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Any business is benchmarked on multiple aspects of its performance, whether tracking internal processes or through financial valuations.
So it is no surprise that there is plenty of demand for data to assess the growing and increasingly diverse range of training options for executives.
After all, Unicon, the consortium for university-based executive education, an association of 113 leading business schools offering open and custom programmes, carries out its own yearly review highlighting the diversity of practices among its members.
Between them these schools report annual revenues of about $2bn. CarringtonCrisp, a UK education consultancy, published a survey recently that highlighted still larger revenues from a far broader range of providers, with aggregated opinions on some of their relative strengths and weaknesses.
The most important factor raised by respondents when selecting training programmes was to ensure they would help participating staff have an impact at work.
Both these initiatives steer clear of publicly assessing and naming individual providers, while the FT’s executive education rankings do just that.
The methodology is transparent and these rankings provide a starting point to help explore the range, content and quality of options on offer.
This year there were some one-off changes in the collection method for the numbers, which are largely based on surveys canvassing judgments from participants.
The underlying information gathered and the way it has been analysed remains unchanged from previous years, and has been subject to both internal and external review.
The rankings showcase 80 providers of open-enrolment programmes and 80 of custom programmes around the world.
There is also a combined ranking of the top 50 executive education providers, based on data from their performance in both the open and the custom rankings. Of course, such tables can only ever provide a partial snapshot of the quantity and quality of offerings.
For example, they do not capture the growing number and variety of corporate providers and consultants offering specialist training for executives, such as PwC, McKinsey and Egon Zehnder.
Nor do they include many boutique training courses or purely online offerings.
The expansion in providers highlights important evolutions in the sector, which is experimenting with different ways to deliver training (including on- and off-site, informal, coaching and peer-based alongside classroom lectures and case studies), and the relative merits of “practical” applied discussions with practitioners versus research-based teaching by independent academics.
The FT rankings rely on the willingness of schools and participants to take part in our surveys (for which we are grateful), and the answers to our questions reflect individuals’ perceptions.
In aggregate, these rankings impose a single order on a complex range of issues. That is why the rankings’ tables are supplemented by our broader coverage on executive and business education, including in the accompanying articles in this report and throughout the year in the Financial Times.
Many local and regional companies, for example, will be less interested in the global rankings than in identifying potential training institutions nearby.
That eases costs and logistics, and often reflects local cultural factors and needs — such as in our profile of schools in Brazil, which have a shared interest in dealing with specific local conditions such as high taxes and corruption.
Multinational groups may be keen to explore a range of training options across different continents, reflecting their own geographical footprints and the desire to test different providers with a range of specialisms.
There are growing demands by schools and their corporate clients for more meaningful ways to track the impact of their investments in training; to explore effective ways to teach and integrate learning into busy schedules; to understand how to rapidly translate meaningful, rigorous research into action; and to explore new formats including partnerships between different providers.
In order to maintain their influence at a time of fierce competitive provision and increasing internal pressure on performance, business schools — like other education providers — are having to innovate in what they teach, how they teach it and how they demonstrate effectiveness.
Anyone exploring these rankings is encouraged to read around and beyond the single printed list, and to explore the data using the interactive version online.
That will allow them to regroup and select subsets of schools by factors including location, diversity, partnership with others and assessments of follow-up, design and facilities.
We invite readers to join the discussion both on the most important trends in executive education, and how best to measure and capture them using rankings and other approaches.