The 13th anniversary of the Financial Times MBA ranking is marked by London Business School and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania sharing the prime position. The top three is completed by Harvard Business School, the only other school to have claimed the title of best MBA programme over the ranking’s lifetime.

Wharton’s return to the top after losing out to LBS last year is not surprising – it was number one for nine consecutive years, both jointly and on its own, from 2001 to 2009. Its return to form comes on the back of strong alumni earnings data. Last year’s ranking saw Wharton alumni salaries drop following the economic downturn. Data gathered from the graduating class of 2007, collected by the FT for this year’s ranking, show that earnings have rebounded, boosting the weighted, three-year-average salary for Wharton graduates to $171,550 (measured in terms of purchasing power parity) – a growth of almost 7 per cent compared with 2010.

Last year’s Wharton graduates found jobs much more easily than their peers from 2009 – 84 per cent of those looking for employment entered work within three months of graduation, up 9 percentage points on the previous year. This – along with strong performances in both doctoral and research ranks, two measures computed by the FT to gauge the quality and quantity of a school’s generation of new ideas – was enough to close the gap on LBS.

Meanwhile, LBS celebrates three years at the top. It shared the title with Wharton in 2009 before taking it outright in 2010. While its alumni salaries were lower than the Pennsylvanian school’s, LBS picked up points for the uplift in pay enjoyed by graduates. On average, LBS alumni are earning 132 per cent more three years after graduation than before they started their MBAs.

In terms of internationalism, LBS students are the second most likely to have moved around the world during or after their degree. Eighty-five per cent of its faculty are international and more than nine in 10 of its MBA enrolments last year were from non-British students.

The trends at the top are mirrored elsewhere. Overall, alumni salaries appear to have recovered in 2010. Of the 81 schools that have featured in each of the past three years’ rankings, 61 saw increases in average weighted salaries compared with last year’s ranking. This contrasts with more than half of schools recording decreases the previous year. But in spite of the improvement in pay reported throughout 2010, the average weighted salaries of 32 of these 81 schools remain lower than those recorded in 2008 for the 2009 ranking.

A more detailed salary analysis shows big differences between sectors of employment. The highest-earning alumni are in banking and finance, with an average salary of almost $160,000. Nearly three in 10 who completed the FT survey said they worked in this sector, making it the most popular. Consultancy was the second most popular, both in terms of the numbers of alumni and the average salary. The 15 per cent of alumni working as consultants reported an average salary of $140,500.

MBA graduates working in other countries earn more than their locally employed counterparts. With an average salary of roughly $143,800, international workers’ pay is higher by more than $7,000.

In spite of the dominance of the top three schools, there is movement elsewhere in the table. The Hong Kong University of Science & Technology continues its rapid ascent. It entered the ranking at number 17 in 2008 and broke into the top 10 last year. Now it is in sixth place. Iese is close behind. The Barcelona-based school enters the top 10 this year, ranked joint ninth with MIT Sloan School of Management.

The Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, is the highest-placed newcomer. Impressive salary data, both in terms of the average three years after graduation ($174,440) and increase in earnings following the MBA (152 per cent), enabled it to debut at number 11. These data are consistent with another key ranking metric – IIMA alumni top the list for career progression, a measure that compares students’ job titles before and three years after completing their MBA.

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