Should you choose an MBA based on rankings?

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Should you choose an MBA based on rankings?


The Master of Business Administration (MBA) rankings remain a highly contentious and controversial topic, and despite the global proliferation of rankings, the validity of ranking systems as credible measures of business school reputation is questioned by scholars, accreditation agencies and consumers worldwide.

Proponents argue that most ranking systems use narrow performance indicators that serve as substitution measures for various elements believed to be related to quality education. “More specifically, the criticism highlights the methodologies employed, the choice of indicators and the weightings, the quality of the data, the prejudices associated with how the data is collected, and its reliability as a measure of performance,” explains Dr Cobus Oosthuizen, dean of Milpark Education’s Business School.

“It is criticised as over-simplistic, reflecting convenient, readily available measures that are loose representations for what are considered highly complex, undefined and contentious phenomena. As a result, the linear structures imposed by rankings cannot capture the multidimensionality of the environment in which the business school operates,” adds Cobus.

What have critics said?

Rankings have come under fire by many academics who have questioned their validity, including:

1. Ilia Dichev, from the University of Michigan, argues that “…rankings are mechanical and incomplete aggregations of ‘noisy’ information”.

2. Dennis Gioia of the Penn State University and Kevin Corley from the University of Illinois, state that “…the dominating presence and perceived capriciousness and superficiality of the rankings has driven business schools toward a focus on image management, oftentimes at the expense of substantive program improvement”.

3. Duane Ireland of Texas A&M University talks about “reputational contests” with business schools pursuing the metrics used in rankings, “rather than concentrating on reaching the outcomes that are specified in their vision and mission statements.”

Should you choose an MBA based on rankings?

Although the criticism of rankings comes from numerous fronts, most commentators recognise that there is some level of ‘approximate truth’ regarding the value of rankings.

Gioia and Corley admit that rankings are not absurd, observing that “if they were absurd, most schools simply would not treat them seriously… Furthermore, they are useful to prospective students and recruiters who previously had to cope with a great deal of managed translucency on the part of schools.”

Certainly, rankings should not be the only consideration when choosing an MBA. “To choose an MBA on the grounds of a ranking alone would be short-sighted, ill-informed and uneducated. Sure, use the rankings, as it could serve as an indicator of reputation…but you must delve deeper, beyond the mere expression of a number. A single ranking number simply cannot be a substitute for a comprehensive assessment of business school quality,” adds Cobus.

19 Sep 2018