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The Best Online MBAs In Europe

Whether it’s flexibility you crave, a chance to make global connections, engage with new technologies, or simply the opportunity to study from home, the online MBA could be the answer
  • Online MBAs have become an increasingly beneficial, and respected route to gaining a business education
  • Benefits include greater access for applicants and students, flexibility when you study, and the opportunity to more easily balance career and personal responsibilities
  • In a hybrid world, there is no longer a need to travel to a physical campus to gain an MBA. But with more programmes entering the market how can applicants decide which programmes fit their needs best?

For those deciding to take the next step in developing their career, launch a new enterprise or simply broaden their knowledge on a business area they are passionate about, an MBA is often the logical next step in gaining the skills, qualifications and network to make those desires a possibility. But the real question is, which one do you choose?

Ten years ago, the choice was simple; you either opted for the most well-respected programme you’d be eligible to apply for – depending your GMAT results, or the programme which best tapped into the industry you were hoping to make your mark in, or if you were unable to travel internationally you’d either apply to a well-respected programme close to home or to an institution that could offer you vital support via a scholarship.

But the choice isn’t so straightforward anymore. The significant advancements and swift adoption of the online MBA in recent years has opened up many of the world’s leading institutions to a wider, more global applicant pool.

Both the benefits and quality of online MBAs are growing, even more so since Covid-19 hit and made distance, digital learning a necessity. In 2020, life looked very different as lockdowns came into effect all around the world and remote working became our new norm. During this period, applications for online MBAs leaped up by 43.5%, according to the Graduate Management Admissions Council.

But now that life has returned to normal for many of us, and with Covid revealing what can still be made possible by living and working remotely, it seems that online learning is here to stay. Arguably the meaning of education – and what is needed for a quality education – has been somewhat redefined since the pandemic. With the options becoming bigger and better seemingly by the day, the question applicants now face is whether to study online or in person. And, if they choose the latter, what qualities make one online MBA better than another?

Let’s take a look at some of the benefits on the Online MBA first…

Diversity is a valuable element of a well performing team in industry. In terms of education, it can provide many opportunities for further learning and enrichment. Online MBAs provide students with a unique opportunity to broaden their social circles and open their minds to the lives and backgrounds of people from cultures they may never have experienced before, as they embark on group projects with classmates located all over the world. And such experience should not be undervalued – research has recently found that studying as a team can actually give better results, so building on team working skills online is not only good for students’ education, but also their career prospects. Markus Perkmann, Academic Director of the Global Online MBA at Imperial College Business School, states that “students who do the Online MBA are better able to use technology to bridge geographic distances, deliver high-priority deliverables on an ongoing basis, and work within teams that are spread across different fields of expertise.”

The nature of the course means that it provides greater access to a wider, more diverse collection of learners. Not only does geography no longer become a barrier to learning but neither does personal circumstance. Therefore, parents of young children, people with a disability or health issue that may hold them back from attending in-person lectures, now have an alternate means to study an MBA.

Jørgen Pivak, who graduated from Durham’s online MBA  in 2017, says he worried that prior to starting studies he worried that his limited business background would hold him back. His previous career had not been typical to the usual MBA applicant, working for a meat processor. Thankfully, he found that there was no “standard” background amongst his new classmates. The diversity of the programme gave Jørgen the chance to thrive amongst his peers. He says that Durham helped to merge his prior experience with a “first class business education, and transformed (him) into a well-rounded professional”.

By studying online, you are also provided with the freedom to work your MBA into your life and schedule, rather than the opposite. With no commute to tackle and some flexibility in deciding when want to study, students can take the responsibility for their education into their hands and make choices based on what makes the most sense for them. IE Business School understands this need for freedom, with Stefania Rios, an IE student stating that “The flexibility of the program is very important for students who are working and have other commitments and responsibilities such as new born babies, and for those living in remote locations.”

Whilst studying a programme with such flexibility undoubtedly requires a strong sense of self discipline, for those that can successfully juggle the demands of study, work and professional like, the online MBA offers an opportunity to avoid pressing ‘pause’ on your career when looking to upskill. For Glyn Estebanez, an alumnus of a Global Online MBA at Imperial College Business School, this option worked perfectly, even accelerating his career by ensuring his plans to develop a start-up could be brought forward; “By the time I graduated I had successfully developed our first online medical education platform prototype and was ready to pitch to investors,” he said.

