is “the growth of European schools and how quickly they have built acceptability in the minds of candidates. We always had the brand name business schools like INSEAD and London which had great brand appeal. But now we are beginning to see significant candidate interest in schools like ESMT Berlin, Rotterdam and Copenhagen, schools which were not necessarily on the radar of a lot of candidates in Europe. Europe is becoming a more attractive destination beyond the obvious big brand schools. That is a significant change that is going to affect the contours of the industry over time” (see What Most Surprised GMAC’s Chief In 2019).

While the Top Ten showed little change this year, there were many other schools that made subsantial progress. Spain’s IE Business School, which slumped to 18th place last year after the Financial Times removed the school from its ranking in 2018, moved up seven places to finish 11th after the FT restored IE’s ranking this year. Britain’s Warwick Business School jumped ten spots to rank 14th on improved rankings from both the Financial Times and Forbes magazine. Even more surprising, the Indian School of Business shot up 29 places after it picked up rankings for the first time from both Bloomberg Businessweek and Forbes and improved on the FT list.

This P&Q list is a composite of four major and most credible MBA rankings published by The Financial Times, The Economist, Bloomberg Businessweek, and Forbes. The ranking takes into account a massive wealth of quantitative and qualitative data captured in these major lists, from surveys of corporate recruiters, MBA graduates, deans and faculty publication records to median GPA and GMAT scores of entering students as well as the latest salary and employment statistics of alumni. Poets&Quants ranks U.S. schools separately (see Stanford GSB Cruises Into First In 2019-2020 MBA Ranking).


By blending these rankings using a system that takes into account each of their strengths as well as their flaws, we’ve come up with what is arguably the most authoritative ranking of MBA programs ever published. The list tends to diminish anomalies and other statistical distortions that often occur in one ranking or another. A composite list that equally weighs all four lists lends greater stability to a ranking of schools that rarely change from year to year. The reported ranks reflect their standing among non-U.S. schools and not the global ranks assigned by the FT, Economist, and BW.

The system penalizes schools that either fail to make all four of the rankings or shop for the best ranking they can get and avoid the lists where they are less likely to do well. Yet, many of those schools will trumpet their single ranking, hoping that readers will simply assume that a school’s position on one list will be similar to its rank on another. That’s not true as the often considerable differences in the ranks of a school across the four lists clearly shows. So ranks based on more inputs clearly have more credibility than those based on only one or two.

This year, only 12 of the 78 full-time MBA programs on our list received all four rankings, while another 11 were ranked by three sources. Anomalies crop up everywhere. CEIBs, whose full-time MBA is ranked second behind only INSEAD outside the U.S. by the Financial Times, doesn’t even get a mention by The Economist. Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, falls into the same boat. The school’s MBA is ranked eighth-best outside the U.S. by the FT but not at all by either The Economist or Forbes. This year’s list saw two schools fall off completely: Henley Business School, ranked 60th by P&Q last year, and Audencia Business School in France, ranked 72nd last year. Both Henley and Audencia lost their sole Economist rankings. Hult International Business School, meantime, was moved to our U.S. ranking.

Note: An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect ranking for Mannheim Business School. We regret the error.

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