Rankings are important (but not always equal)
Associate Professor Glen Murphy, 3 June, 2020
MBA rankings are almost as ubiquitous as MBA programs. Designed to help prospective candidates choose the business school that best suits their aspirations and needs, there are a substantial number of MBA rankings for applicants to analyse. Now more than ever MBA programs represent a significant investment, and ideally MBA rankings help you determine which program is likely to give you the best return on investment. Ironically, rankings can actually have a detrimental effect on the decision-making capability of prospective MBA applicants - with so many on offer, often with variable or conflicting results the whole process can be confusing, not clarifying!
So what is a ‘ranking’ anyway? Well, the answer is familiar to many MBA students…‘it depends’.
Typically rankings will attempt to evaluate or rank MBA programs based on a number of internal factors including quality of staff, teaching experience, international accreditation, curriculum design, course structure, careers offerings and student diversity. Rankings will also evaluate more external factors such as graduating salaries of alumni, engagement with industry and importantly, alumni feedback. These factors, scored individually (sometimes weighted) then aggregated and finally ranked help prospective students evaluate how a significant investment of their time, money and energy might translate into desired outcomes.
However, like many things in life not all rankings are equal and my experience tells me that there are three things that all prospective MBAs should consider when interrogating a particular ranking for its decision making utility:
‘How relevant is the ranking to the type of degree you’re looking for?’
This is especially important in the case of the Australian MBA context where overwhelmingly our MBA degrees are part-time programs and designed for busy working professionals. Basing your decision on a ranking that actually reflects a classic full-time MBA program may not be the best comparison point. Similarly, some of the older rankings place an emphasis on graduating salaries, reflecting a time when only aspiring venture capitalists and merchant bankers studied MBA degrees. Thankfully more contemporary rankings have dropped this factor due to the increasing diversity of for-purpose, rather than for-profit candidates such as those in health, education and the not-for-profit sector. This is particularly important due to the significant learning opportunities represented by diverse MBA cohorts. So, always ensure that the ranking you are examining is reflective of a program that you would want to be part of, and gives a good sense of the type of candidate they are supporting.
‘How long ago was the ranking undertaken?’
Unfortunately some institutions are slow to adjust their rankings outcomes to reflect their latest position, are vague on when they achieved their reported placing, and/or with what ranking agency. It always pays to make sure how recent the reported rankings results are and the extent to which they are likely to reflect the current program on offer. Associated with this is to look at trends over time; is the program continually trending upward and improving its offering to students, is it variable, or worse, on a decline?
‘How reliable is the measure?’
This question is a fundamental question addressed by many professionals studying an MBA throughout their degree and one that should also be applied to MBA ranking instruments. The better rankings such as the Australian AFR BOSS and the UK’s Financial Times rankings will release their methodology to the public for scrutiny. Some rankings, such as the Economist ranking (a full-time MBA ranking) have suffered criticism in the past for suspect methodologies and highly variable results, leading many to question the utility or reliability of such a ranking. If you are using rankings as a primary decision-making tool it would be a worthwhile investment of your time to interrogate the methodology underpinning of those the rankings.
Based off this rough framework at QUT we’re very selective about the rankings we participate in, and to-date have tended to prioritise the AFR BOSS as the ranking to focus on as a key barometer as to how we are performing and more importantly, how we can continue to improve. With approximately the top 20 programs in the country participating in the AFR BOSS rankings, it allows candidates the opportunity to accurately compare a number of good programs using the same methodology. It also allows you to examine not only the overall ranking, but how various business schools perform over a range of areas including:
- student satisfaction
- teaching quality
- course content and curriculum.
Further, the AFR BOSS ranking is exclusively focused on the Australian context and therefore better reflects the aspirations, considerations and issues relevant to people undertaking an MBA in Australia.
Finally, we feel the strongest component of the AFR BOSS rankings is its emphasis on the evaluation of programs by their alumni. Up to 45% of the ranking outcome is determined by the results of an alumni survey and therefore is a very strong reflection of how well a program is satisfying the needs and expectations of its students. In addition to their own internal feedback mechanisms this can be a useful tool for program directors and program teams, giving them valuable insights on what’s working and what’s not. Over the last decade we have progressively built the QUT program to be a highly relevant, practical and valuable experience for our students and a key part of that has been the feedback we’ve received through the AFR BOSS rankings process.
My final piece of advice if you’re wondering how to make sense of the rankings overload. Rankings are a useful tool, but they aren’t everything. How a program is run and designed, the nature of the cohort, the culture of the program, the vibe are all important aspects that can only be determined by spending time with program representatives and talking through what you are looking for, and what works best for you. Ultimately, successfully undertaking an MBA is about developing relationships with your cohort, with your academic facilitators and your program team and it’s important that you feel comfortable in that environment. There are a number of wonderful MBA programs operating all around Australia and hopefully you’ll find one that fits with you and what you’re looking to achieve.
Good luck with your search and all the best with your future MBA!
QUT’s MBA rankings
QUT’s MBA ranked number 1 in Queensland and 3 nationally by the Australian Financial Review BOSS EMBA ranking in 2019.
QUT’s Executive MBA ranked number 1 in Queensland and 2 nationally by the Australian Financial Review BOSS EMBA ranking in 2019.
QUT was one of only two Australian Universities to be ranked in the UK Financial Times Global rankings in the top 85 business schools for customized education programs.