Schools love to show off their accreditation certificates. For students, it's something you don't notice so much when it's there, but you sure miss it when it's gone. But what do all those acronyms actually mean and who are the shadowy organisations that award them?
Each accreditation tells you something different about a school. Here's the lowdown on how business schools earn their accreditation stripes and how to use this information when choosing a school or program.
Accreditation can be either of a stand-alone programme i.e. an International MBA or of a Master of Finance or an entire institution and all programmes that fall under it’s umbrella. Accreditation can be carried out by two different types of regulator: government-run bodies or independent accreditation agencies.
Some countries consider accreditation compulsory whereas others do not,. You can check this list on wikipedia for recognised accreditation associations split by country and a bit of info about the various countries accreditation laws.
Of course, on the flip side there are a whole host of un-recognised accreditors to watch out for, so if you’re not sure about the regulator then check out this list as well.
What about online institutions and non-domestic institutions and course- providers?
For those schools that operate primarily online, the international independent associations offer accreditation. For example, The Open University Business School is triple accredited by EQUIS, AMBA and AACSB. Occasionally the country of origin will also offer some level of quality assurance: the Higher Education Funding Council for England rated OU Business School 'Excellent' for teaching and support systems.
So how hard is it to get accredited?
It’s easiest to answer this question by looking in detail at the regulators themselves. Listed below are three well-recognised management education associations. When a school achieves all three it is ‘triple accredited’ and considered part of an elite group (fewer than 100 universities have achieved the ‘triple crown’ status worldwide).
AMBA - Association of MBA’s
Founded in the 1980’s, AMBA accredits the MBA, DBM and MBM provisions (and therefore focuses on programmes and not the entire institution) at 161 business schools across 72 different countries. An AMBA accredited programme will have produced the years worth of graduates, and will have satisfied AMBA criteria for a minimum of 3 years as an assurance of continuity and sustainability. Franchises are assessed separately.
The criteria list for programme assessment is split into six areas of assessment: Institution, Faculty, Students, Purpose and Outcomes (the purpose of the MBA and what employers can expect from the graduates), Curriculum, Mode and Duration (e.g. “An MBA programme will correspond to the equivalent of at least 1 800 hours learning effort. Additionally, the total number of contact hours is expected to be not less than 500 hours.”) View the full criteria here.
AMBA is the only professional membership association for over 9,000 MBA students and graduates, accredited business schools, and MBA employers. Students and Alumni pay a nominal fee for AMBA membership in exchange for Careers; Knowledge; Networking; Events; Publications; MBA Loan Scheme; Executive Benefits.
AACSB – Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business
Founded in 1916, AACSB is the quoted as the world’s largest Business School accreditor by Clear Admit. As of April 2010, 593 member institutions hold AACSB business accreditation from 71 different countries. AACSB reviews the entire college or university and awards an institutional accreditation.
The first step in AACSB accreditation is to apply for AACSB membership, then a committee assigns a mentor to the school, who is briefed on areas of concern for eligibility. Once the mentor has been dispatched, they will advise the school if it’s worth them creating and submitting an Accreditation plan. So, schools are advised in advance if there’s no chance of creating a successful accreditation plan before they go to the trouble.
With the help of the mentor, the Accreditation plan and a subsequent Strategic plan are then submitted and mulled over by a series of committees (Pre Accreditation Committee, Accreditation Coordinating Committee, Initial Accreditation Committee etc.) The whole process can take years, costs thousands of dollars and involves a lot of documentation.
The eligibility and accreditation standards are split into three areas of assessment: Strategic Management Standards, Participants Standards, and Assurance of Learning Standards. You can view the annotated 80 page ‘Eligibility procedures and accreditation standards for business accreditation’ document here.
EQUIS – The European Quality Improvement System
Despite its name EQUIS, is not only focused in Europe; it has a global stock of accredited Business Schools on its books and has established worldwide prestige and recognition. EQUIS accredits at institution level and covers both undergraduate and postgraduate courses, although the institutions must be primarily focused on management education. 128 institutions have been awarded EQUIS, with 35 countries represented among the accredited schools. EQUIS is operated by the Quality Services Department of EFMD (European Foundation of Management Development), a global organization with their head office in Brussels devoted to the continuous improvement of management development.
EQUIS standards and criteria split into these 9 areas: Context, Governance and Strategy, Programmes, Students, Faculty, Research and Development, Executive Education, Contribution to Community, Resources and Administration, Internationalization, Corporate Connections. View the full criteria here. Similar to AACSB, the process takes years and culminates in a campus visit.
EFMD also operates a number of other accreditation systems you may recognize:
EPAS (EFMD Programme accreditation System)
CEL (EFMD TeChnology Enhanced Learning)
CLIP (EFMD Corporate Learning Improvement Process)
Business School News: Nottingham University Business School receives EQUIS accreditation
Nottingham University Business School is joining an elite global group of EQUIS-accredited business schools in management education. Extensive visits earlier in the year by an international EQUIS peer review team assessed Nottingham’s operations in the UK and overseas.
This EQUIS accreditation will apply to all of the Business School’s international operations, including campuses in the UK, China and Malaysia. Both the Nottingham and China campuses were visited separately for the EQUIS evaluation. Nottingham University Business School will be accredited for a period of three years before it is reassessed.
Responding to the good news, Professor Leigh Drake, Director of the Business School, said:
“To be awarded EQUIS accreditation for Nottingham University Business School in the UK, China, and Malaysia endorses and enhances our ambitious, multi-campus strategy and confirms the quality of our staff, students, programmes and facilities. EQUIS focus strongly on corporate links, internationalization and contribution to the community, which are increasingly important attributes of leading business schools, and we are very grateful for the involvement and support of our alumni and corporate friends and associates in contributing to this success.”
Scott Goddard, Director of International Relations and Chair of the School’s Accreditation Committee, commented that:
“EQUIS is one of the most stringent of the international business school accreditation bodies. “The Business School has introduced significant improvements as a result of the rigorous self-assessment and peer review process of the accreditation. We are now progressing in our aim to be a top 50 school worldwide. Our ambition is now to add AACSB (the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) accreditation to complete the ‘triple crown’.”
Nottingham Business School has already achieved the AMBA accreditation since 1993 and recently was awarded a further five years.