The Financial Times published its annual MBA rankings today and the Cambridge MBA came in joint 16th, an improvement of 10 places over last year. We were also ranked 26th two years ago. Much of the improvement in the rankings came from a large increase in our alumni’s weighted average salary, which in turn meant that we improved on the value for money rank. In a likely correlation between criteria, we also improved in the career progression rank. Another big improvement came in the percentage of the jobseekers in our most recent graduating class who found employment within 3 months of graduation. Our figure of 97% was the highest in the top 30 schools.
Obviously, I’m happy with the improvement in rankings but I want to reiterate a point that my colleagues and I have been making for some time now. Rankings are important in that they impose discipline on schools but they do not capture the entirety of a school’s culture, values and the outcomes of our graduates. Prospective candidates should not base their application decision purely on a school’s performance in rankings because rankings are volatile but a school’s culture and values stay constant for much longer. This applies equally to schools who rise in the rankings and those who dropped.
This point about volatility brings up, in my mind, an even more important point, which is whether there is a strong line of cause and effect between a school’s actions and its ranking. I’d be hard-pressed to explain to you what did we, the school, do to cause the large increase in alumni-weighted salary this year. Some of this increase could be due to the way the FT calculates the weighted salary because the FT uses a weighted average of salary data over three years (50% of the current year, 25% each in the two previous years). So part of the rise could be because we had a lower weighted salary three years ago and that has now dropped out of the calculations. But I am still none the wiser what caused the differences. As far as we know, there was nothing radically different between the classes. In the same way, we didn’t think there was anything significantly different in the classes who were surveyed when we dropped in the rankings.
We did have a significant change in our careers provision and the first class that benefited from these changes was the class where 97% of the job-seeking students accepted a job offer within three months of graduation.
So, if you are a prospective candidate, use the rankings as a guide but don’t make it the sole, or even the main criteria to decide on an MBA programme. Take time to learn about a school’s culture, its values and its community. As for us in the school, I think we will take just a moment to enjoy the breathing space that an improved ranking gives a school before we go back to improving the core offering of the MBA and reaching out to students with the right fit. I myself am writing this from my hotel room in Brussels where I will meet some very interesting candidates later today and tomorrow.