Analysis: The meat of the course matters

Listen to this article


Each year, the Financial Times surveys a number of people who undertook a management training or development programme at a business school during the previous year. The information gathered is used to create an annual ranking of “open enrolment” executive education programmes.

Business schools are not ranked on every executive education course they offer: the range is huge, courses can be very specialised, and there would be a danger of comparing oranges with tree frogs. Instead, schools are asked to nominate two generalist and non-degree awarding programmes. One aimed at mid-level managers, and the other an advanced programme designed for more senior employees. Respectively, these programmes should last for at least three and five days.

There are no other criteria related to the programmes surveyed so, in some cases, survey respondents will have spent several months doing a business school’s flagship “Advanced Management Programme”, while others may only have spent a few days completing a course such as “Finance for Non-Financial Managers”.

On the whole, the senior executives surveyed for the 2008 ranking studied for eight weeks or more and the middle managers for anything up to that. These large differences in time spent at a school do have an impact on response rates.

Overall, impressive numbers of participants replied this year – 37 per cent of all course participants took the time to send in their answers. Last year, 32 per cent replied. However, where a school had only the duration of a short course to gain the sway which might encourage someone to answer a questionnaire from a newspaper, there was a general trend for fewer responses.

Of those who did the longer, more advanced courses, 42 per cent filled in the survey. For the shorter, mid-level courses, 34 per cent of participants responded. Although fewer middle managers replied, the figure is still well over the 20 per cent response threshold for individual schools to be included in the ranking.

For this reason, and because the FT deems both types of offering to be of equal importance, data submitted by participants on both types of programmes are given equal weight in the calculations.

The FT sends out questionnaires for four annual rankings of business schools each year. The one for this ranking is, perhaps, the easiest to fill in as it does not demand great feats of memory like other surveys in which graduates are asked to comment on a degree that they finished three years previously and also to recall what their salary was at that time.

In the executive education survey, participants are asked to rate aspects of the course in 10 areas such as teaching materials, the quality of the other people in the classroom, and the R&R facilities (food and accommodation). They are then asked to score the importance of each of these areas.

There is a recurring pattern to the answers: each year, participants indicate that the “meat” of the course is the most important part; the way it has been designed, the faculty who deliver it, the new skills it teaches. Although it could be argued that revolting food, lumpy mattresses and grey, airless lecture theatres might have a significant impact on the overall educational experience, on the whole people feel that these are less weighty factors.

This year is no different. However, when it comes to ranking schools on how well they did in each of these areas, the 2008 ranking presents a definite contrast to 2007. Business schools will surely be interested to note that this year participants felt that the second-best thing about the course was the food and accommodation. They ranked it higher than everything except teaching faculty. Last year it was fifth of the 10 areas.

This year’s voters also felt that schools did less well overall in terms of the “diversity and quality of other participants”.

At the bottom of the honours list is follow-up. It is easy to imagine that providing any level of meaningful follow-up must be difficult for an institution seeing large numbers or people through relatively short courses. The participants themselves acknowledge this problem, perhaps, by consistently marking follow-up as one of the least important factor in their experience.

At the level of individual business-school performances, there is nothing in the 2008 table to surprise a regular FT executive education rankings-watcher. Harvard Business School comes top for the second year running. On the points that lie behind the ranking, it has a comfortable lead over the Darden School of Business of the University of Virginia, which would have to increase its score by 9 per cent to catch up. The Harvard-Darden gap is the second-widest gap in the table. The point scores of other schools in the table are generally much closer together.

In total, six of the 10 highest schools are making a top-10 appearance for the third consecutive year. Among the 50 schools that are ranked this year, there are two newcomers – both European – Oxford University’s Saïd Business School and NHH/AFF in Norway. There is also one school that is ranked again after a year’s absence: the China Europe International Business School (CEIBS).

A league of their own
Top 10s in selected open enrolment categories
US schoolsEuropean schoolsQuality of participantsNew skills & learning
1 Harvard Bus. School1 IMD1 Harvard Bus. School1 Harvard Bus. School
2 U. Virginia: Darden2 IE Bus. School2 Stanford U. GSB2 UCLA: Anderson
3 Stanford U. GSB3 Iese Bus. School3 Columbia Bus. School3 Ipade
4 C. for Creative Ldrshp.4 London Bus. School4 U. Pennsylvania: Wharton4U. Virginia: Darden
5 Columbia Bus. School5 Insead5 London Bus. School5IE Bus. School
5 UCLA: Anderson6 SDA Bocconi6 IMD6HEC Paris
7 U. Chicago GSB7 Essec Mngmt Education7 Insead7Stanford U. GSB
8 U. Pennsylvania: Wharton8 HEC Paris8 MIT: Sloan8Columbia Bus. School
9 Northwestern U: Kellogg9 ESCPEAP Epn. Sch. Mngmt9 Northwestern U: Kellogg9U. Chicago GSB
10 MIT: Sloan10 Cranfield Sch. Mngmt.10 U. Virginia: Darden10Fundação Dom Cabral
Aims achievedFollow-upFoodAccommodation
1 Harvard Bus. School1 IE Bus. School1 Stanford U. GSB1 IMD
2 Stanford U. GSB2 Queen’s Sch. of Business2 Northwestern U: Kellogg2 Stanford U. GSB
3 U. Virginia: Darden3 Iese Bus. School3 Harvard Bus. School3 U. Virginia: Darden
4 UCLA: Anderson4 Cranfield Sch. of Mngmt.4 U. Virginia: Darden4 U. Chicago GSB
5 C. for Creative Ldrshp.5 C. for Creative Ldrshp.5 U. Wisconsin-Madison5 U. Wisconsin-Madison
6 IMD6 SDA Bocconi6 Duke U: Fuqua6 U. Pennsylvania: Wharton
7 U. Pennsylvania: Wharton7 Essec Mngmt. Education7 Babson Exec. Education7 Babson Exec. Education
8 London Bus. School8 Ipade8 Columbia Bus. School8 C. for Creative Ldrshp
9 Columbia Bus. School9 Fundação Dom Cabra9 Queen’s Sch. of Business9 Fundação Dom Cabral
10 IE Bus. School10 Harvard Bus. School10 IMD10 Northwestern U: Kellogg
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't copy articles from and redistribute by email or post to the web.