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Two schools are better than one: this might be the headline story of this year’s MBA ranking. Harvard, long-time runner up in the Financial Times MBA rankings, has regained its title as the world’s number one business school after four years, but it has to share the title with the Wharton school at the University of Pennsylvania, which has owned the top spot since 2001. (Click here for the top 100 full-time global MBA programmes PDF table)

Harvard has been within an inch of taking the top slot in the FT rankings for several years, but most significant is the gap between these two and the trailing pack. This year they are 20 points clear of Columbia at number three – 20 points below Columbia is Insead, ranked eight.

Although the headline rank is usually the cited number in rankings, the three-year average rank is particularly significant among the top schools this year. Seven scored an average rank of six or better over the past three years – five US schools and two from Europe, London Business School and Insead.

Movement at the top of the table has been caused by the return of recruiters in the finance and banking sector and the high salaries there; and the decline of schools with one-year programmes.

Some 29 per cent of respondents to the FT survey work in finance and banking today and they earn higher salaries than respondents in any other sector. On average, men earn $132,565 today, three years after graduation, and women earn $110,930.

However, the highest salaries of all in this sector are earned by alumni from the Tuck school at Dartmouth College. Their respondents in this sector earn just under $180,000 today, three years after graduation ($179,231). They beat alumni from Stanford ($175,734), Chicago ($163,381), MIT ($162,978), Harvard ($157,683) and LBS ($153,870).

This pushed pushed Tuck up the table from 10th position last year to seventh this year, displacing Insead and the Stern school at NYU in the process. Surprisingly perhaps, alumni from neither of the two New York schools, Columbia or Stern, ranked in the top 10 for salaries in finance and banking.

Of the 17 programmes ranked this year that last for 12 months or less, 11 dropped down the table, including Insead and IMD. Even more – Ashridge, Theseus, ENPC – fell off the table altogether. The biggest determining factor in this has been the salaries earned and the increase in salary these alumni enjoy.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that in a bad year for finding jobs, those MBAs who study on a two-year programme and complete an internship in a company or firm as part of their programme have a better chance of getting a good job at the end of it. However, the FT holds no data on the number of alumni who were recruited by the company or firm with which they completed their internship.

The data shows that after graduation, IMD MBAs took jobs that gave them a 20 per cent increase over their pre-MBA salary. At Insead the increase was 31 per cent. At the two top European two-year programmes, London Business School and Iese Business School, the comparative figures were 43 and 81 per cent.

Three years after graduation IMD alumni had enjoyed a salary increase of 74 per cent, Insead alumni 80 per cent and LBS and Iese alumni 124 and 158 per cent respectively. (The figures printed in the table show the percentage increase weighted over three years, so will be different from these figures.) Particularly difficult for these two schools is that all IMD’s participants, and one of the two cohorts at Insead, graduate in December. In 2001 this was a particularly difficult year.

While those MBAs who graduated in May or June 2001 had to face the difficulties of a downturn in the economy, their peers who graduated in December had also to face the uncertainty following the devastating September terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

The two biggest risers in the table this year were Esade Business School in Barcelona, and the Mendoza school at the University of Notre Dame. The Esade rise reflects a change in the MBA programme there, introduced in 2000, including a more rigorous assessment of applicants and an improved career service. Notre Dame scored highly on the career progress and salaries of its alumni: 92 per cent of the aspirations of the alumni – change of career, earning more money etc – were fulfilled, one of the highest scores on the table.

The biggest losers, as always, are in the bottom half. The Moore school at the University of South Carolina has dropped furthest, though for it to have retained its position of 36 it would have had to earn a further 40 points – the same number of points as differentiates Harvard and Insead at the top.

With eight schools entering the table this year (plus the re-entry of Tec de Monterrey) what is particularly notable is how close the schools are in the lower half of the table. Indeed, the score difference between Harvard and Wharton at the top of the table, and the Simon school at the University of Rochester in 27th position, equals that between the Rotterdam school of management and ESCP-EAP – 72 places in total.

The other big story is the rise of Chinese schools, Ceibs in Shanghai and Hong Kong UST and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Ceibs’ extraordinary rise is due to the 191 per cent salary increase experienced by alumni. Given that almost all of them are Chinese and worked in China before and after graduation, this could be a sign that Chinese companies now place a real value on the MBA.

Additional research by Ursula Milton. Database Consultant: Judith Pizer at Jeff Head Associates, Amersham, UK.

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