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Game, Set And Match – The MiM Business Masters Where Europeans Are The World Champions

In the same year that Rafael Nadal won his first Grand Slam, the FT published its first MiM ranking. It has been advantage Europe ever since.

With his 14th French Open tennis title at Roland Garros in 2022, Spain’s Rafael Nadal reached a record 22 Grand Slam titles ahead of Roger Federer’s 20 Grand Slam men’s titles. Novak Djokovic will look to overtake them both in the next eighteen months.

Nadal won his first French Open tennis title in 2005. In the past 17 years, few things in the world of sport have been as sure. When it comes to men’s tennis, Europeans are the Masters of the Court.

There is a similar pattern of European domination in the Masters of Management (MiM). This pre-experience business degree has seen tremendous growth in the last decade, as college seniors and those a year or two out of university look to broaden their skills sets and strengthen their networks rather than wait to do an MBA. With the current economic downturn, many of the leading business schools attending the CentreCourt Specialized Masters Festival in October are reporting record application volume for this often shorter and more affordable alternative.

In the same year that Rafael Nadal won his first Grand Slam, the Financial Times published its first Masters in Management ranking. HEC Paris took the top spot ahead of French rival, ESCP Business School. There were only 25 schools in the ranking, all of them from Europe (at the time the CEMS global alliance was predominantly made up of European schools).

Seventeen years later, and the FT MiM ranking now includes 100 institutions from across the globe, and sees the University of St Gallen crowned #1 for the twelfth consecutive year. Much like Rafael Nadal’s record in Paris, no other school has dominated the top of a business school ranking without interruption for so many years. Back in 2005 the Swiss business school was not mentioned at all. It wasn’t until five years later that St. Gallen’s flagship MA Strategy and International Management program would enter the ranking. And so began the winning streak…

The ranking that grew and grew

Looking back over the last decade and half, a lot has changed. In 2005 when it all began, alongside St. Gallen, there was no London Business School, no Imperial College Business School and no SDA Bocconi in the MiM ranking. More significantly, as already mentioned, there were no schools from North America or Asia Pacific. Fast forward to 2018, and the number of schools taking part in the ranking had reached 100. The Masters in Management has become one of the world’s most sought after graduate business degrees, and competition for a place in the MiM programmes of the top schools is fierce, as my Fortuna colleague and former Senior Admissions at LBS, Emma Bond explains.

France were the early big winners, with HEC Paris at #1 for the first four years, and ESCP Business School also reaching #1 in 2010. In fact French schools held 6 of the 7 top places in 2006, with Grenoble EM, EMLyon, Essec and Edhec. The FT MiM ranking of 2020 featured 21 French schools, by far the biggest country representation. Germany, which had been slow to adopt the MBA is present with six schools, including three that at some stage since 2009 have all made the top 10. While the UK, which has had as many as 18 schools in the FT MiM ranking is now down to 11. The London School of Economics and the University of Bradford School of Management that ranked #4 and #5 respectively back in 2005 no longer take part.

The table below shows this year’s top 30 in the FT Masters in Management ranking, and their highest and lowest rank over the years. Only 10 schools that participated in 2005 were still in the top 30 in 2020.

FT Masters in Management Ranking – Top 30 from 2005 to 2020

It wasn’t until 2008 that a school from outside of Europe entered the league table – with the entrance of National Chengchi University and National Sun Yat-Sen University, both from Taiwan – but by this time the number of schools involved in the ranking had doubled to 50. The following year we saw the first North American school join the ranking, as Canada’s HEC Montreal entered straight in at #23.

Over the next ten years we would see relatively steady growth in the number of schools involved in the MiM ranking, with the figure only dropping for the first time this year by a whole 10 schools. But, what started as a European-only ranking now features schools from Australia, Canada, China, India, Singapore, Taiwan, and just one US school. The MS in Global Commerce at UVA McIntire in partnership with Spain’s Esade Business School and China’s Lingnan (University) College offers a 10-month Global 3 program that has jumped straight into the 2020 ranking at #14.

Rise of Asia

Despite no regional presence in the first three years of the FT Masters in Management ranking, Asia’s schools now occupy numerous places. The Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, which entered in 2010 at #8 is currently the top ranked stand-alone program from Asia at #20, followed by the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta at #21, the seventh year that is has achieved a place in the top 25.

