Applications to European business schools climbs in 2020

French business schools continue to reign supreme, scooping four of the top 10 spots.

By U2B Staff 

Read all stories

Business education hasn’t lost its lustre, if applications are anything to go by. According to the latest Financial Times European Business School Rankings 2020, French business schools have continued to flex their prowess in the latest rankings, taking four of the top 10 spots. 

HEC Paris scooped the first spot for the second time running while London Business School (UK / UAE), Insead (France/Singapore/UAE), IESE Business School (Spain/US), and SDA Bocconi/Università Bocconi (Italy) wrap up the top five.


Essec Business School (France), University of St Gallen (Switzerland), ESCP Business School (France/UK/Germany/Spain/Italy/Poland) and ESMT Berlin (Germany) and ranked sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth respectively while the University of Oxford: Saïd (UK) and IMD Business School (Switzerland) are joint 10th.

Speaking to FT, HEC Paris interim dean Eloïc Peyrache said one explanation for its performance was an investment in its MBA, which is also now highly ranked, with a growing appeal to international students and faculty. “We’ve become global partners of companies which come to… recruit from us worldwide,” he said.

“The FT ranking assesses the performance of business schools for MBAs, executive MBAs, and Masters in Management degrees based on factors including salary outcomes, as well as in non-degree custom and open executive education courses, using measures including participant satisfaction. The composite ranking is weighted to adjust for the fact that some schools do not offer all five programmes,” said FT.

European business schools enjoy a spike in applications

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) previously reported that international MBA programmes in Europe and Canada have experienced an increase in interest from prospective students who want to stay closer to home, as well as from students in Asia and Latin America who want to avoid US business schools.

Schools and admissions coaches attribute the uptick in student interest to COVID-19 travel restrictions, higher tuition costs in the US, and an American political climate in recent years that has been marked by increased US-China tensions and several disruptive immigration policies.

MBA programmes in the US were already seeing a decline in international students in recent years. For instance, there was a 14% drop in international students a year ago. These students are important sources of university revenue and account for approximately 40% of all applicants to US business schools in 2019. 

Why MBA programmes are still worth it

MBA programmes gain more cachet during economic downturns.

FT said during times of recession and economic uncertainty, people tend to take a career break to update their skills and build a professional network at business school. The reverse is true when the economy is strong — the demand for an MBA slows down as potential applicants have more opportunities to seek promotions than turn to executive education.

They add that this is the case in the US, where the strong economy in the past few years before the pandemic was a major factor in declining MBA applications in the US.

Dr Christine Menges, MBA Careers Center director at the WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management, said it’s essential for professionals to ensure their skills are up-to-date to enhance their employability despite an economic downturn.

“If you want to do an MBA and advance your career, it’s a good time to do it now because once the crisis is over, companies will be looking for talent that is most useful to them,” she said, adding that the last global recession showed that some resilient companies have continued to hire despite less than favourable market conditions.


An MBA is popular among many as it can open doors to new career opportunities across industries, provides networking opportunities, and opens doors to high-paying careers.

According to the U.S. News Best Business School, among the top 100 CEOs in the Fortune 500, about a third have an MBA. Five MBA programmes have trained more than one Fortune 100 CEO, and all are highly prestigious institutions, placing among the top 10 in the U.S. News Best Business Schools rankings.

This includes Harvard Business School, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, the Stanford University Graduate School of Business and Columbia Business School.

The report notes that some CEOs attended MBA programmes outside the US, including Ramon Laguarta, the chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Inc., who received his MBA from the ESADE Business School in Spain.