Ranking of Business schools

The main goal of this project is presenting reasons to redirect today's ranking forces towards a new Group ranking model. I will use a "nudging influencing style" ↓ in trying to diminish the importance people and B-schools give to medias pretentious ranking lists.

Many B-school boards, deans, and management invest much effort and funds on how to climb higher on leading media company Ranking lists. Every notch upwards matters. Or does it? I suggest a new Group ranking ↓ model.

01 Business schools - competition and culture

Business schools are, perhaps, in an increasingly competitive situation. I say perhaps because the story of increasing competition is a key selling point for accreditations that warrant better validation. And obviously, most B-schools don't compete with most B-schools. Relatively few, say 200-300, compete on a global scale. A larger number offer education & culture on a regional level, and most B-schools serve national or local markets. There are many dangerous effects if B-schools, that are part of a publicly funded university, increasingly see themselves as being a competitor in a (global) education market.

Rankings are oversimplified media-friendly constructions that trick us into believing things that are of mixed value. In this blogpost June 28, 2019 at AACSB: "4 Things You Might Not Know About MBA Rankings" (De Novellis M. 2019) you can read ...

But, choosing an MBA program based on ranking alone is a mistake. There are other factors to consider—cost, location, accreditation, program type, flexibility—and you need to establish whether a business school will deliver on your individual career goals.

The article is a must-read to understand MBA rankings. It says for example that ... there are so many rankings out there. To stand out, each ranking is purposely designed to be different, with different methodologies producing different results.

UN Global impact

The UN Global Compact is "The world's largest corporate sustainability initiative". ~10.000 companies have pledged to pursue these ten principles<. Principles 7, 8, and 9 refer to environmental issues and sustainabilty.

UN Global compact agenda

UN Global Compact and the company AVIVA have published a report 'Business School Rankings for the 21st Century', Pitt-Watson D., Quigley E. (2019). ref., another must-read in this context.

Most MBA ranking lists are published by media companies: Business Week, Financial Times, The Economist, Forbes, U.S. News, CEO world, and others. Lists of all sorts are very popular clickbaits, which is understandable. However, lists can be gamed, and also have some not originally intended second- and third-order effects. Lists will tempt B-schools to let list considerations influence their curriculum, choice of students, staff, and other factors.

There are commercial websites that produce B-school rankings of low value. One example is Eduniversal, which is run by a listed, unprofitable, according to Financial Times, small French company. It will not be missed if it doesn't survive.

As is shown in the image below, there is no universal ranking design, of which the media companies are well aware. Many readers of these rankings will likely value the "results" in reference to their preconceived ideas or interests. From a ranking perspective, it certainly appears better to have MBA:s enter into high remunerations jobs like banking, finance, and consulting as opposed to MBA:s who want to work with social innovations, environment, or the public sector.

mba ranking criteria

B-schools that are "interestingly high" on these lists publish it on their websites. Others go for accreditations - see analysis - or other branding options.

1.1  Second-order effects

The first-order effects of these ranking lists are, of course, more page views for the media companies. That alone justifies the costs they have for updating the lists, and perhaps reevaluate their ranking criteria.

There is a difference between strategizing and gaming in reference to ranking lists although both yield second-and third-order effects. The former is guided by serious work to make improvements in areas like teaching, research, and outreach. Gaming can take many shapes and forms and has an "iceberg nature" when it comes to visibility and transparency.

I recently came across an article about rank influencingSwedish flag, 2019, in the Swedish journal Universitetsläraren ('the University teacher')

KTH's ranking officer visited our department at the end of last year. We all clenched our fists in our pockets when we were informed that we should not publish ourselves at the largest, best, and most selective conference in our field, CHI, as these publications do not "get listed" in the Web of Science and therefore do not count. We were told that it would be a double positive if we instead published our research in journals - even though it is CHI that has the most impact and is the best merit for us. (KTH, Royal Institute of Technology)

Ellen Hazelkorn is one of the most experienced and well-known researchers in the field of higher education and university rankings. She has summarized her insights in 'The dubious practice of university rankings' (Hazelkorn 2019, ref.)

There are over 18,000 university-level institutions worldwide. Those ranked within the top-500 would be within the top 3% worldwide. Yet, by a perverse logic, rankings have generated a perception amongst the public, policymakers and stakeholders that only those within the top 20, 50 or 100 are worthy of being called excellent. Ibid.

Over the years, ranking organisations have become very adept at expanding what has become a profitable business model. Recent years has seen an increasingly close corporate relationship, including mergers, between publishing, data/data analytics and rankings companies. Ibid.

Although the focus of her article is the universities, the analysis is quite valid also for Business schools. Is this development yet another way that universities and Business schools lose control of their future?

1.2  Relation between Rankings and Accreditations

Does a university or a Business school need one or more accreditations to secure a top placement in ranking lists?

The authors Peters et al. (2018) ref has a clear answer in their book 'Rethinking the business models of business schools: A critical review and change agenda för the future'. The first thing to note about the book is -  

Strong support has come from funding by EFMD -The European Foundation for Management Development ... Ibid vii - a leading accreditation organisation.

