Online learning has become a staple as the world’s top business schools are disrupted by digital technologies. But where the US has historically dominated league tables for traditional formats, the digital MBA has found a home in cities like London, France and Madrid.
Spain’s IE Business School topped the QS Distance Online MBA Rankings 2015, followed by Warwick Business School of the UK. The QS ranking echoes a ranking published by the Financial Times in March.
Both schools have been early movers in the online race. Although online delivery is a relatively new method of learning, the average length of programs ranked by QS is 15 years. Students have nine years’ work experience, on average.
The QS ranking places most emphasis on the reputation of an online MBA program among international employers. One of the challenges digital degrees face is being seen by recruiters as of equal value to traditional MBAs.
Online business education is moving towards a greater focus on careers. Many students see digital programs and Moocs – massive open online courses – as an added advantage when seeking promotions and pay rises.
Julia Stiglitz, head of business development at online learning group Coursera, said: “Industries are moving quickly and people are looking for effective ways to say current, get promoted, or switch careers. Online courses can play a big role here.”
Class experience is weighted as comprising 15% of the QS ranking. This covers areas such as group work and face-to-face contact time.
A key problem with early online programs was engagement with peers and faculty, something technology has improved, but which schools are still criticized for. More than 60% of QS’ ranked programs incorporate physical meetings.
Manchester Business School of the UK ranks at four in the QS list, behind Kelley School of Business in the US and ahead of Britain’s Durham University Business School.
For the UK Bradford University School of Management, and Royal Holloway, based in London, are in the top-25 worldwide, according to QS.
Several other top US online MBA programs are ranked this year: Those at Thunderbird School, Fox School, Dallas Naveen Jindal School and George Washington are placed in the top-15.
All business schools included in the ranking are accredited by bodies AACBS, AMBA, EQUIS or EPAS.
The percentage of international students in QS-ranked programs is just 29% on average – despite claims by many top schools that technology opens up their MBAs to new, global audiences.
The average cost of an online MBA degree in this list is just over $40,000. Less than 30% of online learners are sponsored by their employers. Companies may be more willing to tap into the rise of online executive education – customized courses tailored to specific organizations.