Experimental feature

Listen to this article

00:00
00:00
Experimental feature
or

On arrival at Cambridge railway station, the most striking sight is not the university’s medieval colleges, most of which are on the other side of town, but a sea of cranes towering over a sprawling construction site.

The Cambridge Judge Business School campus is undergoing a 3,100 sq m extension. By next year it will increase the size of the school by more than a third, adding two lecture theatres and four seminar rooms. The development is a physical expression of the ambition of Christoph Loch, the dean, who says he wants to grow Judge to the point where it is “entrenched” among the highest ranking business schools in the world.

Judge, a relative upstart that was founded 25 years ago, has taken a step towards its goal, according to the annual global ranking of MBAs published by the Financial Times on Monday. The school was the biggest climber in the global top 10, rising five places to fifth. Its MBA is now the highest ranked in the UK, having overtaken that of London Business School for the first time.

Judge’s success, however, heavily relies on its international student intake. Ninety per cent of this year’s 173-strong MBA class came from overseas, according to the school. This makes Judge vulnerable to the challenges likely to be created by the UK’s departure from the EU. Potential hurdles are expected to include the loss of research funding, the need to secure more visas for students and staff and the possible dimming of UK career prospects for graduates.

“Any threat to pursuing dynamic post-MBA career opportunities in the UK will encourage many international applicants to think twice,” says Matt Symonds, a Paris-based director of Fortuna Admissions, which helps people applying to business schools.

Judge’s elevation in the FT’s rankings has been driven by the ability of its alumni to secure highly paid jobs. An FT poll shows average earnings three years after graduation from Judge are $164,714 for the class of 2013 — or 107 per cent more than their earnings before their MBAs. One reason behind this trend is a willingness among alumni to move long distances — first to study, then to find jobs upon graduation.

Milan Cooper graduated from Judge in 2013. He moved from New Zealand, where he had worked as a patent attorney and after graduating was hired by Bain, the management consultancy, in Oslo. Three years later, he has more than doubled the salary he earned before his MBA.

“There are many other courses that would get you into Bain but it helped to have a recognised university like Cambridge on my CV,” Mr Cooper says.

Judge’s tuition fees are relatively low: £51,000 compared with the £75,100 charged by LBS, which was also on Mr Cooper’s MBA shortlist. Judge’s course lasts 12 months, shorter than many other MBAs. This means lower foregone earnings and it is why the school’s course has the highest value-for-money score on this year’s FT MBA list.

Career opportunities exist for graduates planning to stay in Cambridge, one of the UK’s fastest-growing cities last year, data from the Centre for Economic and Business Research for law firm Irwin Mitchell show.

“Most of those who stay here do so to work in tech start-ups,” says Conrad Chua, head of MBA admissions, referring to the city’s reputation as a technology centre that has produced the likes of Arm, a chip designer, and Raspberry Pi, a matchbox-sized computer.

Judge has attempted to make itself the hub for all Cambridge students with start-up ambitions through its Entrepreneurship Centre, which it established in 2015.

However, remaining in the UK is likely to become more difficult for many of its students as Britain leaves the EU and enacts tighter immigration controls for those from outside Europe.

Prof Loch, a German national who taught at Insead for 17 years before taking charge at Judge in 2011, insists that the importance of the Cambridge brand will shield his school from any Brexit backlash.

Cambridge is one of those British universities, alongside Oxford, Imperial and Bath, that have been given privileged visa status. The Home Office’s pilot scheme was launched last year to ease restrictions on those seeking masters degrees.

Meanwhile, the threat of cuts to EU research money is “a small factor” for Judge, Prof Loch argues. But he admits that the falling value of the pound will make it more difficult to recruit faculty.

It was the Cambridge alumnus, Sir Isaac Newton, who pointed out that what goes up must come down. It is a phrase worth co-opting to help keep Judge’s leadership well grounded.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018. All rights reserved.