A Master’s in Management (MiM) course does not come cheap, and a stamp of quality can be reassuring for anyone forking out the fees and the time required to do the program.
One way for applicants to judge the quality of a course is business school accreditation. The three arguably most prestigious awarding bodies, AMBA, AACSB International and EQUIS, put schools through a thorough evaluation process. EQUIS and AACSB accredit schools as a whole, while AMBA accredits individual Master in Management (as well as other) programs. These organizations award accreditations to schools all over the world — more than 800 business schools in over 50 countries are accredited by AACSB alone.
Poul Hedegaard, a director at Copenhagen Business School, which runs a highly-ranked MSc in Economics and Business Administration, says: “An accreditation is a quality stamp. It helps us to benchmark our performance and ensure that we keep up high quality and stay focused on acquiring new goals. And for students it is a guarantee that we do exactly that.”
MiM accreditations are also indicators of the potential return on investment (ROI) students can expect from a program because it helps a school enhance its reputation and therefore a diploma’s value on the job market.
And yet many of the world’s best business schools get by on only one of the three main accreditations — including Harvard Business School and Stanford GSB in California, which are both accredited by AACSB and not AMBA or EQUIS. A school will expand considerable effort and money to get accredited, so is it worth it?
Hedegaard at CBS—which has all three main accreditations, which is known in industry parlance as the “triple crown”—believes so. The accreditations have different recognition in different parts of the world and focus on different elements, he says. Schools say AACSB has a more American outlook, whereas EQUIS focuses on Europe, for example.
Hedegaard adds: “EQUIS has a strong focus on research, internationalization and partnership with the business community, while AACSB focuses strongly on governance, faculty qualifications, learning and education.” AMBA was initially just for MBA programs, but has expanded to also accredit MiMs and other master’s-level business courses.
At a time when many business schools are reporting falling application volume, it makes sense to invest in strengthening their brand, so in this case, additional accreditations can help set them apart from the competition and help attract students. “Attending more accreditation processes enhances the school’s learning, and it supports international branding,” says Hedegaard.
This explains why so many schools are seeking maximum accreditation. Some 43 business schools, including three new and 40 re-accredited institutions, have achieved EQUIS accreditation so far this year alone.
The EQUIS process will typically take two to three years, though it can be completed in 18 months, at a total cost of around €45,000. On top of that, there are extra charges associated with hosting the reviewers at the school, and the opportunity cost associated with the institution’s leadership taking time away from their other tasks.
“There is no doubt that achieving accreditation requires time and resource investments from an applicant institution,” says David Asch, quality services director at the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD), which operates the EQUIS accreditation service.
Though accreditation is seemingly lucrative, he says that EFMD has a good relationship with the other awarding bodies. “We believe each one of them contributes to the improvement of quality management education with its own distinct set of standards,” Asch says.
For example, EQUIS recently partnered with AMBA and AACSB to present a workshop at the 2018 International Business School Shanghai Conference on how each system approaches the issue of assessing the impact of business schools.
HEC Paris was the first school in France to achieve the so-called triple crown and it has one of the world’s highest ranked MiMs that is a gateway to the prestigious Grande Ecole program.
Julien Manteau, director of strategy and global development for HEC Paris’ master’s programs, says there are a number of reasons schools would seek more than one accreditation, including “to attract the best candidates and teachers from around the word”.
He says: “Quality stamps indicate that the school/program meets quality standards. The quality stamps indicate that your practices are up there with the very best.”
But he adds that looking at the accreditations alone is not enough for Master in Management candidates. “People have to consider how a program/school can help/serve/reinforce their personal project.
Besides accreditations, rankings and [word of mouth] can be useful indicators,” Manteau says.
CBS’s Hedegaard would agree, concluding: “In general, students must look out for schools where they find the best match between personal goals and objectives, and the culture, quality and reputation of a given school.
“An accreditation is a help in that process, as it communicates that the school meets certain standards of quality, just as each accreditation has different focus areas, which help differentiate the schools,” he adds. But candidates will need to do plenty of extra research to ensure that they are choosing the right school for them.