This is my first blog post as Director of Cambridge Judge Business School. Five months into my tenure, I have already spoken with many of our alumni and other interested parties. For example, I have just returned from Abu Dhabi, where I met up with alumni, corporations, government bodies, and the UAE University as a potential partner. But it’s not possible to meet all of you, and I needed another way of telling you about what’s going on at the School. The result is this monthly blog.
So, what’s new? Well, we have a strategy that is emerging – an evolution of what Cambridge Judge has begun in the recent past, rather than a revolution – and I would like to tell you about that. But this is the time of year when the FT Global MBA Rankings are released. Several members of the Alumni Advisory Council suggested that it would be a good idea to comment on these, so we’ll save strategy for next time.
Our MBA programme appears at 26th place in the FT rankings – the same position as last year. Now, we could launch into a microscopic reading of the indicators used to compile the rankings. On the one hand, we did quite well in “Employment after three months”, and “Aims achieved”, as reported by alumni. On the other hand, we did less well in the crucial factors of “Weighted salary (US$)” and “Salary percentage increase”.
We were also marked down in some indicators relating to the School as a whole, such as size of the PhD programme and the percentage of faculty that is female. Putting aside opaque technical issues (for instance, what are the exchange rates used to calculate these figures?) we need to ask ourselves what this assessment really means.
The FT rankings are most heavily influenced by high alumni salaries and high salary jumps after completing the MBA. So if we really wanted to increase our rankings, we could close down our arts-management and not-for-profit specialisations, and force every student to major in more traditional areas with a view to finding a high-paying job in finance or consulting. (And we could also balloon our PhD programme, irrespective of quality, because size gets a good rating in this metric.)
This demonstrates the narrow focus and some internal inconsistency of the rankings. A recent study of MBA programme quality (“From rankings to ratings” in the January 2012 issue of Global Focus, the EFMD magazine) suggested that at least 24 dimensions should be used – many of them qualitative – to assess each programme. The FT and Businessweek rankings use only nine or ten dimensions, and some other rankings use yet fewer.
The study concludes: “Herein lies the tyranny of rankings: academic stakeholders (and even many publishers of rankings) know that media rankings are flawed, but with few alternatives available, they feel stuck chasing the rankings rather than their unique educational mission.”
It is a fundamental part of the Cambridge MBA that we define success more broadly than through salaries. We will continue to take pride in educating talented students who go into arts management and non-profit organisations, or start their own company and take a hit on short-term income.
Consider Hamish Forsyth (MBA) and Robyn Scott (MPhil) who co-founded OneLeap – which helps budding enterprisers to find investors, business advice and career mentors. OneLeap is one of the Nexters – the UK’s top 20 technology social enterprises supported by the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron. But you don’t get rich by founding and running a social enterprise; so should we lament that these two graduates will ruin our rankings two years from now, when their class is interviewed? I think not. On the contrary, I believe they are role models.
Or take computer scientist Eben Upton (EMBA, May 2011). He had the idea of a low cost “hackable” computer in 2006, when he realised that students coming into computer science at university no longer had an in-depth understanding of the technology they used. It was the EMBA that gave him the business knowledge to put the Raspberry Pi computer into production. Contacts through the Cambridge network enabled him to secure funding. He also set Raspberry Pi up as an educational charity and worked with a team of MBA students who carried out a consulting project on his company.
His enterprise could change the way computing is taught in Schools: already, the UK Education Minister has referred to Raspberry Pi when discussing reform. In our context, this means a “yes” with respect to high impact, even though the rankings would consider it a “no” with respect to high salary – at least, not in time for it to count in the next set of rankings.
The lessons I am drawing from the rankings are twofold. Yes, we must strive to improve our performance on certain dimensions (including some that are not included in the rankings). We owe our students and alumni that. We have already invested heavily in the past two years, and will continue to improve.
But secondly, it is even more important to offer our students a hands-on preparation for being able to consider not only the beaten track but also non-standard career paths – to strive for excellence, and to carve out success in many dimensions that are not measured by salary, such as impact on other people’s lives.
This is at the heart of our MBA, and consistent with the broad range of influences that students can experience only within a world-class university and entrepreneurial network. We will do everything we can to increase the unique opportunities our students are exposed to. And I hope that in a year, when the FT rankings descend upon us again, I will be able to report progress – and in two years, considerable progress.