How do this year’s QS and Financial Times Online MBA Rankings Compare?

At the time of writing, there are, very probably, several (or more) top business schools carefully evaluating the prospect of diversifying their portfolios to launch an online MBA. Technology has transformed the way we live, the way we work and is changing the way we study. Innovations in technology now mean that students can interact with world-class faculty from the comforts of their own living rooms and are able to earn a degree that has global recognition.

Helping benchmark the quality of  the growing number of online MBA programs are ranking providers such as QS and the Financial Times. Both rankings require that all participating schools meet strict entry criteria, and every online MBA program listed by each provider has received international accreditation. Below is a list of the top 10 schools as assessed by QS and the Financial Times (FT).

QS Distance Online MBA Rankings 2017® FT Online MBA Rankings 2017
1  IE Business School

2. Warwick Business School

3. Indiana University: Kelly

4. University of Florida: Hough

5. Alliance Manchester Business School

6. Thunderbird School of Global Management

7. Durham University Business School

8. Temple University: Fox School of Business

9. Oxford Brookes University Business School

10. University of Strathclyde Business School

1. IE Business School

2. Warwick Business School

3. University of Massachusetts Amherst: Isenberg

4. AGSM at UNSW Business School

5. University of Florida: Hough

6. George Washington University

7. Indiana University: Kelly

8. Babson College: Olin

9. Durham University Business School

10. Syracuse University: Whitman

What accounts for the similarities and differences in the rankings results?

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While IE Business School and Warwick Business School take uncontested first and second place in each ranking, the order of the other schools appears less correlated and the comparison is harder to make. This is due to the different methodologies used by QS and the Financial Times.

The QS Distance Online MBA Rankings use 18 criteria, broken down as follows:

Employability 30%

The score in this indicator comes from a global survey in which employers identify the schools they prefer to recruit from.

Student quality 15%

Know the strength of your future peers..

  • Average years of work experience
  • Applicants/place ratio
  • GMAT score (class average)
  • Percentage of students with a first degree

Is this an established online MBA program? 15%

  • Established year of online MBA program
  • Number of students enrolled
  • Accreditation (AMBA, EQUIS, AASCB or EPAS)

Faculty and Teaching 15%

Is the school committed to quality…?

  • Faculty/student ratio
  • Percentage of full-time faculty teaching the online MBA
  • Degree completion rate

Class experience 15%

Are students actively involved with their peers, and do they feel that they are an integral part of the school’s online MBA program?

  • Physical meet-up
  • Compulsory attendance
  • Regular online classes
  • How much of the program is assessed using group work?

Diversity 10%

Diversity in the classroom reflects diversity in global business…

  • Percentage of female students in the class
  • Nationalities enrolled in the program

The FT Global Online MBA Ranking also uses 18 criteria, and, similar to QS, collects data direct from business schools. However, where the two rankings differ, is in the second survey they send to respondents. The Financial Times surveys the alumni of each participating business school, while QS invites feedback from employers.

The Financial Times’ 18 indicators are broken down as below:

Alumni responses 65% – 9 criteria

  • Average income three years after graduation 
  • Percentage salary increase compared to pay on graduation
  • Value for money: The extent to which students feel they reached their MBA goals
  • Helpfulness of school’s career service
  • Aims achieved
  • Progression in alumni seniority and the size of the company they work for three years post graduation.
  • Students rating of program delivery
  • Students rating of online interaction between peers and faculty
  • Percentage of female students

Business School data 25% – 8 criteria

  • Percentage of women on the board
  • Percentage of international faculty
  • Percentage of international students
  • Percentage of the board that is international
  • International mobility of students post graduation
  • Faculty with doctorates
  • Number of doctoral graduates in last three years from business school

Research Rank 10% – 1 criterion

Number of articles produced by each school’s full-time faculty between January 2014 and December 2016

What does this mean for prospective online MBAs?

The straight answer is — always compare across recognized rankings providers. While the data sets are, on first notice quite different, they do complement each-other. The Financial Times, for example, assesses salary factors, while QS assigns a 30% weighting to the employer survey. These are two  distinct ways of assessing a similar outcome, in this case, post MBA career opportunities.

The value of the Financial Times’ alumni survey, which constitutes 65% of the ranking’s overall weighting, is (partly) the assurance that past students have rated these top-ranked programs.

QS, as an alternative, has focused on selectivity-related factors, however the student experience has also been gauged, albeit through different means. Data sets which assess  faculty/student ratio, degree completion rates, compulsory attendance, or the regularity of online classes evaluate the schools’ commitment to program quality, as well as students’ engagement levels. The full-time faculty percentage is also an important signifier of quality. Online MBA students arguably deserve the same privileges as on-campus students and so should be taught by the same faculty, and not by instructors drafted in for the sole purposes of teaching the online MBA curriculum.

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