Europe is home to some of the oldest, most highly regarded and currently most disrupted business schools in the world. Since the creation of ESCP in Paris, which celebrated its 200th anniversary last year with the claim of being the world’s first “special school of commerce and industry”, the continent has become the base for dozens of institutions of global repute.

While the US is often seen as the home of the MBA, and Asia is the new frontier for economic growth, studying business in Europe has many advantages. The openness of its borders, the international appeal of its leading cities and the relatively small size of many of its nations have resulted in a rich variety of international students and faculty.

FT European Business Schools ranking 2020 — top 90

Cambridge Judge Business School in the UK

Find out which schools are in our ranking of European business schools and learn how the table was compiled.

That mix, combined with the global reach of Europe’s political history and its current commercial operations, provides a strong base for research and training for future managers and entrepreneurs. Furthermore, the continent’s business programmes — including the Masters in Management degree in which it dominates — are often shorter and cheaper than alternatives elsewhere.

But there is no room for complacency. As in other parts of the world, coronavirus has severely shaken the sector, most notably squeezing corporate budgets and reducing demand and revenues in business schools for executive education, a very significant source of income.

The shift to online and “blended” learning is a giant live experiment, and the longer-term impact on the appetite to study and to pay significant fees remains unclear. “Remote teaching” may be in sync with the “new normal” of remote working, but other pressures risk damping demand for traditional qualifications and forms of study.

ESCP in Paris makes claim to being the world’s first special school of commerce and industry © Alamy Stock Photo

Just as European business schools are opening campuses and forging partnerships with counterparts in other parts of the world, so these emerging rivals elsewhere are recruiting European faculty and students and establishing footholds on the continent — from Chicago Booth’s new campus in London to Shanghai’s Ceibs in Zurich.

The rise of non-traditional business education providers offering cheaper, modular, flexible and often very sophisticated alternatives will only grow, unencumbered by the legacy overheads, rules and traditions of business schools, whether they are standalone or part of universities.

Furthermore, sluggish economy in Europe, burdened by rising public-sector debt and an ageing population, will be compounded in the months ahead by the dislocation of Brexit. As the UK pulls back from further integration with the EU, London risks losing some of its shine.

US president Donald Trump’s hostile “America first” rhetoric and visa restrictions presented an opportunity for European schools to divert potential applicants from Asia and elsewhere to them. But in the aftermath of Joe Biden’s victory, the underlying lure of the US will offer fresh competition for applicants.

European business schools still offer great appeal for a wide variety of qualifications and courses, as our latest ranking highlights. This year, our analysis reflects two important evolutions. First, the weightings allocated to business schools have been rebalanced to place more emphasis on the quality of their individual courses. That means the best institutions are able to receive a high overall score even if they do not offer all of the five different programmes assessed — MiM, MBA, executive MBA and executive education custom and open programmes.

Second, we continue our efforts to encourage readers to consider schools by the group or tier in which they sit as much as their individual ordinal ranking. All the 90 institutions we analyse offer high-quality business education, endorsed by leading accreditation agencies. The top tier of seven — dominated by schools in France — and the second tier of 30 stand out, scoring above average for the cohort.

But each school offers different characteristics that may be more or less relevant for each potential student, recruiter or teacher. Readers should explore the full data we present across the different qualifications as well as our wider editorial coverage.

Beyond the pandemic, climate change remains an existential issue. We therefore particularly welcome ideas around how to better capture and measure the societal impact of business schools’ research, and how they are embedding sustainability into their teaching and operations in response to demands from students, faculty, companies, their customers and society more broadly.

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Andrew Jack is the FT’s global education editor