Illustration of sailboats by Neil Webb
© Neil Webb

Business schools are back in business as the demand for short management courses, the cash cow of many universities, has increased strongly over the past year. The buoyancy follows more than five years of declining revenues following the financial crisis in 2007 and the subsequent recession and is a clear indicator of confidence in a sustained economic recovery in Europe and North America.

The increased corporate spending in management training has enabled the FT to increase the number of business schools participating in its Executive Education ranking of short course providers, which teach non-degree programmes to corporations and working managers.

Customised programmes, designed specifically for individual companies, have shown the strongest growth – 80 business schools are ranked in 2014 for the first time in the 16-year history of the listings. Some 41 per cent of the 1,100 corporate clients that responded to the FT survey said their organisation was considering increasing its spending on executive education over the next three years.

Increases in executive spending have been sustained in both North America and Europe, but growth has been particularly strong in emerging markets. In Latin America the 10 schools that participated in the FT rankings this year saw an increase in revenues over the past two years of 32 per cent.

The Middle East has also proved particularly lucrative for European business schools, such as HEC Paris and London Business School. In November, the latter won a $38m contract to train top managers at the Kuwait Petroleum Company, the largest executive education programme in the school’s history.

For the 12th year running, Duke Corporate Education, part of Duke University in the US, topped the ranking for customised programmes. In the open enrolment category, in which programmes are open to managers from all companies, the Swiss business school IMD was ranked number one for the third consecutive year. Both rankings are based on client satisfaction, the diversity of participants and faculty and the international perspective of the schools.

Other business schools to score highly in the rankings include Harvard, Stanford and Chicago Booth in the US, Iese and Esade business schools in Spain, HEC in France and London Business School.

Comments on both types of programme reflect a high level of satisfaction. Many participants reported the course as a life-changing experience, while corporate customers praise their impact. This high level of customer satisfaction means businesses have developed a strong loyalty to the business schools that teach them. Ninety per cent of corporate customers are likely to reuse the same school for the same programme in future and 95 per cent are likely to contact the school for new programmes, according to responses to the FT survey.

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