The first driver for attracting potential MBAs is to achieve AACSB or EQUIS accreditations as that can be used as a differentiator. Accreditation is a must-have for business school looking to appear in rankings, certainly for the rankings published in the Financial Times. Rankings are the biggest overall driver of school attractiveness.
Ibid pp. 66

The quote states something as obvious, which it isn't and shouldn't be.
One could argue that the quote exposes yet another ambiguity about rankings. The authors conclude that their book is a call to action in search of a new business model for Business schools. They mention that innovation often comes from the fringes and that -

Moving to a new platform such as a digital mode would certainly be painful for those who have have made significant brick and mortar investments. [..] As business school leaders, we must take steps forward to innovate, experiment and try new models of delivering on our promise. Ibid pp. 178

02 Group ranking of Business schools and programs

As the currently dominant ranking lists are of limited value for most purposes one should consider other ways of designing them: here is a suggestion.

Grouprankings would be a good enough and helpful design for most users, including universities and B-schools. Let's say that B-schools - or programs - are divided into five groups and that the number in each group is not limited. If, for example, Group A started with some 50 B-schools, it wouldn't matter if B-school X is number 4 or 21. This would lead to a rethinking of the ranking ecosystem. Group ranking is a mix of absolute and relative measures. This concept can, and will, be further developed.

When lists are numbered, human nature tends to conclude that for example rank 5 is "much better" than rank 19, but Business schools and universities are not in a sports competition. So softening or dissolving the basis for that psychological trap would, in this context, be an important step forward.

By arranging Business schools, universities, and their programs, in groups, the incentives for list induced short term strategies and gaming would most likely fall.

If the new model were to have five groups, they will have a color code and eventually a name. For a starter, let's call them A, B, C, D, and E. The sorting will be based on a new and transparent set of criteria. Many of today's top-ranked Business schools would surely belong to the suggested A-group.

A primary goal is to incentivize an increased number of Business schools to improve.

Early draft for a Group Ranking model for Business Schools
Group level Size Comments
A ≈50  
B ≈50 - ≈200  
C ≈200 - ≈500  
D ≈500 - ≈1.500  
E ≈1.500 - ≈16.000  

The way you evaluate (rank) these B-schools will differ from today.
Group D and E evaluations will have to be web-based as the numbers are too large for personal attention. There could be some application procedure if a B-school thinks it has attained a higher grade quality. Again, this model is an early draft that needs improvements.

One of the allures of the present rankings is its simplicity. Ideas of making a more complicated ranking model will hardly get any traction in the media world. Thus, the goal is to create an even simpler but more relevant ranking model. I call this a quest for the right simplicity.

The earnings and research criteria will become less important. Some other factors will become more important ...

2.1  Some issues to consider

2.2  Ranking dynamics

One intended second-order effect of the new Group model would be a slower pace of rank changes. With lower dynamics the media interest will go down, and other factors than rank will eventually play a larger role.

2.3  Who will produce the Group ranking list?

Part of the challenge of this present project is to find an organisation that is suited for a Group ranking list. Ideally it should be made by a non-commercial organisation.

A new model could perhaps be created by another (media) company and eventually be co-marketed by an academic organisation such as LERU, League of European Research Universities. There are other possibilities. By creating a new concept and a new list, one wouldn't have to spend much time in discussing improvements of today's lists with the media companies. It takes a good concept and a marketing solution.

03 The importance of teaching

Great teachers help you grow. Many academics view Research, with a capital R, as the most important thing at a Business school. For two reasons, I do not share that view. First, there are severe problems in management research that will be hard to correct. Second, the teacher's familiarity with state of the art research is more important to students than any one's teacher's own focused and often journal intended research.

The volume of research in any field is overwhelming and is accessible for most researchers and many students. This was not the case when our present academic system and its career designs were designed. Even at the most prestigious Business schools and universities, almost all new theories and research will be produced somewhere else. This makes teaching and learning dialogues more critical than "local" research. See my analogy about innovations and welfare.

How could these factors be reflected in rankings? As this is difficult to measure, it contributes to my view of the drawbacks of today's ranking models. The discussion above doesn't argue that research isn't important.

04 The challenge to be more relevant

Responsible Research in Business & Management

RRBM - Responsible Research in Business & Management is a new (2014-) community (not an EFMD) project with the goal to transform the research culture toward meaningful scholarship for the business and management research field. The founders and a growing number of supporters and endorsers share a vision ...

Imagine a world where business or management research is used widely in practice and by business and other non-business organizations to improve the lives of people in our societies.

RRBM started as a response to an overly inward journal-fixated research praxis. The situation is neatly described in Tourish D.(2019) 'Management Studies in Crisis: Fraud, Deception and Meaningless Research'. See also this blogpost Can We Put Zest and Purpose Back Into Academic Life? An article 'Everything that's wrong with management research - in 5 minutes' was published by Tourish, ref in Oct 2019 in Management Today.

As far as I am aware, supporters of RRBM have not yet commented on the role of branding, rankings, and accreditations of business schools. These factors have an important role in redirecting academic practice, and management of our academic organisations and B-schools towards the goals of RRBM.

