Why students should be given more control of Business School rankings

With growing demands for lifelong learning and greater diversity in the way people study, Business School rankings will have to adapt to match the changing landscape, says CarringtonCrisp’s Andrew Crisp

Pick your ranking, any ranking you like – there’s one to suit everyone. At least that’s how it feels at times. There are rankings for universities and Business Schools, rankings by region or country, rankings by subject, rankings by research performance, rankings by sustainability, even rankings by car parking space on campus (allegedly). However, it feels that many of these rankings are missing their fundamental purpose, which is providing useful information to prospective students.

Ask students what they want from a ranking, as the latest version of the CarringtonCrisp study The Business of Branding did, and on first view there are few surprises. Most important is the percentage of students employed within six months of graduation, followed by salary increase of graduates within a few years of graduation and percentage of students having an internship of more than one month during their degree. Slightly further back are employer ratings of the School and the number of high-quality research papers published by School faculty.

Measuring employment is not easy

All of these seem sensible measures, and these do often feature in many existing rankings. However, think for a moment about that first option, the percentage of students employed within six months of graduation. The result relies on data from graduates being reported on time to their university. It takes no account of the economic conditions in a country where a university is based and different graduation times around the world could mean some data is six months older than other data when it is published.

And then how do you define ‘employed’? More and more graduates may be working for themselves in some part of the ‘gig’ economy, some will have set up their own business and many will have gone on to further study for a particular career such as law, medicine or teaching. Measuring employment is not easy.

However, assuming that a reasonable set of definitions can be agreed on and there is acceptance that the data being collected from different institutions is comparable, then a ranking might be possible. There is no doubt that creating a ranking is a difficult task if it is to be widely accepted as valid and valuable.

Little consensus on what matters most

There may however be another problem, one that few rankings seem to be accounting for.  Although the percentage of students employed within six months of graduation was the top choice of students in The Business of Branding study, it was only chosen by 21% of respondents. Indeed, the top five different options chosen by respondents in the study were all selected by between 16% and 21% suggesting that there is little agreement even among those that rankings are aimed at.

When thinking about how your Business School is ranked by external organisations, please indicate what you think should be the most important information?

Percentage of students employed within six months of graduation 21%
Percentage of students having an internship/placement of more than one month during their degree 19%
Salary increase of graduates within a few years of graduation 19%
Employers ratings of the School 18%
Number of high-quality research papers published by School faculty 16%
Impact of the School in its local community 15%
Number and value of scholarships provided to students from underprivileged backgrounds 15%
Percentage of students having an international study experience during their degree 14%
Percentage of women studying on business degrees 13%
Percentage of female faculty teaching on business degrees 12%
Incorporation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals into the curriculum and the operation of the School 12%
Percentage of international students 12%

Source: The Business of Branding

Personalisation would give students more control

Rankings are undoubtedly going to be part of the higher education landscape for the foreseeable future, but a better experience for prospective students is surely possible.  Technology offers the opportunity to personalise the rankings experience and give more control to the key audiences they are aimed at.

No doubt rankings organisations and the institutions and individuals that provide that data will want to keep some of it confidential. However, it should be possible to make rankings more interactive so that prospective students can decide for themselves what is important and adjust weightings given to certain pieces of data.

A rankings organisation may have a sense of what they think is important and publish accordingly, but if an individual can go online and then create their own ranking from the same data, you increase the value of the information for the target audience. U-Multirank has attempted such a solution, but there are limited data points, some data is absent, not all universities take part, and not all data points are those that seem important to students.

With growing demands for lifelong learning, greater diversity in the way people study and a wider range of qualifications delivered in higher education, rankings will have to adapt to match the changing landscape, both in terms of providers and learners.

Individual personalisation of rankings would mean Business Schools and universities were better able to pursue their own mission rather than the same narrow group of rankings indicators decided by publishers. It would be the important end users of rankings – prospective students, with their diverse, imaginative and creative perspectives – that shaped the priorities for higher education.

Andrew Crisp is the Co-Founder of CarringtonCrisp, known for its work with Business Schools and universities around the world. Prior to setting up CarringtonCrisp, Andrew led the agency team that carried out a London Business School rebrand. He also worked as the Employment Correspondent for The European newspaper.

Delve further into the topic of rankings on Business Impact: read an article on how rankings can effect positive change in the industry by University of Bath School of Management Professor, Andrew Crane; and access AMBA & BGA’s own research into MBA rankings.

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