Why do business schools rise and fall in the rankings?

3 March 2014

Why do business schools rise and fall in the rankings?

While rankings are just one component of Henley Business School’s international reputation, they are important and have the power to influence perceptions.


While rankings are just one component of Henley Business School’s international reputation, they are important and have the power to influence perceptions. There are many factors that influence the ranking outcomes, so I hope that by sharing what the School is doing we can highlight some of the issues we face and how alumni can help.  

Henley aims to feature in eleven separate MBA rankings run by both the Financial Times and The Economist. Some of Henley’s undergraduate and postgraduate programmes appear in league tables published by The FT, The Guardian, The Times, The Sunday Times, and The Complete University Guide. Some of the latter use information from the annual Destination of Leavers of Higher Education (DLHE) survey, and the National Students Survey (NSS).

We were disheartened not to appear in two MBA rankings recently, which occurred in one case because of a technical change, and the other due to a low level of response. Publishers regularly change their methodology which is beyond our control and can impact on our inclusion. 


The key rankings differ in detail but generally have some common components:

  1. The most important single part of any of the rankings above is the response received from participants and alumni, who are typically surveyed about careers and salaries before and after studying at Henley, as well as their learning experience and feelings about the School.  Some of this is quantitative and some opinion led. Usually, the collective response to this part of the exercise accounts for between 50% and 80% of the overall score – alumni and students are incredibly influential in the process and positive participation is key to a successful outcome.
  1. Business schools provide data on cohort demographics, details of faculty numbers, origin, experience and qualifications as well as other measures (which differ slightly by survey).  Henley has two members of staff employed full time on rankings and a considerable amount of time is invested in preparing and maintaining data and ensuring that the School is presented as well as possible.  Internal calculations show year on year improvements on our return in most categories, and we share this information with alumni.
  1. There is another key aspect regarding eligibility for MBA rankings in particular: a minimum number of participants’ survey returns. This is usually around 20. Running small cohorts is a key part of Henley’s approach to a better learning experience at a post-experience level, and we fully believe this leads to the best outcomes for our programme members.  However, in order to participate in rankings, sometimes almost 80% of the cohort will need to engage in the process and complete each ranking’s survey in full. If we fall below the threshold number we will not qualify for the ranking, however positive the responses are.
  1. Once the rankings tables are published we report both our overall position and also, more importantly, our position in the sub rankings of individual measures. For example, in 2012 our Full-time MBA was ranked number 1 in the world for student quality and for potential to network (The Economist) and our Executive MBA was ranked number 2 in the UK for participant goals and aims achieved (Financial Times).


It should go without saying that we work closely with the leading publications to ensure the particular characteristics of the Henley learning experience can be reflected fairly in the rankings. We have had some success in ensuring that the rankings are as fair to us as they are to programmes with over 250 members, but this is, inevitably, only a partial solution.  We are investing in our efforts to engage with our recently graduated alumni and current students to ensure we are able to participate.  We are striving to have up to date email addresses, for alumni to submit fully completed surveys, and for everyone to understand the key role they play in where we are placed.

Successful rankings are achieved through a partnership between schools, their students and alumni, listening to the outputs and seeking to improve upon everything we do.

We want to ensure that when you put Henley Business School on your CV, it supports both our reputation and the power of your personal brand.

Donal McLoughlin
Rankings Analyst
Henley Business School

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