A new ranking with a measure of sustainability
An ethical league table looks far beyond financial rewards, writes Des Dearlove in The Times
If you are thinking about taking an MBA, the chances are that you will be paying close attention to the latest business school rankings. But which ones should you be looking at?
Originally a US phenomenon, such rankings have proliferated in recent years. Their different methodologies can produce widely varying results. Many within the sector believe that what began as an attempt to provide consumer information has taken on a life of its own and now affects not just how they are reported but how business schools behave.
Most business school rankings emphasise salary increases after graduation and jobs in the finance sector, but that is not the whole story. Some students, however, are more interested in the green credentials and ethics of their chosen course. To help them, an alternative business school ranking is provided by Beyond Grey Pinstripes. This ranking is produced by the Aspen Institute, a non-profit-making organisation based in Washington and founded in 1950 to foster enlightened leadership.
First published in 1999 and produced every two years, Beyond Grey Pinstripes aims to inform prospective students and recruiters about the social, ethical and environmental impact of MBA teaching and research. The ranking evaluates how well business schools prepare students to face real-life challenges and make management decisions that benefit society. So, while more traditional rankings focus on tuition, starting salaries and what recruiters say, the Aspen survey takes a closer look at the actual content of MBA programmes and the skills and knowledge that students get for their time and money.
The Aspen ranking has a growing number of supporters in the corporate world, including several senior managers who have endorsed the website. "There is definitely a demand for the skills you get from courses based on sustainability concepts," says Anita Roper, director of sustainability at Alcoa. "The Beyond Grey Pinstripes report highlights those MBA programmes and professors that prepare managers to think holistically, instead of thinking functionally."
The latest report captures business school activities between August 2009 and July 2011, and includes 6,000 course descriptions and a similar number of faculty research programmes. In addition, schools submitted information about their extracurricular activities, degree programmes, and institutes and centres. In all, 149 schools participated, based in 22 countries on six continents.
The 2011 ranking used four scoring categories: 20 per cent is based on the number of courses offering social, environmental or ethical content; 25 per cent on student exposure to that content; 30 per cent depends on the number of courses that address the impact of mainstream business on sustainability; and the final 25 percent counts the number of scholarly articles written by faculty that relate to sustainable business practices.
Stanford in the US tops the latest ranking, followed by York University in Canada and IE University in Spain. The highest-ranked UK participant is Nottingham University Business School at 45. "While the traditional MBA rankings are important, the message we get from our students is that taking an MBA is not just about financial rewards," says Professor Bart MacCarthy, director of MBA programmes at Nottingham.
Santiago Ifiiguez is dean of IE Business School, the highest ranked European school in the Aspen study, and author of The Learning Curve: How Business Schools Are Re-Inventing Education. He says: "An effective and nuanced alternative to instil in managera a sense of social commitment is not to make ethics a specific subject, but to incorporate it into all subjects. This is the option recommended by the Aspen Institute's Centre for Business Education.
"Its Beyond Grey Pinstripes survey assesses business schools in terms of how they incorporate ethical and sustainability issues into their teaching. We have adopted this approach at IE Business School."
MacCarthy adds: "All business schools will have a view on the different rankings, their methodologies and how they are compiled. We expect to see an increase in both the number of alternative rankings and the kudos attached to them.
"The Beyond Grey Pinstripes ranking measures how well schools are preparing their students for the environmental, social and ethical complexities of modern-day business. This approach resonates with the values of many of today's MBA students"
This article originally appeared in The Times on 23rd November 2011.
Posted on Tuesday 29th November 2011