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Smurfit Executive Development innovates to keep place in Global Top 50

  • Date: Thu, May 17, 2018

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Original Article in Irish Times on 17.05.18

UCD Smurfit Executive Development has retained its position of 48th in the world for its open enrolment programmes in the latest Financial Times Executive Education Rankings, which were published earlier this week. The highly prestigious rankings are based primarily on participant feedback using criteria including the quality of course design and teaching and the extent to which expectations were met.

“It’s fantastic news that we have retained our ranking in the world’s top 50,” says executive development director Helen Brophy.

“It’s not a question of just standing still to remain at number 48. If look at last year’s rankings, four schools ranked between 38th and 48th place dropped out of the top 50. There are a number of reasons for that. Every year the FTchanges the weighting of the criteria. They like to keep the rankings fresh, so you can’t predict where you are going to land. They have criteria and a marking system in place, but they don’t share them with you in advance. Also, a lot of new schools from developing markets are competing for places in the rankings each year. Schools from Peru, China and Africa are starting to appear. The traditional executive education world was dominated by North America and Europe but that’s changing.”

Indeed, UCD Smurfit has actually had to improve its performance over last year just to maintain its position. “We looked at our results this year in relation to last year and we actually improved across all categories,” Brophy points out.


This was particularly noteworthy in a year of considerable disruption for the school which saw the creation of a €5 million bespoke Executive Development Centre at UCD Smurfit’s Carysfort campus in south Dublin. “We had to give up many of our facilities and relocate a number of our programmes offsite during the development works,” she adds. “To maintain our position and improve across all categories is a major achievement in this context.”

The rankings are mainly based on the views of programme participants. “Eighty per cent of the marks come from participants and 20 per cent come from the facts and figures from the school,” Brophy says. “The fact that our participants ranked us so highly in such a year is very gratifying. We jumped from 69th to 48th place in last year’s ranking, so it was always going to be a challenge to maintain that position. We have to ensure that quality is maintained across all the criteria.”

The ranking is not an end in itself, she adds. “It allows you to benchmark yourself against the very best in the world. For example, in joint 48th place with us is the National University of Singapore. They have an excellent executive education programme which is twice the size of ours and they have been doing it for twice as long. That’s an indication of how far we’ve come in a relatively short space of time. The new centre here will enable us to continue on that path.”

According to Brophy, the key ingredients of UCD Smurfit School’s success in the rankings are the quality of the faculty and the programme participants.

“Ultimately, the quality of executive education relies on having a really good faculty,” she says. “We have a very strong mix of faculty members from within the school, external members from other leading international schools like MIT and Insead, as well as practitioners from the corporate world. This ensure that the design and delivery of our teaching is world class.”

The quality of the participants is reflected in the reasons they choose UCD Smurfit Executive Development. “We ask our participants why they chose Smurfit and apart from the reputation of the school their main reason is the other participants. Peer-to-peer learning is a very important part of what we do. We spend a lot of time ensuring we have the right mix in the class – a mix of industry backgrounds, experience, public and private sector, SMEs, entrepreneurs, indigenous industry, multinationals. That ensures that there is a very rich learning environment.”

Triple Crown

Another factor is the school’s unique “triple crown” accreditation. The Smurfit School remains the only Irish business school and one of an elite group internationally to be endorsed by all three global accreditation bodies (AACSB, AMBA and Equis). “We were recently assessed again by the AACSB and have been accredited for the next five years. It’s only in recent years that Equis and AACSB have extended accreditation to executive education. This is a good thing as it raises the bar for us and ensures that we constantly have to meet the very highest standards.”

For the future, she anticipates growth in the number of programmes offered and the number of participants catered for and she is ambitious for further moves up the rankings.

“We were at capacity before now but with the new facility we will be able to grow to meet increased demand,” she says. “But we are not going to grow for the sake of it. We want to look at how we can strategically develop executive education to next level. We will continue to challenge ourselves to be the best. We are blessed with a great faculty and staff and there is still so much more we can do. We have great thoughts, plans and ideas to develop in the coming years.”

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