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The vexed issue of MBA league tables

By Peter Walker for CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Another new survey of business schools, this time exclusively in the U.S., has confirmed one increasingly evident fact for those considering an MBA -- there is a clear elite in the field.

The top of the list of graduate business schools produced by U.S. News and World Report sees a series of names familiar from other, similar league tables.

In top place comes Harvard Business School, followed by Stanford, the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton school, MIT's Sloan and, in joint fifth, the Kellogg school at Northwestern University and Chicago.

Other well-known names -- Tuck, Haas, Columbia, Stern -- follow to make up the rest of the top 10.

These are the names that tend to crop up in most of the series of business school rankings published each year, for example the well-known lists drawn up by the London-based Financial Times and by Business Week.

The process tends to be exhaustive. For example, U.S. News and World Report canvassed 406 schools, of which 113 provided enough information for a ranking to be assessed.

A school's score was then compiled via a complex procedure combining the assessments of deans from other schools and from recruiters, salaries attracted by graduates, the academic scores of new students, and other data.

However, one fact cannot be avoided -- however rigorous the process, it will necessarily be subjective, meaning the ratings inevitably vary.

For example, Yale School of Management makes it into the Financial Times top 10, but is ranked 14th by U.S. News and World Report, 19th by Business Week's 2006 poll and 24th in the annual list compiled by the Economist magazine.

Differing views

Much of this is due to clear differences in methodology -- some lists are U.S. only while others consider schools from around the world, but there is no escaping the stress such tables cause deans and admissions offices.

Some schools even refuse to take part, doubting the validity of league tables in properly informing students.

"They are inherently unreliable due to the differences in methodology and I'm not sure they present an accurate picture of the worth of a good MBA program," Ken Jones, dean of the Faculty of Business at Ryerson University in Toronto, told Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper last month.

Taking part in such exercises "adds additional expectations to the faculty and students that are not always realistic," he said.

Other schools, however, accept that for many would-be MBA students, one of the very first things they look at when deciding which school to apply for is a league table of this type.

"While no survey can completely capture the richness and impact of a two-year educational experience, we take the results of each survey seriously," Joel M. Podolny, dean of the Yale School of Management, said shortly after the U.S. News and World Review ratings were published in the school's official assessment of such lists.

"Our foremost objective is to understand what information that survey reveals about the perceptions and experiences of our key stakeholders to whom we are accountable," he said.

"We then integrate this information with that from many other sources as part of our ongoing effort to make institutional changes that support our very noble mission of educating leaders for business and society."


story.ratings.jpg

Ratings please: MBA lists are an important source of information.

FACT BOX

FT MBA Rankings
1. Wharton, U.S.
2. Columbia, U.S.
3. Harvard, U.S.
4. Stanford GSB, U.S.
5. London Business School, UK
6. Chicago GSB, U.S.
7. Insead, France/Singapore
8. Stern, NYU, U.S.
9. Tuck, Dartmouth, U.S.
10. Yale, U.S.
Source: Financial Times 2007

FACT BOX

MBA BASICS

The classic MBA is a two-year full-time program. Accelerated and distance learning MBAs are increasingly popular.

A typical MBA student has several years' work experience and is in their late 20s.

Those who take an Executive MBA, or EMBA, tend to be older, more senior managers.

Courses are expensive, but the rewards are high -- some new MBAs now get a $100,000 basic salary, according to a survey.

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