05 Nudging and changes in ranking models

The ranking business is widely entrenched in media, in the public eye, and at Business schools. Are there any drivers of change? Small changes can be made through nudging. The increased presence of an alternative Ranking ecosystem - Group ranking - may in the long run prove disruptive.


Nudging theory↗ enW became more widely known with the Nobel price in economics 2017. Nudging is a theory and a tool in behavioral economics that can be applied in many contexts. Many small influencies will eventually bring changes. Maybe, the book cover image "should" be sligthtly redesigned.

06 Nudging strategies and results

If nudging is to be a successful strategy one has to choose whom to influence and how to do it. That could evolve into a fairly complex matrix which makes the endeavor quite intriguing.

6.1  Nudging universities and Business schools

I will contact quite a few Busines schools and ask them some questions: how they see ranking, how they perceive the value of putting a rank on their web sites. I will invite them to comment on the Group ranking model and how such an ecosystem could be established.

Universities and Business schools have to ask themselves if they like the present "ranking model" or if they would be interested in developing a new model?

6.2  The role of academics and 'Slow - at speed'

Articles in academic journals, often behind paywalls, about the shortcomings of rankings of universities and Business schools are usually not very influential. However, they can describe a situation on which more change-oriented agendas can be based.

Influence from academic research usually takes a long time to reach decision-makers and the general public. It is a virtue that research takes time, but for some urgent societal problems, 'Slow - at speed' would be a useful attitude.

6.3  Nudging media companies

The most challenging companies to nudge will be those producing ranking lists. It is not probable that they will pay much attention to my suggested Group ranking model. However, I will, of course, try to open a dialogue with them.

A second and large category is the media that republish clickbaits based on the formers' yearly lists.

07 Your comments - (0)

Some comments will be published here, now (0)

08 References and Resources

  1. Altbach, Philip. (2012). 'The Globalization of College and University Rankings'. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning. 44. 26-31. | Online Pdf. 7pp. | Source: Researchgate
  2. De Novellis M. (2019) '4 Things You Might Not Know About MBA Rankings'. AACSB Blog | Online.
  3. Hazelkorn E. (2019). 'The dubious practice of university rankings'. | Online, Blog post
  4. Hazelkorn E. (2017) 'Rankings and higher education: reframing relationships within and between states'. Centre for Global Higher Education. Working paper no. 19. | Online, Pdf 49 pp.
  5. Judson K. M. (2009). 'Building a University Brand from Within: University Administrators' Perspectives of Internal Branding'. Services Marketing Vol. 30 2009:1 pp. 54-68. | Online
  6. Marsh H. & Hattie J. (2002). 'The Relation between Research Productivity and Teaching Effectiveness: Complementary, Antagonistic, or Independent Constructs?'. The Journal of Higher Education, Vol. 73, No. 5 (Sep. - Oct., 2002), pp. 603-641
  7. Peters K, Smith R.R., Thomas H. (2018). 'Rethinking the business models of business schools: A critical review and change agenda för the future'. Emerald Publishing Ltd.
  8. Pettigrew A. M., Cornuel E., Hommel U. editors (2014). 'The Institutional Development of Business Schools'. Oxford University Press. | download for free, Pdf 353 pages.
  9. Pitt-Watson D., Quigley E. (2019). 'Business School Rankings for the 21st Century'. United Nations Global Compact report | Online | Pdf 26 pp.
  10. Shin J.C. (2014) 'University Teaching: Redesigning the University as an Institution of Teaching'. In: Shin J., Teichler U. (eds) The Future of the Post-Massified University at the Crossroads. Knowledge Studies in Higher Education, vol 1. Springer, Cham
  11. Shin J.C., Toutkoushian R.K., Teichler U. (Editors). (2011) 'University Rankings: Theoretical Basis, Methodology and Impacts on Global Higher Education'.
  12. Tourish D. (2019). 'Everything that's wrong with management research - in 5 minutes'. Management today Oct 2019 | Online
  13. Tourish D. (2019) 'Management Studies in Crisis: Fraud, Deception and Meaningless Research'.

enW = English Wikipedia

  1. Centre for Global Higher Education CGHE.  An international research centre. A partnership of fourteen UK and international universities, based in Oxford.
  2. CEO World list of 131 best B-schools 2019.  Heavy US focus.
  3. Financial Times report on responsible business education.  Published Oct 21, 2019.
  4. Multirank. "U-Multirank is a multidimensional, user-driven approach to international ranking of higher education institutions." U-Multirank is supported by the European Commission. Free for students and participating universities.
  5. Poets & Quants,  US. Large site for information and stories about Business education.
  6. RRBM, Responsible Research in Business & Management.  Network of scholars.
  7. Thaler R. & Sunstein C.R. 'Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness' (2008) | Nudge - Wikipedia article
  8. United Nations Global Compact.  'The world's largest corporate sustainability initiative'. | Website
  9. Universum. & Large provider of employer branding services.

Published: Oct 2019.   Last updated: Nov 19, 2019

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