The Financial Times says it removed IE Business School from this week’s 2018 global MBA ranking because of “irregularities” that included surveys completed by users who were not alumni of the Class of 2014, the graduates targeted for the newspaper’s ranking.
Initially, IE officials told Poets&Quants that the school was excluded from the ranking because the FT was not able to get a representative sample of the school’s alumni whose views are essential for the Financial Times to rank an MBA program. That left open the possiblity that either IE was unable to meet the required 20% response rate on the survey or that the responses received by the FT were unusable for whatever reason.
Now, the FT is making clear that the quality of the data in the surveys was unreliable because the newspaper suspected that in some cases surveys were filled out by people who were not intended to complete them. And although the Spanish business school has told students and alumni it expects to be back in the ranking next year, the FT is making clear that IE won’t be included unless it “urgently tightens its data collection procedures.”
‘SURVEYS WERE COMPLETED BY PEOPLE WHO WERE NOT WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE’
“We take the integrity of our rankings very seriously and this is not the first time a school has been disqualified,” says Vicky Taylor, acting global communications director for the Financial Times. “In this case, the quality of the data we received was not good enough. We received surveys completed by people who were not who we thought they were. We alerted IE to this issue and we have asked them to urgently tighten their data collection procedures so that they can be included in future rankings.”
While the FT notes that it has excluded schools in the past, it has never removed an MBA program ranked as highly as IE which placed eighth best in the world on its 2017 list. This is the first time since the newspaper’s rankings were launched in 1999 that IE has been excluded. When the FT first started ranking full-time MBA programs, IE was ranked 24th. The school’s highest FT rank of sixth place occured in 2009 and 2010 (see chart below).
Taylor made the comments today after the FT issued a rather vague explanation yesterday for why it had excluded IE. In that statement released to Poets&Quants, the newspaper said, “The FT Global MBA rankings are calculated after extensive in-house analysis of data submitted by the schools themselves. This year we have taken the decision to exclude Spain’s IE Business School because of irregularities in their submission. We have contacted the school’s leadership to request that it urgently tightens its data collection procedures so that it can be included in future rankings.”
SCHOOL BELIEVES IT TURNED OVER OUTDATED EMAIL ADDRESSES FOR AS MANY AS 100 OF 577 GRADS
Alumni responses are crucial to the FT’s methodology. They account for 59% of the total weight of the ranking and inform eight of the 20 different metrics the Financial Times uses to crank out its ranking. A pair of numbers–current alumni salaries and the increase in salary from pre-MBA days–account for 40% of the entire ranking, the most heavily weighted portion of the list.
The Financial Times began surveying Class of 2014 alumni on Sept. 11th. It apparently took a month before officials at IE Business School heard that their could be a problem. In mid-October, several alumni from the class said they had yet to receive a survey from the Financial Times. The school only became aware of the problem after delegates of the class encouraged graduates to complete the survey on WhatsApp groups and other social media. The school believes it had oudated email addresses for as many as 100 of the 577 grauates in its Class of 2014.
“We learnt about this issue in the submission process when some of our alumni, who participate in this year’s ranking, contacted us to tell us that they did not receive the questionnaires from the FT,” according to a message sent to students by MBA Director Erik Schlie. “The IE Program Management staff encouraged them to contact the FT directly and share this information. Unfortunately, this happened very near to the closing of the rankings survey.”
FT TOLD IE BUSINESS SCHOOL IN DECEMBER THAT IT WOULD NOT BE INCLUDED IN THE RANKING
Those overtures by class delegates ultimately led to a meeting in late October in which the FT requested further information from IE. By mid-November, the school found out that the FT editors were going to assess the quality of the sample and would decide whether to allow the school to participate in the ranking. Sometime in December, the FT notified IE that it would be excluded and urged the school to put better systems in place for future data collection. Helen Barrett, work & careers editor for the FT who is responsible for business education rankings, was involved in the decision to exclude IE from the ranking. Up until 2016, the rankings were overseen by long-time business education editor Della Bradshaw.
MBA Director Erik Schlie then sent his email to students just before the new ranking came out on early Monday morning.
Despite IE’s unusual exclusion from the ranking, the school’s leadership team believes it will have little to no impact on the MBA program. “To be honest, I don’t expect it will cause that much fuss,” says Santiago Íñiguez de Onzoño, Executive President of IE University and the business school’s former dean. “We participate in more than 20 rankings. Our different stakeholders are not really aware of which rankings are out there. There is no correlation between a ranking and the performance of the school or a program. After pulling back from the FT’s ranking of custom executive education programs following our joint venture with the FT, we have more than doubled the performance of our custom programs. So I don’t expect much consequence from this.”
‘IT’S NOT JUST THE RANKINGS’
IE Dean Martin Boehm, who only succeeded Íñiguez in the job exactly one year ago last January. Boehm is a German-born marketing professor and ten-year veteran of the school who had served as dean of programs since 2012. Bohem told Poets&Quants that he agrees with his boss that the FT’s decision won’t have any real impact on application volume. “For example our BBA program, which is not yet ranked, is growing at a faster pace than the rest of the portfolio,” he says. “The brand of an educational institution has several drivers including international acreditation, prestige among recruiters, the word of mouth of alumni, and of course academic reputation from peers. It’s not just the rankings.”
The school sought to reassure students that IE’s absence from the ranking would not occur again. “It is important to highlight that we will continue to be featured in future editions of the Global MBA ranking and also in all other rankings published by the Financial Times,” wrote Schlie. “In addition, we should not forget that other important ranking providers still feature us in their rankings. Allow me to highlight for instance our 8th position in the Bloomberg BusinessWeek ranking or the 3rd position in the ranking published by Forbes.”
Despite IE’s stated belief that the incident isn’t likely to impact interest in its MBA program, the school says it has implemented “measures to avoid this in the future,” added Schlie in his email to students. “We not only reviewed and changed the existing processes for alumni to update their contact information, but also did create an alumni engagement committee.”
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