Aside from rankings, reputation, and programme offerings, one of the most important quality factors to consider in your search for the right Masters programme is accreditation. The role of international, regional, and national accrediting bodies is to assess whether the higher education institution meets certain quality standards. This is the moment to clarify that in some countries the process of accreditation is voluntary and it is up to each educational facility to choose whether it will go through it at all. However, in other countries universities are required to have specific accreditation.
So how can you make sense of all the country-specific abbreviations and what should you look out for in an accredited programme? Start by getting to know the methodologies and standards set by the accrediting organisations in these four countries.
Accreditation in the Netherlands
If you are researching the graduate study options in the Netherlands, you may encounter the accrediting institution NVAO – Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders. NVAO is an independent organisation which was established by the Dutch and Flemish governments. When it comes to its operations in the Netherlands, it assesses the quality of programmes offered at research universities and universities of applied sciences. According to the Study in Holland website, as well as considering the academic standards of Dutch degrees, NVAO also takes into account “their real-life relevance and compatibility with the needs of the local economy.” In the case of the Netherlands, enrolling in an institution which is recognised and accredited is quite important because these students also qualify for grants and a free public transport pass.
Accreditation in Germany
In Germany, there are ten agencies authorised by the national Accreditation Council to assess the quality standards of higher education in the country. While some of them are more general in their scope, others focus on fields such as Health and Social Sciences, STEM, or Business Administration. If you are looking for business and management-related programmes in particular, you may encounter the quality seal of the Foundation for International Business Administration Accreditation (FIBAA) on some institutions, including Munich Business School and Frankfurt School of Finance and Management. In addition, there is the German Council of Science and Humanities (Wissenschaftsrat) – a science policy advisory body with the purpose of providing recommendations to the government “on the development of science, research, and higher education.”
Accreditation in Spain
In Spain, there are accrediting bodies operating on a regional level and you may encounter different institutions for Catalonia, Andalusia, Galicia, Madrid, and so on. While most regional agencies were founded between 2001 and 2005, the Catalan University Quality Assurance Agency (AQU) was in fact the first such association in Spain. According to a research paper on the topic published by Phi Beta Delta, Honor Society for International Scholars, “the agency was formed as a consortium for the quality of the university system in 1996.” For instance, EADA Business School and ESADE Business School are recognised on an institutional level and programme level, respectively.
Spain has a national accrediting body as well, called the National Agency for Quality Assessment and Accreditation of Spain (ANECA). Its purpose is to evaluate educational programmes leading to official Bachelor’s, Masters, and Doctoral degrees; academic bodies and processes of an institutional nature; and even the teaching and research performance of academics “as a compulsory requirement for hiring by public or private universities.”
If you are interested in finding out more about accreditation agencies in other European countries, check out the members of their umbrella organisation, the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA).
Accreditation in the US
Accreditation of colleges and universities in the US also differs on a regional and national level. There are six regional accrediting bodies which are officially recognised by the US Department of Education – you can take a look at them on the department's official website. According to the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, as of 2015 “regional agencies accredit about 39% of colleges and 85% of students nationwide, including most public and private non-profit colleges and some of the largest for-profit college chains.” If you are an international student who wants to combine studying in the US with work, travel or additional studies elsewhere around the world, it is highly recommended to get to know the accreditations granted to the American university you choose.
Of course, an institution with different accreditations from the ones listed above may not necessarily have low quality standards. However, your future career and education may be dependent on its accreditation. A particular school or programme may be widely accepted in your study region but it could turn out that the diploma you obtain will not be recognised for a career in another country. Fortunately, with the help of some additional research into the validity of different accreditations, you can easily avoid unpleasant surprises.