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IE Business School Tops QS Online MBA Ranking

IE Business Schools’ WOW room

For the fourth year in a row, Spain’s IE Business School has won top honors in the annual global ranking of the best online MBA programs from QS, the British-based admissions events company. IE is followed by No. 2 Imperial College Business School and No. 3 Warwick Business School, the Financial Times first-place winner.

In fact, European schools dominate the top ten, winning six of the ten places. Britain’s Alliance Manchester captured fifth, Italy’s Politecnico di Milano School of Management was sixth, and Belgium’s Vlerick Business School took ninth place. The highest ranked U.S. online MBA is Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, which placed first in Poets&Quants’ 2021 ranking of the world’s best online options. The only other U.S. programs in the top ten are the University of Southern California’s Marshall School, ranked eighth, and Florida International University which placed tenth.

IE racked up its fourth consecutive win by garnering the highest scores of in two of the four groups of metrics QS uses: for employability and for faculty and teaching. IE also racked up a  joint-third-best score for class experience. The fourth group of metrics used to rank these programs is class profile.


Despite the success of European players in the top ten, the United States remained the dominant provider of high-quality MBA programs, accounting for 30 of the 57 entrants. QS said that Indiana Kelley excelled in its class experience measure, scoring 92.7 points out of 100.

All told, QS increased the size of this ranking by 10 schools, the majority of the newcomers were nearly-featured programs from the U.S. Missing in action, however, is MBA@UNC, the online offering from the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, which is often neck-and-neck with Kelley in other online MBA rankings. UNC declines to cooperate with the ranking. Other U.S. programs ranked highly include the University of Florida’s Hough Graduate School of Business, coming in at a rank of 15th, while the University of Texas’ Jindal School of Management placed 16th, and George Washington University’s Business School was 18th. Only one Indian program is ranked: Amity Directorate of Distance & Online Education, placing 37th.

One issue with the ranking is the methodology. Online MBA students are all employed and study part-time so employability is not necessarily a viable issue to measure. More important would be whether students received a raise or a promotion as a direct result of their online program, a key metric in Poets&Quants‘ ranking. Instead, QS’s employability metric relies on a general survey of employers, the vast majority of whom don’t recruit or hire online MBA graduates.

There’s a similar problem with the academic and teaching metric. Students and graduates, who would naturally be the most important people to survey, are not included at all. Instead, QS bases this measure on a survey of academics, most of whom have no idea what is going on outside their own schools and most of whom do not teach in online degree programs.

QS Online MBA Rankings 2021: Global Top-10
1IE Business SchoolSpain86.30
2Imperial College Business SchoolUnited Kingdom84.60
3Warwick Business SchoolUnited Kingdom82.80
4AGSM @ UNSW Business SchoolAustralia77.60
5Alliance Manchester Business SchoolUnited Kingdom72.00
6Politecnico di Milano School of ManagementItaly71.90
7Indiana University (Kelley Direct Programs)United States68.50
8Southern California (Marshall)United States67.50
9Vlerick Business SchoolBelgium67.30
10Florida International UniversityUnited States64.60