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How MBA rankings can get it all wrong

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 July, 2014, 10:49am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 July, 2014, 10:49am

In my first article, I wrote that MBA rankings fail to capture the multi-faceted nature of an MBA programme, and thus prospective students have to do their own research.  One glaringly obvious omission of ranking is its inability to consider the softer, but equally important, aspects of an MBA programme, such as student life and culture.  Recently, one business school ranking has tried to fix this deficiency, but their efforts back-fired, sparking controversy.

A collaborative environment means students are supportive and work together in team

In recent months, Bloomberg Businessweek sent an e-mail survey to graduating MBA students of certain business schools, seeking input for its biannual MBA ranking.  This survey differs from previous ones in that it includes a list of new questions. Some of these are truly original – they include questions on students’ sexual orientation, drinking habits, relationship status, and political affiliation. My favourite is:

Is your MBA program a good place for a single person to find casual dating partners?

Essentially, Bloomberg Businessweek is asking students how easy it is to get hooked up.

Their researchers and editors evidently think this factor must be so important that it warrants a place in the survey.  I have no doubt that to some students, nightlife defines their school life. To them, the ease of finding a casual date will be highly relevant to their choice of school.  However, is this so universally important that it has to be part of the business school ranking? Many people also find these questions highly private, inappropriate and offensive.

Bloomberg Businessweek defended their decision by saying that culture is an important part of an MBA education, and these questions are designed to reflect that. It is true that culture is equally important to the academics and career support of a school.  However, what people have in mind, but do not say, about good culture is one that is conducive to the advancement of scholarship, knowledge and career development. A collaborative environment means students are supportive and work together in team, not in bed.

Subsequently, the deans of a group of leading business schools – Chicago Booth, Columbia, Harvard, Kellogg, Stanford GSB, Yale and Wharton – signed a collective communiqué expressing their concerns about the inappropriateness of these questions, and demanding that they delete and remove them from the surveys. The episode ended when Bloomberg Businessweek agreed to remove the problematic questions, not use them in future surveys or cite the data obtained.