MBA graduate pay doubles in downturn

Della Bradshaw and Laurent Ortmans

MBA graduates from the world's elite business schools have seen their pay soar during the past five years in spite of the global economic downturn, according to data collected for the 2014 FT MBA rankings.

Students from the world's top 100 MBA programs, who started degrees at the start of the downturn in 2008 and 2009 and who graduated in 2010 in the depth of the recession, have seen salaries double during the past five years. This comes as many managers in North America and Europe have, in effect, seen their pay frozen.

(Read more: Employment slips for MBA grads: Poll)

Rafael Suanes | Georgetown University

About 94 percent of alumni that responded to the FT survey said they had achieved the pay rises they had hoped for when they had enrolled on the MBA.

The 2010 graduates reporting the highest salaries three years after graduation studied at the two top-ranked schools. Alumni from Stanford Graduate School of Business drew the highest salary, averaged at an annual $182,000 over three years, while Harvard Business School graduates took home $176,000 on the same basis - though their alma mater is the top-ranked MBA.

Although substantial, today's salary increases are a far cry from the glory days of the mid-1990s, when MBA graduates from the top US schools saw salaries triple during the same five-year period. Many of those have gone on to lead some of the world's top corporations.

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Analysis of the FT500 top global companies show that 30 percent of chief executives of the world's top companies have an MBA. The percentage is closer to 50 percent among US companies.

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Recession-proofing a salary is an expensive investment. Fees at 24 of these 100 elite MBA programs are $100,000 or more, with additional living costs and one or two years of salary foregone.

Many MBAs from these schools graduate with $100,000 dollars of debt. However, with about 12,000 business schools worldwide, the 100 top MBA programs are truly elite, representing just a fraction of 1 percent of business degrees available.

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In China, where the MBA degree is a comparative rarity, alumni now enjoy much higher salary rises than their peers in the US and Europe. Alumni from the four mainland Chinese business schools listed in the FT's 2014 ranking reported an increase of almost 160 percent between 2008, when they began their MBA, and October 2013, the date of the FT survey.

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However, it is US business schools that continue to dominate the rankings, with 51 of the top 100 schools located there, including seven of the top 10. There are 26 European MBA programmes, with London Business School ranked number one in the region and rising to number three in the world. HKUST Business School is the top Asian school, ranked 14.

The FT has published its MBA rankings annually since 1999. In that time, just four schools have taken the top slot: Harvard, Stanford, the Wharton school at the University of Pennsylvania and London Business School. To compile the 2014 ranking the FT surveyed 23,000 alumni from 153 business schools. More than 10,000 MBA graduates completed the survey, a response rate of 47 percent.