Harvard Business School has recovered its crown as the world’s top MBA provider, highlighting the importance of global brand recognition in the market for elite management training.
The school, credited with creating the first MBA class in 1908, was last in the highest spot in the annual Financial Times ranking of the top 100 business schools in 2015. It was then overtaken by Insead, the first non-US school to head the list. Insead came top of the rankings in 2016 and 2017, an indication of how business education has become a more global market, followed by Stanford Graduate School in 2018 and 2019.
Five years ago, there were just four Chinese schools in the top 50 of the FT list. This year there are seven, led by Shanghai-based China Europe International Business School.
Demand has been falling at most US business schools since 2015, forcing several institutions to end full-time campus-based MBA courses and switch to online-only provision.
The decline has been blamed on a tightening of US student work visas and anti-immigrant rhetoric from the White House, deterring overseas students. Such candidates are often key to making courses viable by paying the full tuition fees rather than receiving scholarships.
Those that are applying to business school are being more picky about their choices, focusing on brand-name institutions, according to Lawrence Linker, founder of admissions consultancy MBA Link.
“Applicants want to be convinced that an MBA is going to offer them overwhelming value, and they want it on their terms,” he said.
The combination of a strong jobs market and inflation-busting increases in tuition fees has also discouraged US nationals from undertaking postgraduate study, particularly if it means interrupting an already lucrative career in banking or software engineering.
Last year Harvard Business School acknowledged that cost might be an issue when it froze tuition fees for the 2019 intake at the previous year’s levels. Only one other top 10 institution followed suit: the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.
Falling demand has hit even well-regarded brands, such as Stanford Graduate School of Business, which was last year’s most highly ranked school but still suffered a 6 per cent drop in applications to its full-time MBA last year.
These premier league MBA providers are better able to cope with such declines, however, since they still receive many more applicants than they have places available on their courses.
Outside the US, the MBA market looks far healthier, particularly in Europe and the south-east Asian markets of Singapore and China, where applications have been rising even as the American market declines.
The highest climber in this year’s FT ranking is HEC Paris, which moved from 19th to ninth place, largely thanks to its value-for-money ranking and internationally diverse class. Only 6 per cent of its intake are French.
“We are proud to be recognised as one of the top 10 MBA programmes in the world,” said Peter Todd, dean at HEC.
“Our revamped curriculum launched in 2018 [with] a focus on providing students with up-to-date, impactful, and innovative knowledge grounded in the research of our faculty,” he added. “All this in combination contributes to the value our students bring to employers.”