UK university
Open University is outpacing other highly ranked universities in the UK when it comes to churning out graduates who become leaders. Source: Dane Deaner/Unsplash

Parents typically want their kids to attend the ‘best’ universities, believing they provide the best possible education that enables them to launch successful careers.

But what really determines the best of the best? University league tables may be one way to gauge, but it’s not the only way to judge which university really helps students excel in their futures.

This has become apparent in top recruitment firm Forward Role’s latest findings, which surveyed 260,000 LinkedIn profiles to find out which university the majority of company leaders, such as Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) and Managing Directors (MDs), graduated from in the UK.

Results for the Top 20 universities producing the most CEOs showed that the highest number of CEOs and MDs didn’t come from Oxford or the highly-ranked London School of Economics – but rather from the Open University.

According to a statement by Forward Role, “In a shocking twist, world-renowned universities Oxford and Cambridge were outshone by the Open University, which specialises in long-distance learning via online courses and tutors.

“And despite being in the nation’s capital and one of the world’s most economically powerful cities, London Business School trailed behind more northern universities including Leeds, Birmingham and two universities in Manchester.

“The University of Manchester did exceptionally well, coming in at fourth place just 22 graduates shy of Oxford’s total.”

Out of the 260,000 LinkedIn profiles surveyed, a total of 8,196 graduates who are now CEOs and MDs received their education from the Open University.

This was followed by the University of Cambridge with 7,309 graduates, then the University of Oxford with 7,033.

Is it the university or the course that matters in the UK?

Forward Role was also interested in finding out which degree programmes these CEOs and MDs studied.

They found that, unsurprisingly, Business Administration and Management topped the list, with nearly double the number of successful graduates than the next most-popular degree, Economics.

While many wouldn’t necessarily think of History as a degree that will eventually lead to becoming a company CEO or MD, the data found that History degrees were at number four. Another surprise on the list was Design and Visual Communications at number ten.

Forward Role stated, “Equally unexpected was Design and Visual Communications, which managed to make the list in tenth place. With increasing competition in the online marketplace, though, knowing how to stand out from the crowd is an incredibly valuable asset, so we might see Design degrees becoming increasingly popular as markets continue to evolve.”

Undertaking a postgraduate programme may also give you an edge, propelling your career to greater heights, as Forward Role also found that 114,0664 graduates surveyed (44 percent) hold a postgraduate degree.

The findings reflect a growing shift from traditional education pathways to more flexible and modern forms of higher education.

It also reflects the rising popularity of distance learning and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), due to the rapid growth of technology that bridges geographical divides and broadens access to education.

Brian Johnson from Forward Role said, “Seeing the Open University come at the top of the all-time table opened our eyes to what it takes to be a CEO. Those that apply themselves to develop outside of the regular path from college to university to job are the ones that see more success down the line.

“Companies who want really promising recruits should look for those who invest in their future with postgraduate degrees and online courses — the data shows it’ll pay off.”

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