Such programmes, aside of giving students a realistic experience of modern working practice, enable students to form relationships that last long past their days in the (virtual) classroom. This makes networking easier and more accessible. Networking is a vital part or career development, and it is what ties these points together. By providing students with a chance to get to know a diverse range of people, and work freely with them, online MBAs are creating an invaluable network of future collaborators. And their value will only enhance as elements such as technological capability improve and change the parameters of what is possible in an online education.

However, the question remains; which are the best online MBAs? Here are some of our top picks:

  • Durham University Business School’s online MBA has a major focus on flexibility. Students are provided with the option to study completely online, or join in on in-person elements. Themes of access and customisation are at the core of this programme, alongside a dedication to high quality. The programme was placed eighth globally by the Financial Times in this year’s Online MBA ranking, and has consistently placed within the global top 10 since it first first entered the ranking back in 2014. This year it also placed second under the “Value For Money” category, giving applicants a compelling case for quality to consider.
  • ESMT Berlin is home to one of the newer online MBAs available on the market. Launched in 2021, the programme has been designed to create successful modern leaders, with decision-making, analytics, and innovation it’s core. ESMT’s Online MBA is modular, allowing students to complete their studies at their own pace, anytime between 24 months and five years. Participants are also able to choose to study the programme’s modules in any order, therefore offering a high degree of individualization. ESMT also places a strong focus on social learning through its innovative learning platform, the Hub, using highly innovate tools to enable networking between students.
  • IE Business School, based in Madrid returns to #1 for its online MBA, according this year’s FT ranking. IE knows that whilst the program is important, a key factor for prospective students is aligning with their personal values. Diversity is particularly valued here with 50% of their board being female, and a 50/50 gender balance amongst the faculty. The programme is also leads the field in terms of its commitment to ESG and Net Zero teaching – an important factor for increasingly environmentally-minded applicants.
  • Imperial College Business School is widely known for being innovative and dynamic. Their ability to fuse technology and business education is changing the game, with a research centre at the School dedicated to the pursuit understanding and enhancing the value of online education. Applicants to Imperial’s online MBA can be sure of a technologically savvy, highly engaging and future focused educational experience. The programme’s quality cannot be questioned, sitting within the global top three, according to the FT’s 2023 ranking.
  • POLIMI Graduate School of Management works to provide the best quality of education in their online MBA offering, earning a reputation as Italy’s leading institution for online learning. It is an institution with the future in mind, having shifted most of its focus onto digital learning methods. Frederico Frattini, the School’s Dean, took the lead on developing FLEXA – the business school’s AI learning platform, developed in partnership with Microsoft – which not only provides a platform through which to deliver it’s i-Flex programme and provide networking opportunities, but acts as a career coach for potential students, current students and alumni. POLIMI’s programme sits within the global top 10.
  • University of Bradford School of Management provides an opportunity for students to mix management theory with business experience, offering a part-time programme for students to weave into their lives alongside their professional responsibilities. up to 95% of the curriculum can be undertaken at student’s own convenience and is supported through the School’s Virtual Learning Environment, keeping globally separated classes connected. The idea is that professionals can use their online MBA to step up into more senior roles, always keeping both flexibility and employability in mind.
  • Vlerick Business School, based in Belgium, offers a truly flexible and personal experience with its online MBA, allowing students to take the programme at their own pace, and even take breaks throughout, catering to their varying needs. Participants are even able to stagger the costs, paying per course (of which there is 14), over a maximum of five years. Alongside these courses, Vlerick also offers students its Knowledge-in-Action project –where participants can put their learning to the test, as well as the IMEx game – an intensive, interactive business experience where student teams compete to run the best company over seven weeks. Vlerick is known for its dedicated  entrepreneurship teaching and expertise – its online MBA offers modules dedicated to exactly this.
  • Warwick Business School’s ‘Distance Learning’ MBA is one of the most sought after on the current market, ranking second in the world by the Financial Times’ this year, and first in both 2022 and 2021’s tables. With such high quality, along with a solid history (being one of the first on the market), its no surprise that it receives global demand. 75% of the cohort come from outside of the UK. Their investment certainly isn’t wasted, around 80% of those who chose this MBA felt they had accomplished their goals upon completion, according to the FT.

And it is this latter point that provides food for thought for applicants. The potential for satisfaction – indeed happiness – should not be overlooked when searching for the right programme. Research shows that happy workers get the best results. It stands to reason that the same would be true for learners. Whether it’s flexibility you crave, a chance to make global connections, engage with new technologies, or simply the opportunity to study from home, the online MBA could be the answer you’re looking for.

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