Judging business schools on any criteria and for any course is complex; doing so for the multiplicity of executive education programmes offered around the world is perhaps the hardest such task of all.
The variety of content, clients and duration makes comparisons difficult. We do not claim to be comprehensive: participation in the 2023 Executive Education rankings is voluntary and inclusion partial. Some schools chose not to participate; others wanted to join but did not meet the criteria because of lack of accreditation, low revenues or an insufficient response rate to client or participant questionnaires.
Competition in the field is intense and, while there is significant common ground between degrees such as MBAs and Masters in Management, the format of executive education varies much more widely within and between schools.
As we describe in this report, the sector is still suffering from the disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic, which reduced the willingness of employers to invest in training, transformed methods of delivery and shifted the demand for the type of courses sought — with a notable fresh focus on managing remote and hybrid workforces and tackling digital disruption.
Executive education also faces competition from a multiplicity of non-academic institutions providing training — from consultancies to corporate universities. These argue that they offer greater flexibility and a focus on applied skills rather than theory and the more traditional provision of qualifications by universities.
Business schools retort that they continue to provide a distinctive offering, with differential expertise that reflects their academic depth, pedagogical richness and an approach less tainted by commercial objectives. As we examine, some are also developing consultancy services, so their professors bridge the divide with the world of practice.
Students we interviewed said they benefited from insights from their courses, including honing soft skills such as listening; developing leadership capacity; thinking strategically; brainstorming effectively with colleagues; and keeping up to date with digital trends.
Despite the challenges of ranking executive education programmes offered by business schools, we continue to believe there is value in differentiating between and showcasing some of the best available internationally. We rank both those that are open to all, and custom courses specially developed for individual corporate clients.
One continuing debate among schools and clients is how best to measure the return on investment on the courses provided; another is how to capture or compare in a single metric or snapshot such a variety of different offerings.
We give substantial weight to participants and corporate clients’ assessments of the preparation, knowledge and application of the insights they gain from business school courses. We welcome readers’ ideas on future modifications to better select and evaluate the programmes offered.
This month, we are also launching our third annual survey of organisations’ chief learning officers, whom we urge to submit their views at www.ft.com/closurvey by the start of June. This will provide deeper insight into the trends they observe, the funding they have available, the topics their executives need and their opinions on the best providers and ways to measure value. The results will be published in the autumn.
One common thread in this report is around cultural diversity. That is reflected in the background of Sharmla Chetty, the chief executive of Duke Corporate Education, which ranked top for custom programmes. As she describes in an interview, she was a “troublemaker” who grew up protesting against apartheid in South Africa — an experience that shaped her own career.
We report on an innovative programme combining an MBA, leadership training and an executive education course over two years, which seeks to tackle the low representation of Arab Israelis in business and especially in management positions within the country.
We explore a Buddhist perspective on mindfulness; and a Columbia professor draws on eastern philosophy to identify successful leadership traits. We also describe the work of a judo Olympian who applied his executive education studies to expand his sports foundation working with children in the favelas of Brazil.
A second recurring theme for executive education and in this report is sustainability — an issue highlighted by recent extreme climate events even as it becomes increasingly framed in partisan political terms.
We also explore topical dilemmas suitable for classroom discussions in our latest “instant case study”, which highlights the challenges around companies deciding whether and how to divest from Russia following the launch of its war against Ukraine last year.
A final and fundamental topic is technology, which is transforming both business and business education itself. We discuss the effects of ChatGPT and generative artificial intelligence. Like it or not, understanding and responding to it will be a growing necessity in the months and years ahead.
Andrew Jack is the FT’s global education editor