This year has been a turning point for masters in management degrees, which are analysed and assessed in the FT’s 2020 MiM Ranking, published today. In 2019, when the global economy was motoring and jobs markets were booming in Europe and the US, most business schools offering this postgraduate qualification were reporting a decline in demand, according to entrance exam administrator the Graduate Management Admission Council.
Then coronavirus burst the economic bubble, reigniting demand for full-time study as the opportunity cost of obtaining a postgraduate business qualification such as the MiM — which is generally studied straight after a bachelors degree — fell sharply.
“The pandemic has only increased interest in the MiM,” says Tim Mescon, executive vice-president and chief officer, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, at business school accreditation body the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. “Globally we are seeing the phenomenon we saw in 2008-09 when the financial crisis caused the last global meltdown. Many people are looking at their situation, saying maybe this is what I need to do for the next year to work on polishing my credentials.”
But for all the sense of déjà vu, 2020 is a new era for MiM providers because of the need to provide more online learning to compensate for campus closures.
Naomi O’Donnell completed a first degree in management this year at HEC Lausanne in Switzerland and moved to London to start the one-year masters in international management at Imperial College Business School. The plan was always to go straight from undergraduate study to business school, she says, but the restrictions on study caused by coronavirus made her consider even more carefully where to study.
“I was worried that if my course was going to be taught partly online it would not have the same level of recognition among employers as if I had only studied on campus,” O’Donnell says. “There is a view that online courses don’t carry the same level of learning as a full-time degree.”
Imperial’s expertise in digital teaching, and its membership of the Future of Management Education Alliance with seven other highly ranked schools, were factors in her choice. “I looked at how the situation was being handled by other schools, and Imperial was one of the only ones that said early on in the process that they were well equipped for this situation,” she says.
The increased interest in MiM courses generally has led some schools to report record annual increases in applications, while others take the opportunity to raise the bar on entry standards, safe in the knowledge they will have more than enough demand to fill the available places.
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The number of applicants to ESMT Berlin’s MiM fell this year after the school introduced an application fee. Yet it was able to increase enrolments from 100 to 125 because of the higher calibre of those who did seek a place. “This is shown in the number of interviewed candidates, which is up 54 per cent versus this time last year. We got rid of the rubbish” from the pool of applicants, says Nick Barniville, associate dean for degree programmes.
The school’s admissions team also noticed an increased number of applicants from the US this year, particularly in the last few weeks of the admissions cycle. In contrast, the number of Asian applicants declining places was slightly up, suggesting that coronavirus has made some people reluctant to travel to study, according to Barniville. “It’s mainly because of parents saying we don’t want our child travelling.”
Applications for the MiM at ESCP Business School, a multinational business school with campuses in London, Berlin, Paris, Turin, Warsaw and Madrid, rose 30 per cent between 2018 and 2020. The chance to learn and earn diplomas in multiple countries as part of the MiM has provided a hedge, according to Léon Laulusa, dean for academic affairs and international relations, as Covid-19 has closed off some destinations to overseas students and Brexit has complicated study in Europe.
“You only need to spend one semester on the Madrid campus to obtain the ESCP diploma and the Carlos III [university] diploma. This allows our students to have up to five diplomas, giving them better international employability,” says Laulusa. “[Covid] may affect some students who wish to ‘put themselves away’ for two years because of the economic situation and prefer a longer training, contrary to an MSc or MBA, for example.”
Before the pandemic, schools had been broadening their courses, offering MIMs specialising in management in areas from sport and healthcare to retail and luxury. Students looking to take a degree more tailored to their aspirations now have a far greater choice.
Applications for London Business School’s MiM are up 46 per cent on last year, and the quality of candidates is on a par with 2019, says Stephanie Thrane, admissions director for early career programmes. The school also offers a masters in analytics and management and masters of financial analysis; applications for both have increased by 41 per cent year on year.
“Applicants also find the UK’s two-year post-graduation work visa very attractive. When looking at our global numbers, applications are up in almost all of our key markets,” Thrane says.
The biggest challenge for schools this year is getting overseas students to campus. Travel is likely to remain difficult for students from countries with high Covid-19 infection rates. But this is not holding back some students.
Aiman Saeed, 24, has spent her entire life in Islamabad, Pakistan. She had to defer a place on ESMT Berlin’s MiM because of a bureaucratic delay in approving her student visa. But this year she moved to the German capital to begin her studies, hopeful that she will be able to do some European work experience after graduation.
“I got lucky because I got confirmation of my visa just before Pakistan went into lockdown,” she says. “It is a blessing that I can focus on my studies for the next two years, even if some of that is online. I can then face the world better equipped.”
Top school: St Gallen
The University of St Gallen tops the ranking for the 10th year in a row with its MA in Strategy and International Management. Not only do the Swiss school’s alumni boast one of the highest weighted salaries three years after graduation, at $113,175, but it is also best for its careers service and student gender diversity. The alumni of St Gallen also rank top for professional aims achieved (94 per cent). Sam Stephens
Biggest salary increase: Antai
Shanghai Jiao Tong University: Antai has the highest salary increase for the fourth year in a row. Alumni reported an average 125 per cent salary increase three years after graduation. The percentage of female faculty and female and international students are also up this year. However, Antai’s overall rank was down nine places to 23rd, partly due to a drop in ranks for two categories in which the school usually performs well — value for money and careers service. Tatjana Mitevska
Biggest rise: Lancaster
Returning to form, Lancaster University Management School climbs 21 places to 58th in the ranking. Improved performance in the international course experience and career service categories have propelled the school further up the table. A significant boost came from value for money (up from 50th to 40th) and a growing number of overseas students, making up 92 per cent of the intake, compared with 78 per cent last year. Leo Cremonezi