Assessing the positive impact of business schools

Ruth Mhlanga Economics, Private sector

Creating a positive impact for society has not been considered core to business schools, but demand has steadily increased in the past decade. The Positive Impact Rating responds to these demands. Whilst business schools are usually rated on factors such as alumni salary, employment rate and return on investment of graduates, The Positive Impact Rating (PIR) is a new rating conducted by students, for student. The rating looks beyond contribution to business and the economy, it addresses the need for school’s positive impact for society.  

What students want  

The overall impression is that students are supportive of the sustainability agenda. The majority of students called for schools to do more in their own operations and have a greater range of offers in their curriculum, covering critical thinking, responsibility and sustainability. Other interesting observations in the data include, calls to stop the culture of competition, which included requests for the schools to stop promoting self-interest versus collaboration. 

Students provided a wealth of constructive comments on how their schools can increase their positive impact. The PIR showed that students were clear in what they wanted schools to stop doing and start doing.   

What business schools should stop doing

  • Stop investing in fossil fuels
  • Stop treating sustainability and social entrepreneurship as second-class topics  
  • Stop partnering and accepting funds from unethical companies and individuals   
  • Stop hiring professors who do not care about doing good  
  • Stop emphasizing profit maximization  
  • Stop flying students abroad for a course just because it’s cool to do so

What business schools should start doing 

  • Make sustainability and social impact training mandatory in curricula  
  • Bring science and facts to the political debate  
  • Reduce CO2 emissions & food waste in their own operations  
  • Prioritize gender parity amongst students and faculty  
  • Exchange more with other schools and faculties, share good practice and evolve together  
  • Rename the school to underline the social mission of business education 

How do we measure the impact of business schools?  

The impact of business schools is measured in three areas (energizing, educating, and engaging) which are further divided into seven dimensions. These dimensions include assessing the programs offered and the learning methods used, and how students actively engage. It assesses a school’s culture and governance, which are predictors for becoming a positive impact school. It also looks at how members of the school are seen to engage in public as well as how the school is seen as serving as a role model in the eyes of students. 

How schools performed 

The first edition of the PIR features 30 leading schools that have performed well in the student rating. While no school made the top level, 9 schools are featured in level 4. These ‘transforming schools’ show a positive impact culture, embedded in governance and systems, with visible results in several impact dimensions. 

The 9 top rated schools on level four are recognized by their students for including sustainability and societal engagement in their mission and the degree to which these are a driving force for the school (23% higher than average).  A further 21 schools feature in level 3. These ‘progressing schools’ show results across some impact dimensions. In the spirit of reinforcing good practice, the rating does not feature schools that were rated below level 3.  

Among the 51 schools that participated in our positive impact rating, 26 appear in the Financial Times (FT) and 19 in the Corporate Knight (CK) rankings. Among the leading 30 schools in the PIR, there are 13 FT and 11 CK schools.

It is interesting to note that while amongst the most well-known and coveted in the world, there are no top 25 FT schools among the higher tier level 4 schools. However, level 4 on the PIR includes 3 top 10 CK schools. The FT and CK rankings measure quality differently, with the ‘green’ CK ranking a notch closer to measuring impact. 

Going forward  

Business has the potential  to play an important role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Businesses can maximize their positive impact by respecting the internationally agreed UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. 

Oxfam supports the Positive Impact Rating (PIR) because it should help to meet the challenges set by the Sustainable Development Goals. The next generation of business professionals must understand the full spectrum of responsibility and sustainability demands on their job and develop a much broader set of skills than today. The PIR attempts to do this. 

To read the full report and see the list of participating schools and how they ranked, visit the Positive Impact Report for Business School’s website. 


Ruth Mhlanga