Finding the Right MBA Programme

As this is my first entry on visualizing data through analytics, I believe it is fair to start with a story that is close to my heart. At the time of this writing, I am pursuing an MBA with Manchester Business School, of the University of Manchester. I made the decision to pursue an MBA with this business school due to a number of factors, and they were all derived using some simple analysis, which I will share in this post.


MBA Rankings Overview

Those of you who are familiar with MBA programmes may have heard about MBA rankings, published by a number of organizations. There are many arguments for and against MBA rankings. Each publication has its own unique methodology which may lead to certain criteria being weighted higher than others. Moreover, certain parties may choose to game the ranking system by focusing on heavily weighted criteria which gives them favourable ranks. However, this post is not about debating the merits of the ranking systems. If you are interested, you may read this article by Poets & Quants, which discusses the pros and cons of MBA ranking publications.

There are a number of publications that rank MBA courses from business schools all over the world. Arguably, chief among the ranking organizations are BusinessWeek, Forbes, U.S. News & World Report, Financial Times, The Economist, and The Wall Street Journal. Naturally, the rankings among all of them differ due to the different methodologies used. There are a few reputable articles comparing the methodology, dimensions and criteria used by these publications in order to come up with the best, unbiased ranking system. The one I like best is again from Poets & Quants, which you may read in this article.

While I often find these studies to be interesting and insightful, I need to find an MBA programme that is specifically tailored to my needs. Potential students may find Official MBA Guide to be insightful, however I believe I would conduct my own analysis that is again, specifically tailored to my needs. That is the key here. And so, I sat down and thought about what are the most important criteria that I need for my own tailored MBA programme. This analysis happened in the fourth quarter of 2011.

One major challenge I faced in the course of deciding an MBA programme is time. For quite a number of reasons, I had to make a quick decision at the time, within weeks to be more exact. Detailed analysis of all MBA programmes was therefore not practical, as it would have taken me months to do a complete analysis. This is one of the challenges that everyone faces in their career. You want to do a complete and perfect job, but time and urgency always seem to get in the way. Therefore, you need to prioritize and decide at what minimum analysis level you are willing to pursue in order to come up with acceptable results.


Criteria for My Ideal MBA Programme

The most important criterion for my decision is an MBA programme’s reputation and branding. There are many opinions on this, with no way to definitely say one is better than the other. As difficult and arguable as it is, I believe that the ranking trend of the various ranking systems would provide a valuable indicator as to how the various publications view each business school, hence, its reputation and branding. There are many ranking systems in the world, and I did not analyse all of them. Each publication may have more than one MBA ranking, tailored for various categories such as full-time, online, and others, which make exact comparisons extremely time-consuming. For this purpose, I decided to analyse only the ranking of Financial Times. Based on this article by Poets & Quants, it seems to be (again, debateable) the best ranking out of all the available publications.

The second criterion in my decision is flexibility, specifically, the ability to pursue the course as a part-time student and also having almost free reign on my study structure in my home country of Malaysia. I have a career which I would not abandon for a full-time programme. Moreover, I figured that networking with people and completing assignments would be more favourable if I have a full-time job, as I can then rely on my career in case I need it throughout my study and the various assignments that come along with it.

The third criterion is accreditation. There are three largest and most influential business school accreditation associations, namely AACSB, AMBA, and EQUIS. At the time of my analysis in 2011, there were only 55 business schools worldwide that have all three accreditations, and they are called triple crown business schools. The current list can be found on this page, which numbers 58 now (at the time of this post). My ideal business school would be one that is a triple crown. Note that many renowned business schools do not have triple crown status, like Harvard Business School. Therefore, to some people, this may not be a key criterion at all. However, for me it is important due to the branding and marketability it brings. The triple crown status also conveys the message that an MBA programme has been recognized by three regions, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Europe – the respective home bases of the three accreditation associations.

Therefore, to put those conditions in a more organized manner, they are as follow:

  • Branding – consistent upward or flat trend in Financial Times Global MBA Ranking 2011.
  • Flexibility – via part-time study.
  • Accreditation – triple crown status.


