MBA rankings trigger a good deal of anxiety among the senior leadership teams at most business schools. After all, a big rise up or a scary fall down can immediately impact everything from the number of candidates who apply to a program to the number of alumni who give back to the school.
This year’s newest 2020 MBA ranking from the Financial Times, the 21st edition of the first truly global ranking launched in 2000, is causing both celebration and a bit of fear and loathing throughout the world. You can bet that champagne corks were popped at places like HEC Paris, which soared ten places to rank ninth-best, the MBA program’s highest ranking ever. And you can also imagine Spain’s IE Business School, which plunged to 52nd after having ranked as high as eighth only three years ago, going into full crisis management mode.
What were the ten biggest surprises, outright shocks, and takeaways from the new Financial Times list? Here’s our top ten:
HEC Paris Cracks The Top Ten
The single biggest rankings story on the FT list is the ten-place improvement achieved by HEC Paris, the well-known business school just outside the city of lights in Jouy-en-Josas, France. The school’s MBA program won its best Financial Times ranking ever at ninth, up from 19th last year and a rank of 21st two years ago. That is a remarkable achievement, particularly near the top of a business school ranking where competitors tend to be far more entrenched.
So how did HEC do it? In common with other leading European business schools, HEC has been a major beneficiary of the shift away from the U.S. toward the best European options. Applications to the school’s full-time MBA program have risen 25% in the past year alone to 2,636 candidates for only 295 classroom seats, allowing HEC the lowest acceptance rate (19%) for any European business school. In contrast, Harvard saw a 6.7% drop in applications.
The school, known for turning out more CEOs of Fortune Global 500 companies than any other university in Europe, also recently put in place a new MBA curriculum with a focus on digital innovation and sustainability. The school attributes its latest success to a variety of factors. “Our students come here because they want to have a global experience with a French flavor,” says Associate Dean Andrea Masini. “They want to have exposure to global companies, but they want to take advantage of a country with great traditions.”
It is also, reminds Masini, one of the MBA programs with the best return on investment in the world, “Graduates on average manage to double their salaries when they leave the program, but also because we try to keep our tuition fees relatively low as much as we can,” maintains Masini. “And we have generous support from the HEC Foundation that provides us with scholarships. Second, participants come here to look for career transformation, and the outcome is impressive. We had in the last graduating class, 73% of our graduates changing industries, 72% changing function, and 61% changing location.”
That’s all true, though a significant rise in a ranking is all about improving on the metrics a ranking actually measures. HEC Paris can gleefully report much progress on the numbers used by the FT to crank out its MBA list. The data shows there was a substantial boost in the salaries reported by alumni who graduated from HEC three years ago. The average base was $164,529, up by 15.3% from $142,622 last year. Alums boosted their pre-MBA salaries by 133%, much better than the 106% reported a year earlier. Those two metrics alone account for 40% of the entire ranking. The school also did better a number of other FT-measured metrics, including a rank of 11 best for ‘value for money,’ up from 34th last year, and a rank of 18 for ‘career progress,’ up from 22nd in 2019.
As they say in gay Paree, Ooh là là!