To be Ranked, or Not to be Ranked?

The purpose behind rankings is to be a useful aid in decision-making – for prospective students to choose their future management school; for prospective recruiters to choose their future employees; for prospective collaborators to choose their future partners.  However, take an example – One agency rates a particular B-School in Top 50; Another ranking released within a span of a month, is silent about the school, or worse has rated it in the Next 100 category. As a result, the intended purpose of rankings is lost; instead of facilitating decisions, they lead to confusion.  Adding to this confusion are the innovative categories that have been used for ranking purposes: India’s Most Promising, India’s Upcoming, India’s Leading.  In fact, for example purposes, the following were the buckets in which one rating agency has used to classify the various B-Schools: Schools of Super Excellence, Schools of Excellence, Potential B-Schools of Excellence, B-Schools Performing Very Well, B-Schools Growing and Doing Well. In each category the numbering starts from 1! This is compounding the confusion.

This confusion stems from the basic problem that there are too many B-School institutions out there -it is estimated that there are currently over 2,400 B-Schools in India. As lesser and lesser candidates are taking admission into an MBA program, these schools have significantly increased their advertising spends.  However, responses to these have been cold. And hence, there is a mad scramble to get rated favourably in any and all rankings, which are then used as an important marketing tool in the particular B-School’s brand building exercise.  This has led to a clutter of ranking agencies trying to profit from this phenomenon.

For the B-Schools, while it is important that they remain mindful of its various rankings and the impact that these rankings have on its reputation, it is most important that they stay focused, provide students with a quality experience and impart skills for life-long career success.  Instead marketing, communication and branding departments of most schools are looking larger than the faculty pool at the school.  All through the year these officials are frantically busy filling up survey forms and contacting recruiters/alumni/current students/faculty to fill the online survey forms.  For someone looking from the outside it may seem that the main business of a B-School is external community management rather than imparting education!

For the consumers of the rankings, what this means is that they have to take the rankings with a pinch of salt. While the tendency is to look at the overall rating, it is important to remember that rankings are a subjective evaluation.  While many agencies try to make the process objective by asking a defined set of questions, a cookie-cutter approach does not fit here.  It will be important to ask the following three key questions when looking at a ranking report:

  • What method has the agency used to come up with the rankings and the associated problems with each method–is it a self-administered questionnaire based approach (rests on the assumption that the reported statistics are all true) or an opinion based survey (subject to a huge problem of sampling bias)? Knowing the problems with each will help put things in perspective.
  • What criteria were used for ranking the different schools –the usual ones are infrastructure, placements; however, one that also makes an attempt to measure the intellectual capital (uses criterion such as quality of faculty, research activities, consulting hours, etc.), extent of industry interface (measured by criteria such as number of live projects per student, number of external speaker talks, inclusion of practitioners on the academic advisory boards, etc.) will be more holistic and speak better to the quality of education imparted.
  • Were the survey process and end results put through an audit cycle? If yes, who was the audit partner?

Lastly, one of the often overlooked source of reliable data for helping in decision making are the alumni track records (usually available from the schools itself) and  opinions (usually available on discussion forums or in word-of-mouth settings). These give a lot more information about a B-School and the impact it has, than all rankings put together.  Therefore, it’s important that the B-Schools focus on providing its future brand ambassadors with the greatest opportunities for career success and hence guarantee themselves a top position in this most important ranking!