Accreditation Makes the Difference


What’s in a logo? If it’s the right accreditation agency’s logo stamped on the business school of your choice, it could spell the difference between increased income and higher positions or a terrible loss of time and energy in the masters application process.

With more than 13,000 business schools worldwide to choose from today, prospective candidates face a daunting task in benchmarking them, in particular those offering masters programmes, according to their academic rigour, professional networking and career recruitment. Furthermore, with most masters degrees claiming to be "accredited", students face the additional task of figuring out which agencies awarded their accreditation.

Make your application process easier by looking out for the logos of the three major accreditation agencies that establish the standards by which excellence in business education is achieved. These agencies are the British Association of MBAs (AMBA), Europe's EQUIS and USA's AACSB International, all of whom have a different approach to the accreditation process.

Taking a top-down approach, EQUIS and AACSB International maintain that applicants should first step back and examine the integrity of home business schools before they drill down to individual masters programmes. According to EQUIS and AACSB International, if a particular business school can achieve and maintain high standards for quality then the same should hold true for its masters degrees.

The oldest such body, founded in 1916, AACSB International has awarded accreditation to 607 institutions in 38 countries. The vast majority of these business schools offer both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, although 28 institutions offer masters and doctoral programmes only (5 percent).

The smaller but rapidly-growing European EQUIS has accredited 129 institutions (in 36 countries) devoted to management education. EQUIS takes a slightly less academic approach than AACSB International, in that EQUIS takes into account a business school's interaction with the corporate world. A strong interface with the world of business is, therefore, as much a requirement as strong research potential.

Unlike EQUIS and AACSB International, which start with whole institutions, AMBA focuses on individual programmes and provides an in-depth and detailed approach. Having accredited 161 schools in 72 countries, AMBA boasts an innovative search engine that enables applicants to sort accredited schools by masters degrees. For example, five programmes at Cass Business School are AMBAaccredited, including the Cass MSc in Management.

Summing up the differences, Rachel Tufft, head of postgraduate marketing at Manchester Business School, says, "Both EQUIS and AACSB accreditation cover all aspects of work carried out by business schools including the provision of specialist masters courses, whilst AMBA accreditation focuses primarily on the provision of MBA programmes".

In addition to these international accreditation agencies, many local and national accreditation agencies oversee standards for business schools within their region or country. Hult International Business School is one such example. Founded in Boston, Hult was accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) in 1976. NEASC's mission is the establishment of accredited university degree programmes in the Northeastern USA and the maintenance of high standards across all levels of education. As Hult grew globally, it was accredited by AMBA in 2005.

But don't be alarmed if you cannot find accreditation specific to your masters programme. "Despite significant growth in the masters market— given the current amount of assessment and accreditation in existence relating to business schools, I don't foresee a market for any additional specialist accreditation," says Tufft.

In the event that you find the perfect masters for you but cannot see an accreditation logo, should your rule be: no accreditation, no application? Not necessarily. The truth is that accreditation is a voluntary process and moreover a costly one. As a result, some masters programmes could currently be engaged in the lengthy process of applying for accreditation.

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