Asian representation in the rankings can, at least in part, be attributed to the emergence of global partnerships. We saw the first of these in 2015 in the form of Fu Jen Catholic University, of Taiwan, IQS School of Management and University of San Francisco’s Master in Global Entrepreneurial Management, which entered at #58. The school has since risen to #19.

A number of European schools have also expanded their global footprint, with France’s emlyon business school now operating campuses in China and Morocco. And INSEAD, which its first MiM students this year and should be eligible to participate in the 2024 FT ranking delivers four months of the programme in Singapore.

So where are the US schools?

The US did not have a standalone school ranked until 2016, when Arizona State University entered at #82. Two years later the school’s MSc in Management no longer appeared.

The MBA has of course been the dominant graduate management degree in the US, when Harvard Business School – then Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration – established the first MBA program in 1908 with 33 regular students and 47 special students. The MiM meanwhile has long been a flagship for European schools, including the world’s oldest business school, ESCP that was created in 1819.

But a number of leading US business schools – including Kellogg School of Management, MIT Sloan, Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, and Michigan’s Ross School of Business – have not featured. Some programs, such as those launched at Yale SOM, Cornell and Georgetown McDonough whose first class entered in July 2019 are too recent to qualify as the FT surveys a class three years after graduation.

According to my co-host for the CentreCourt Masters Festival, John Byrne, Editor-in-Chief of Poets&Quants the omission of the major US school renders the FT’s MiM Ranking “virtually worthless as a global ranking”.He suggests that ‘the US is the epicentre of business education’ and one of the most attractive destinations for b-school applicants, and contends that ranking with such little American representation cannot possibly be a reliable indication of a school’s overall quality on the world stage.

When less is more

Is this criticism of the MiM ranking fair? That’s a conversation for The CentreCourt Masters Festival, but, the Poets&Quants editor may have some valid criticisms. Looking at St Gallen’s 12-year domination, the sheer consistency in performance, alongside that of HEC Paris, Essec, LBS and ESCP could be indicative of the reliability of the rankings, but it could also be evidence of its flaws too. St Gallen (HSG) has a significantly smaller cohort size than that of many of its competitors, with only 46 students on its MiM program. Similarly Stockholm School of Economics, which made the top 10 for the first time this year has just 49 students in its Master in International Management. Meanwhile, schools such as Essec, ESCP and Edhec Business School have class sizes of nearly 1,000, while CEMS, emlyon, Neoma, Kedge and Copenhagen are all well above 1,000. This has arguably given smaller programs the edge, with a cohort size that makes it easier to deliver on some of the key weightings used in the FT methodology.

Over the years, schools have sought to capture that same advantage, switching the programs they offer for the ranking in order to play the system and dramatically improve their position. In 2016, University College Dublin’s Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School swapped its MSc Business for an MSc in International Management program, which saw the school jump from #56 in the previous year to #22. Similarly, in 2018, the University of Economics, Prague re-entered with an International Master in Management program which saw it surge a whopping 60 positions from its previous position at #82. Average salaries for the class of 40 graduates went from $38.3k to $68.8k, and international students shifted from 19% to 62, helping to also achieve a much stronger mobility rank.

These efforts to optimize a school’s position could reflect flaws in the MiM ranking… or testament to how competitive and challenging it has become over the last 15 years, and a reflection of the internationally focused programs that schools have developed to reflect global demand and recruiter needs.

At some stage of course Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will join Roger Federer in retirement, and leave behind them an extraordinary legacy of achievement at the highest level. They admit that every year it gets harder to stay at the top, as the next generation of pretenders snaps at their heels.

As more top schools from North America and Asia enter the vibrant MiM market it will get harder for schools in Switzerland, France, the UK and the rest of Europe to dominate the FT ranking as they have done for the last 17 years. But that is good news for future business students, will be the winners, as schools all over the world continue to up their game.

About the author

Matt Symonds is Chief Editor of BlueSky Thinking. He is the S of QS, co-founding QS Quacquarelli Symonds, publishers of the QS World University Rankings and numerous business school rankings.

In 2010 Matt was the media consultant for Times Higher Education to support the launch of their own THE World University Rankings, and has subsequently worked for THE and WSJ for business school rankings.

Matt writes about Higher Education and management for Forbes, BBC, Times of India and formerly The Economist and Bloomberg.

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