The Online MBA format keeps winning over business professionals as schools become better at delivering coursework and promoting interaction online.

The coronavirus pandemic has undeniably played a role by prompting business schools to create more online MBAs and improve existing programmes, the Financial Times said in its analysis of the 2021 Online MBA ranking.

Online courses are getting better

The eighth annual edition of the Financial Times ranking of the best online MBA programmes worldwide showed that alumni are happy with the way schools deliver online content and exams, yet they indicate that teamwork and networks could be better.

In terms of pay, the Online MBA format has a lot of catching up to do when compared with full-time MBA programmes. The Financial Times calculated that the average rise in salary three years after graduation for the online courses is 29%, compared with 123% for the top 15 full-time programmes in the 2021 global MBA ranking. The difference could also be attributed to the type of candidates both formats attract. Full-time MBA students tend to be in their late 20s and more likely to get a big raise, while Online MBA students are more likely to be in their mid-30s and already enjoying a high salary.

Read: MBA Formats Designed for Different Learning Goals

Warwick retains crown

This year, the ranking attracted a record number of participants, although the top of the list remained largely unchanged. Of the 15 schools listed, 8 are from the Unites States, 4 from the UK, and one from Spain, Australia and Italy.

Warwick Business School (UK) ranked first for the fourth straight year, again, mainly thanks to the salaries of its alumni - an average of USD 207,700 three years after graduation and the top score for alumni career progression.

Spain’s IE Business School ranked second also for the fourth consecutive year. It got top scores for its share of international students (96%) and overseas board members (96%). IE was also top in the corporate social responsibility category.

Imperial College Business School (UK) came in third, thus becoming the highest new entrant. Its alumni achieve the second-highest average salary, at USD 185,000.

Read more: FT Online MBA Ranking 2020 Shows Students Warming to Format

Diversity and affordability

It is interesting to note several other features of the ranked programmes – class diversity and online interaction index. Both are essential because networking is a major focus for MBA prospects.

The most internationally diverse programmes are IE (92% of all students), followed by Imperial (82%), Warwick (78%), University of Bradford School of Management (UK) (72%), and Politecnico di Milano School of Management (Italy) (42%). Female representation is also highest at IE (46% of all students), followed by Babson College: Olin (US) (42%), University of Maryland: Smith (US) (39%), AGSM at UNSW Business School (Australia) (38%), University of Florida: Warrington (US) 37%.

Online MBA programmes understandably focus on online interaction. Based on this criterion, the top 5 most interactive programmes are University of Utah: David Eccles (US), University of Florida: Warrington, Indiana University: Kelley (US) and University of North Carolina: Kenan-Flagler (US).

In terms of tuition fees, student can choose from a wide range. Among US programmes, one can choose between USD 125,589 at University of North Carolina: Kenan-Flagler and USD 31,200 at University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In Europe, the range of ranked programmes is between USD 50,000 at IE and USD 18,296 at Bradford.

How is the ranking formulated? 

Access MBA advises business school aspirants to gain an in-depth understanding of the methodology behind each ranking before deciding whether what it measures should actually impact their MBA selection and in what way.

This year’s ranking is based on surveys from schools and alumni who completed their online MBA in 2017. Of the 30 schools that took part, 15 did not make it to the final ranking because the alumni response rate was too low.

To be eligible for participation, a school must be accredited by AACSB or EQUIS and its Online MBA programme must have run for at least four consecutive years. At least 70 per cent of the content must be delivered online. The participants must also pass a selection process before enrolling and an examination process before graduating.

The ranking is based on two online surveys — the first was completed by participating schools and the second by their alumni who finished their Online MBA in 2017. Some 733 of them completed the questionnaire — a response rate of about 19%.

Alumni responses embracing nine criteria together account for 65% of the total weight. Schools’ responses contribute 25%. The remaining 10% is based on the schools’ research rank. Learn more about the methodology.