As the Financial Times publishes its ninth annual Masters in Management special report, the ranking of degree programmes continues to carry weight among students, schools and recruiters.

“Programme rankings are, with international accreditations, part of a set of performance items that will help [schools] improve [their] standards of quality,” says Olivier Guyottot, director of the ESC Montpellier Mim programme.

Each ranking is differentiated by the criteria that informs it.

“Criteria are insightful indicators of [a programme’s] performance in so far as they reflect student ambitions,” says Marco Mongiello, director of the Mim at Imperial College Business School.

In addition, any ranking’s credibility depends on the quality of information that informs it. How the FT gathers relevant information from schools and their alumni, and then transforms it into the final programme ranking, is outlined in each ranking’s methodology.

What can the FT ranking tell you?

The FT ranking independently evaluates comparable masters programmes offered by internationally accredited business schools that meet minimum conditions for participation. The ranking is informed by an established set of weighted criteria that range from alumni salaries to teaching faculty diversity.

Ranked schools can be compared according to each of these criteria, and their relative strengths and weaknesses can be identified. The ranking “acts like a compass that discloses how a given programme performs relative to others,” says Omid Aschari, managing director of the University of St Gallen’s top-ranked master’s course in strategy and international management.

Given that all schools have met strict criteria to be considered for the FT ranking, those courses that are ranked can be considered among the best in the world. “Rankings are a certificate of quality . . .[and] a signal that a programme is credible”, says Mr Mongiello.

A programme’s ranking can, of course, influence external stakeholders, including recruiters. “Potential employers do regard rankings as important when choosing universities as their preferred recruiting grounds,” says Mr Aschari. “As such, rankings have a signalling effect.”

What can the FT ranking not tell you?

Although the Mim ranking includes a wide range of criteria, there are inevitably some measures of a programme’s quality that are not included.

Mr Guyottot argues that although rankings allow prospective students to compare programmes from different countries, they do not account for the cultural differences between them and their higher education systems.

Imperial’s Mr Mongiello points to different styles of instruction and learning – between countries and even between individual schools – that may also not be accounted for directly in rankings. While some schools may employ the case method of teaching, for example, others adopt more didactic approaches.

Teaching materials may also differ significantly, as well as the extent of online tuition. The amount of teamwork will also vary, as will the means of course assessment (through exams and coursework).

Each institution moreover has its own ethos. “Students have to belong to a programme, it’s not something for consumption,” says Mr Mongiello. “If you are to be labelled ‘Imperial College’ for life, you have to share our values.”

Using the FT ranking in context

Given that the rankings cannot take account of all factors that will be important to prospective students, course directors maintain that applicants should also research specific measures of interest to them.

“Masters in management degrees are not all the same,” says Mr Mongiello. “Look at the rankings, of course, but spend time looking at the content of the programmes.”

“Don’t take the ranking as a ‘waiver’ to miss out doing your homework,” says Mr Aschari, citing school relationships with recruiters, employability and the strength of the alumni network as examples.

Mr Guyottot recommends that prospective applicants speak to teaching faculty and students – present and past – to get a better feel for the programme they are considering applying for. “It is because you feel good in [a course] that you will be successful academically,” he says.

Ultimately, time spent researching and comparing courses will pay off, says Mr Mongiello. “In proportion to the time that you will spend as a student on the programme, the time devoted to research is nothing.”

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