Analysis of Financial Times Global MBA Ranking 2009 – 2011

Due to the time limitation, my analysis has become somewhat simple. All I needed was the ranking from Financial Times for 2011 Global MBA Ranking, the list of triple crown business schools, and figured out which ones among those offer part-time MBA in my home country. The annual ranking by Financial Times shows the result of the current year with the previous two years, and so my analysis would cover the years 2009 to 2011. Of course, there are published rankings from prior to 2009, however, again due to time limitations, I decided to only focus on these time period.

The result of this simple analysis is shown in the embedded Microsoft Excel chart below. I have noticed that sometimes the file does not load properly. Reloading the page may help load the chart.

You will note that there are filters at the top left of the chart, which allows one to view entire list of business schools in the ranking and also segregation by country. There is also a filter in the legend area that allows individual schools to be selected. Feel free to play around with the filters as sampled in the animation below. I noticed that sometimes the filters do not work on first try. Please ‘right click’ and select ‘refresh’. That should enable the filters properly.

mba rank filter animation

The default view of the pivot chart shows the result that I was looking for. As it turned out, there were only two business schools which have triple crown status and offered part-time MBA in Malaysia at the time, the Manchester Business School and the University of Strathclyde Business School. I needed to decide between these two business schools.

First, the flexibility of each part-time programme. Manchester Business School offered what is termed blended learning. Each module has a three-day workshop which is taught directly by the faculty. These workshops are available at the school’s eight global centres, and students are allowed to choose different centres for each module. This would come in handy in case of conflicts in schedules. At the time, Malaysia is one the global centres. The rest of the study is conducted via self-study, participation in online portal, and online tutorials. University of Strathclyde Business School offered weekend classes for intensive seminars and alternate Sundays for regular classes. The seminars are taught directly by the faculty and the regular classes by local counsellors qualified by the faculty. There were no other global centres other than the one in Malaysia. Please note that these details may have changed at the time of this posting, and you may refer to the many online resources with regards to the latest offering by these two business schools. I concluded that Manchester Business School offered more flexibility then University of Strathclyde Business School. The three-day workshop per module would give me better freedom in studying on my own. Plus, the eight global centres would allow me to adjust my schedules accordingly should there be a need to switch jobs or travel abroad in the course of my programme.

Second, let’s look at the result of the Financial Times ranking itself. It would seem that from 2009 to 2011, University of Strathclyde Business School had been dropping in rank, while Manchester Business School had been quite stable within the 29 to 40 range. I needed to choose a business school that would still be in the ranking by the time I graduate from the MBA programme and hopefully, in futures to come. This would ensure good return on investment. Looking at the ranking, we can conclude that Manchester Business School would likely maintain their rank within the 30 to 40 range, while University of Strathclyde Business School may fall even lower or be entirely out of the top 100 list. Either way, it seems clear to me that based on ranking, Manchester Business School fairs better. Retrospectively looking back, my analysis was spot on as University of Strathclyde Business School did not make it to the top 100 list in 2012 ranking and only faired in the low 87th place in 2013 ranking, while Manchester Business School has fared in the 30th to 40th place in both years.

Based on the result of this analysis, and the extent to each available school’s offering, I decided to go with Manchester Business School. It has been a wonderful experience for me personally, as I met some very wonderful people in my MBA class, and we work extremely well together. It has been one rewarding experience and the journey is not yet over. I still have about one more year to complete the programme. Looking back, it was this methodical analysis that has brought me to this wonderful experience. And thus, it has shaped my belief that data can tell wonderful stories, stories that would help illuminate the world around us and help us make the right choices in many aspects of our life.

As a follow-up to this simple MBA programme analysis, I believe it is only fair that I go for a full-scale analysis. One of the projects that I am working on is analysing the MBA rankings of the six major publications listed above. As mentioned, it is time consuming and there are a lot of factors that I need to consider, so it may take some time to complete. I do hope that once the analysis is complete, I shall continue to update it every year as new rankings are published, and that you, my readers, may participate in what additional features you would like to see in the analysis.

Thank you very much, and remember, always seek knowledge.

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