Online MBA courses rebound at the world’s best business schools

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This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Charlotte Edmond, Senior Writer, Formative Content


  • Demand for MBAs has grown as the job market falters in the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Online courses are growing in popularity, but tend to have less of an after-effect on salaries than in-person courses.
  • European schools lead the rankings of providers, but US schools dominate overall.

Even while the pandemic closed campuses around the world, demand for MBAs last year rebounded. The difficult job market in 2020 drove many people to opt for full-time study in a bid to boost their career prospects, according to research by the UK Financial Times.

Several schools in the rankings reported double-digit increases in applications to study during the 2020/21 academic year.

Alongside this, there has been a spike in interest in online MBAs, with many business schools forced to rethink their offerings in light of the pandemic.

The FT’s annual ranking of business schools shows that Warwick Business School has retained the top spot as the best distance learning or online MBA. It has held this slot for four years now, primarily because of the salaries alumni earn. Three years after graduation, former students earn an average of $207,725 a year. Warwick is also the best performer in terms of career progression of its students.

Although there are some differences in how the data is calculated in the rankings for full-time MBA courses versus online offerings, there is a marked discrepancy between the two learning routes when it comes to salary increases, the FT report notes. The average salary hike for those completing online courses is 29%, compared with 123% for the top 15 full-time programmes in the 2021 global MBA ranking.

Researchers attribute this divide to the demographic differences between the two cohorts – full-time MBA students tend to be in their late 20s and are likely to enjoy rapid promotion afterwards. Online learners are more likely to be in their mid-30s and more established in their careers, so there is a higher chance of their salary reaching a plateau.

In-person learning

European schools take the top slots for in-person teaching. Insead, based in France and Singapore, is the top-ranked school overall, with the London Business School, based in the UK, taking second place.

But, despite a strong showing from the continent high up the rankings, US schools dominate overall. Half of the top 100 schools ranked by the FT are based in the US, including 7 of the 14 in the top tier.

The rankings are calculated from data including alumni salaries three years after graduation, the quantity of research in recognized journals and the diversity of students and faculty. A number of schools, including Harvard, Stanford and Wharton, withdrew from the rankings this year because of disruptions caused to data collection during the pandemic.

The research also shows that, when surveyed in September and October 2020, salaries of alumni had remained resilient despite the pandemic.

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