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European Schools Top FT's New Online MBA Ranking

Led by Spain's IE Business School, European online MBA programs come ahead of their North American rivals, in the FT's new online-only ranking.

Online MBA programs have become more popular. But there were few surprises when the Financial Times unveiled its inaugural ranking of online MBA programs yesterday: European business schools continue to come out on top.

Advances in technology mean that more and more top-ranking schools are putting their MBA degrees – or parts of them – online, and are enabling unprecedented amounts of students to gain the premier business qualification.

The FT’s rankings confirm that European schools are ahead of their North American counterparts in the distance learning race. Although they first picked up in the U.S, the majority of major European business schools have launched or are developing online programs.

Spain’s IE Business School came out on top, beating Warwick Business School (WBS), based in the UK, to the top spot. Fifteen business schools from four countries are included in the new ranking.

The FT ranking is based on two surveys of the business schools and their alumni who graduated in 2010. Online MBA programs are assessed according to the career progression of their alumni, salary earned and “value for money”, among other factors.

IE came top with its Global MBA+ Blended program, which combines face-to-face learning with interactive online periods. It also came in third place for both the average salary of its alumni three years after graduation and the salary increase since graduation, about 40 per cent. IE also topped the table for international diversity.

Northeastern University: D'Amore-McKim, based in the U.S, completes the top-three spots.

The FT’s rankings go a long way to confirming that online programs are picking up steam. QS released what was considered the first ranking for online and distance programs in January this year, of which seven of the top-ten online and distance programs were based in Europe.

The relatively low number of schools listed in both rankings (QS has 30), reflects the still new trend of online MBA degrees. Full-time, traditional MBA rankings generally list the top-100 programs world-wide.

These online programs are also satisfying an increasing demand by business leaders. According to a recent QS survey, interest in online learning has risen to a high of 16.2 per cent, while interest in full-time MBA programs has declined by 0.7 per cent.

The combined number of those interested in online learning and distance learning is higher still, at 23.5 per cent, driven largely by better technology, greater availability and greater flexibility.

“There is a high degree of flexibility,” said Professor Mark Taylor, Dean of WBS. “You can take a break if the pressure of work and family requires. You can slow down and you can speed up. There’s a huge amount of flexibility.”

MBA applicants are also more attracted to online and distance programs because they are less disruptive to their personal and professional lives. IE’s program, for example, offers personalization options including language of study, format of study, and an array of different modules.

The schools’ students also blend weekly classes and video-conferences, reflecting the way companies operate in a global environment in the real world.

The FT’s rankings show that the profile of participants varies significantly. Online MBA students come from a broader range of industries: only 18 per cent were in finance/banking or consultancy before they began their program, compared with 38 per cent for their full-time counterparts.

Motivations were also different. Whereas most full-time students study to gain salary increases, the biggest motivation for online students is to develop their management skills.

Increased earnings came second in the list of motivations, followed by promotion within company and networking, which came a distant fourth.

Three years after graduation, 80 per cent of the cohort surveyed achieved three or all four of their goals, and 92 per cent achieved their main ambitions.

Online MBA students are also older; 34 is the average age of the FT’s respondents, which is about six years older than full-time students, and just 20 per cent are female.

Online students are also perhaps chosen primarily for their professional experience. They are expected to contribute to the program and share their knowledge, in a way more akin to executive MBA programs, meaning that they are often more senior than full-time MBAs.

One-third of online MBA respondents said they held senior manager or higher level positions before beginning their course, against 15 per cent of respondents to the FT MBA full-time 2014 survey.

Online programs also draw a wider audience, due to the flexibility of the programs’ structures. About 90 per cent of IE’s students reside outside of Spain, while more than 50 per cent of students registered with UK schools do not live in the UK.

Imperial College Business School, based in London, launched a new online-based Global MBA program last month. The schools’ Dean says that they want a global reach. “We will have students from at least three different time-zones whom will study together, despite the fact that they are not in the same place. We think this will allow students to have a fantastic experience,” says Professor G. Anandalingam.

But only 9 per cent of students registered with U.S schools reside outside the country. Seven out of nine States-based schools have 10 per cent or fewer international students.

“It can’t be a mass-market product, although it can reach to all four corners of the globe,” added Dean Taylor from Warwick.

Only the US-based Thunderbird School of Global Management and the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University have a significant proportion of international students, 30 per cent and 22 per cent respectively, according to the FT’s ranking.

To view the full ranking table, visit: http://rankings.ft.com/businessschoolrankings/online-mba-ranking-2014

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