For the 17th year running, the Financial Times has ranked the world’s leading providers of executive education programmes — that is, non-degree courses for companies and working managers.

The rankings come in three parts. One ranks the top 85 business schools that offer customised programmes tailored to the training needs of the organisations that commission them. One evaluates the top 75 open-enrolment courses — courses on specific topics such as leadership that are directed toward all professionals regardless of their employer. A third ranking combines the other two to give the top 50 schools in the executive education field.

Schools taking part must be internationally accredited and have earned revenues of at least $2m in 2014 from either their customised or open programmes. This year, a record combined total of 102 schools took part in one or both rankings.

The ranking of customised course providers is compiled using data from the business schools themselves and from organisations that commissioned courses in 2014. These clients, nominated by the school, complete an online questionnaire about their programme. At least five of their clients must complete the FT survey for a school to be eligible for the final ranking.

Clients select one of three options to categorise their programme: strategic — delivered to top management and designed to influence a company’s direction; general — delivered to management on operational aspects of a company; or functional — related to a specific function, such as marketing.

Client responses are weighted according to the programme type. Strategic programmes have the largest weighting and therefore the greatest impact on the ranking. Responses are also weighted according to the seniority of the individual responsible for specifying the course, the size of the client organisation and the number of schools with which that client has commissioned customised courses in the past three years.

The FT survey was completed by around 1,100 business school clients this year — 51 per cent of those invited. Each rated their programme on a 10-point scale according to a range of indicators. Their answers directly inform the first 10 of the ranking’s criteria — from course preparation to value for money and future use — which account for a combined 80 per cent of the ranking’s weight. The last five criteria, calculated from information provided by schools, evaluate the extent to which schools are internationally diverse in terms of course provision and nationality of clients and participants, as well as faculty.

The open-enrolment ranking is compiled using data from course providers and individuals who completed their nominated management programmes in 2014. Schools submit one or two general courses of at least three days in length, and one or two advanced courses of at least five days. At least 20 per cent of these programmes’ participants must complete the FT survey, with a minimum of 20 responses, for a school to feature in the final ranking.

About 6,000 participants answered this year’s survey — a 36 per cent response rate — rating elements of their programme on a 10-point scale. Responses by advanced and general-level participants are collated separately and then combined with equal weighting to calculate the first 10 ranking criteria. These criteria, which include the quality of course design, of the teaching and extent to which expectations were met, inform 80 per cent of the ranking. School data are used to calculate the remaining criteria.

For both rankings, information collected in the preceding two years is used, where available, to calculate criteria informed by client and participant responses. If a school has participated for the past three years, the weighting is 40:33:27, with 2015 data counting for 40 per cent. If two years of information is available, the weighting is 55:45, with 2015 data carrying 55 per cent.

The weightings accorded to the first nine and 10 criteria in the customised and open rankings respectively are determined by the level of importance that clients and participants attach to each in their 2015 surveys. Ranking weightings for these criteria therefore vary slightly from year to year. The weightings of criteria informed by school surveys remain unchanged from year to year, however.

Z-scores — formulae that reflect the range of scores between the top and bottom school — are calculated for each criterion. These scores are weighted according to the weightings outlined in the keys and aggregated. Schools are ranked according to these final aggregated scores for both customised and open-enrolment rankings.

Schools that feature in both rankings are eligible for the combined overall ranking. The top 50 schools are calculated according to an equal weighting of the total scores achieved in both rankings, rather than an average of ranking positions.

Judith Pizer of Jeff Head Associates acted as the FT’s database consultant

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