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The second annual Financial Times ranking evaluates the world’s best online MBA programmes.

The programmes must meet strict criteria to be considered for the ranking. The school must be internationally accredited and its programmes must have run for at least four consecutive years. At least 70 per cent of the programme content must be delivered online. Finally, the participants must pass a selection process before enrolling and an examination process before graduating.

This year, 18 programmes took part in the ranking process. Data for the rankings are collected using two online surveys — one completed by participating schools and one by alumni who graduated from their nominated programmes in 2011. For schools to be ranked, 20 per cent of their alumni must respond to the survey, with at least 20 fully completed responses.

A total of 532 alumni took part in the ranking, a response rate of about 25 per cent.

Alumni responses inform six ranking criteria that are common to the FT rankings such as “salary today” and “aims achieved” and two additional criteria specific to the alumni’s online experience: “programme delivery” and “online interaction”. Together, the alumni criteria account for 65 per cent of the ranking’s weight.

Salary today, the most heavily weighted criterion (20 per cent), is based on alumni current salaries. Salaries of non-profit and public sector workers, as well as full-time students, are removed. Remaining salaries are converted to US dollars using purchasing power parity (PPP) rates supplied by the International Monetary Fund. PPP conversion — based on the premise that identical goods should cost the same in different countries — accounts for differences in the relative strength of currencies. The very highest and lowest salaries are subsequently removed, and the mean average current salary is calculated for each school. The resulting figure carries 20 per cent of the ranking’s weight.

“Salary increase”, which accounts for 10 per cent, measures the difference in the alumni average salary on graduation and three years after. Half of this figure is calculated according to the absolute increase and half to the percentage increase.

Where available, information collated by the FT in the past two years is used for alumni-informed criteria. Responses from the 2015 survey carry 60 per cent of total weight, and those from 2014 attract 40 per cent. For salary figures, the weighting is 50:50 for two years’ data.

“Value for money” is derived from fees, other costs and financial help reported by the alumni, and information from the past two years is used.

The first criterion specific to online programmes, “programme delivery”, is based on the extent to which alumni rate the online delivery of live teaching sessions, other teaching materials and online exams. The second web-learning-specific criterion, “online interaction”, is based on the extent to which alumni rate the interaction between students, teamwork and the availability of faculty.

Information provided by the business schools themselves informs 10 criteria that collectively account for 35 per cent of the final ranking. These measure the diversity of teaching staff, board members and online MBA students, according to gender and nationality. For gender-related criteria, schools that have a 50:50 (male:female) composition receive the highest possible score.

With the exception of the “doctoral rank” category (measuring the number and progress of doctoral graduates from each school over the past three years), criteria based on school surveys use only the 2014 data.

The FT research rank, which accounts for 10 per cent of the ranking, is calculated according to the number of articles published by schools’ full-time faculty in 45 internationally recognised academic and practitioner journals. The rank combines the absolute number of publications, between January 2012 and December 2014, with the number of publications weighted relative to the faculty’s size.

The FT Online MBA ranking is a relative ranking — an FT score is finally calculated for each school. First, Z-scores — mathematical formulas that reflect the range of scores between the top and bottom school — are calculated for each respective ranking criterion. These scores are then weighted according to the weights outlined in the ranking key, and added together for a final score.

Judith Pizer of Jeff Head Associates acted as the FT’s database consultant. The FT research rank was calculated using Scopus, an abstract and citation database of research literature.

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