HEC Paris has claimed the top spot for the third year in a row and the 10th time overall
HEC Paris has claimed the top spot for the third year in a row and the 10th time overall

French business schools maintained their dominance over peers from other countries in the 2021 FT European Business Schools Ranking, offering the strongest range of business education courses.

HEC Paris, Insead and Essec were all in the top tier of eight leading institutions assessed in the ranking of 95 institutions. A further seven, led by Edhec, ESCP and EMLyon, secured spots in the second band of schools ranked ninth to 46th.

One business school from each of five other European countries completed the top tier in the ranking: London Business School in the UK, Iese from Spain, SDA Bocconi from Italy, St Gallen in Switzerland and Germany’s ESMT Berlin.

UK institutions were well represented overall, despite the disruption of Brexit. A further 11 were placed in the second tier, led by Oxford: Saïd, Cambridge: Judge, Imperial and Warwick, reflecting their global appeal and the continued attractiveness of the country for future managers, leaders and entrepreneurs.

Top 95 European Business Schools ranking of 2021

Le Centorial business centre housing France’s Edhec school

Find out which are the best European business schools, according to the Financial Times. Also, learn how the table was compiled.

The ranking comes at a time of great pressure on business schools in the wake of the pandemic, which has led to closed borders, restricted in-person study and caused some prospective students and companies to hesitate about applying. Schools have been forced to adapt to online and blended learning, face rising competition from alternative types of training and cope with intensifying pressure to reduce fees while the pandemic persists.

“We have never been at such a strategic crossroads,” said Frank Bournois, dean of ESCP, based in Paris. “It’s time for the cards to be reshuffled. These are exciting and sometimes frightening times.”

European schools dominate globally in the provision of Masters in Management (MiM) programmes, which they pioneered and which are seen by some students as a cheaper alternative to the MBAs first created in North America. Institutions on both continents are facing competition from the newer business schools of Asia, as fast-growing economies, led by China, generate strong demand among students.

In a sign of shifting demand, among the European schools assessed by the FT both in 2020 and in 2021, the average class size of MBA programmes fell by 15 students in the past year to 112, while among Executive MBAs it dropped by six participants to 72. By contrast, MiM enrolment rose by 26 students on average to 330.

The FT assessment is a “ranking of rankings” derived from the performance of European schools in the most recent individual rankings of global providers for MBAs, EMBAs and MiMs, as well as for non-degree executive education courses. The individual FT rankings take into account graduate outcomes, including salary and career progress, as well as factors such as quality of research and international and gender diversity of students, faculty and school governing bodies.

The European evaluation favours schools that score well across all the programmes offered, but also adjusts the ratings so that institutions can perform well overall even if they do not offer the full range of courses. Most data draw on FT rankings published in 2021, but the performance of schools for executive education uses results from 2020 because this year’s assessment was suspended during the pandemic.

Students in many parts of the world deferred employment and continued their studies with a masters degree in business. Meanwhile, some employees decided to quit their jobs to return to study full or part-time as Covid-19 spread. However, many companies cut training budgets and reduced support for executive education courses.

“A number of us in Europe had a sizeable executive education portfolio and were probably more dependent on it than some US business schools with very large endowments,” said Jean-François Manzoni, president of IMD in Switzerland. “When others were writing off executive education, we had to innovate.”

The ranking highlights the geographical distribution of leading business schools around Europe. Of the 95 schools ranked by the FT, 22 are from France, 19 from the UK and six from Germany, the largest economy in Europe.

Jörg Rocholl, president of ESMT Berlin, a standalone private business school created with the backing of German companies in 2002, said that historically the country’s public universities have been “too dominant” in higher education and have lacked the flexibility to foster world-class institutions, including leading business schools.

Russia now has three business schools in the rankings, Turkey has two and Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovenia have one each.

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