EFMD Forum on Business Masters

Nunzio Quacquarelli, CEO at QS, reflects on the recent EFMD Conference on Master Programmes

Through thought leadership, QS connects the dots between employers and business school applicants, students, and graduates. Recently, I shared some of our insights into these two business school constituencies at the EFMD Conference on Master Programmes in Gainesville, Florida.


EFMD is a non-profit organization with a membership of nearly 900 academic institutions, public service organizations, and corporations. It is based in Brussels with offices in Asia and the Americas. Ultimately, the goal of the group is to come up with best practices for management development, according to the organization’s site.

At the conference, in the spirit of the group’s purpose, I gave a presentation “What Employers Want, What Students Want.”

Offering an overarching summary of QS’ most relevant data, I shared highlights from the QS Global Employer Survey, the QS Global Academic Survey, business school rankings data from the QS World University Rankings: Business Masters Rankings 2018, and those we have honored for innovating business education.

QS is uniquely qualified to provide information about what’s happening on the ground, as graduates move into the workplace. The Independent makes the point for me when it refers to QS tables as “widely recognized throughout higher education as the most trusted international tables.” We have a mission-led approach to measuring employability. It’s a calling of ours as we believe education should lead people to more satisfying, more profitable work.

From 2015 to 2017, QS has gathered 44,217 employer survey responses. Employers include Google, McKinsey & Company, Deloitte, and Amazon among many others. They open up to us about what they need from hires.

When companies are recruiting graduates, they see character as the most important factor. Traits, such as resilience, adaptability, integrity, and social responsibility, ranked first with 71% of respondents.

Specialist knowledge/expertise gained from studies and soft skills, such as negotiation, time management, and presentation, each received 51% of the vote. In fact, related work experience, with 49% of the vote, is the third most important factor when hiring. This is good news for career changers looking to move into something entirely new, seeking a master’s degree. Their work experience is not the most vital factor in most cases. As a result, they might be able to convince an employer in a new industry to give them a shot if they have great character and demonstrate potential.

Even more interesting is the discovery of the gap between the importance employers put on a skill and their satisfaction. In fact, it is eye opening to audiences. While employers say interpersonal, analytical, technical, and leadership skills, along with depth of knowledge in a subject, are greatly important, they admit their employees are lacking in those areas. This gap provides a window into what business schools will have to address in their curriculum to better prepare students for their future careers. Actually, b-schools might see this information as an opportunity to close the gap, and win with all the constituencies they serve – students, recruiters, and academia.

However, the schools must look closely at their own geography as it relates to the figures. QS can segment the skills gap by country, region, or type of employer. The skills gap, for example, is larger in Asia than in North America, and the order of importance and depth of the gap differs by country, too.

In addition to dissecting employer needs, we provide the world’s largest survey of prospective international students, including a unique data set from more than 160,000 respondents and supplemental data from 17,000 applicant respondents.

What we learn from applicants and students can help both schools and employers better understand their motivation and aspirations. For starters, students typically choose a subject and then a country before picking a university. Also, 54% of respondents told us they were motivated to attend business school to pursue career growth. The second most popular motivation, with 34% of the tally, is international opportunities. Only 33% said they were motivated by salary and benefits, which is not in line with many stereotypes of business students.

Of course, the event provided me a chance to glance at the future. Our latest data, which is not finalized yet, shows that Canada and Australia are showing an uplift in interest in business masters. Employability and work visas will be a battleground for talent in the next decade. The rise of Asia is bringing with it an increase in demand for management education.

In the end, the EFMD Conference served as a time for reflection on the aspects of graduate management education beyond the MBA. As business schools begin to enhance offerings and get creative in their delivery of education, and employers work more like partners to schools, QS will enhance its repertoire of services and data. Together, we will all be aiming to fulfill the theme of this EFMD event, “expanding horizons.”

Expanding horizons was also a prominent theme at the recent Wharton-QS STARS Reimagine Education Awards.

Each year we recognize the educators who are innovating to help students reach these new heights. You can read more about my experience at that event, including information on the innovative winners, here.

Programs that interact with us are constantly impressing me. In April 2017, we announced IE Business School’s Global MBA as the No. 1 online program in the world. As a pioneer in Europe, the school has a WOW Room, which features the latest in technology related to artificial intelligence, simulations, big data analysis, interactive robots, and emotion recognition systems.

Certainly, the WOW Room has the wow factor. It is the kind of effort that fits well into our goal of improving education the world over. 


*This article was originally published on LinkedIn. Please feel free to follow me to share your thoughts and comments.

Nunzio Quacquarelli

Nunzio is the founder and CEO of QS. Following completion of his own MBA from the Wharton School, he has gone on to become a leader in education management with over 25 years of experience in the industry. He is truly passionate about education and firmly believes in the QS mission to help young people to fulfill their potential through educational achievement, international mobility and career development. 

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