Initial Accreditation: Starting with the Right Foot Forward

27. May 2021 | 4th edition: From initial to multiple accreditation, Academ & Qace Up Knowledge Bar, Articles

Given the recent move to providing online learning, or some might say, a race that has been accelerated by Covid19, student engagement has again been raised as a key objective to assist learners achieve their desired learning outcomes.

By Adam Thomas
Accreditation and Quality Manager
University of St.Gallen


  1. Be sure to start early. Develop drafts of your qualification rules and test them against the outputs of your school. This will quickly reveal how much or how little work must be done to meet AACSB recommendations.
  2. Talk to peer schools with similar missions. Their experiences should be considered and applicable aspects of their faculty qualification rules adapted to your specific context and mission.
  3. One must always remember that the faculty ratios and intellectual contributions are summarized for the peer visit, so the peer visit team will easily see red flags.
  4. There’s a difference between looking great and being great. Provide all necessary details so your peers see your greatness.
  5. Don’t panic if a school with a completely different mission to yours does things differently. The same is true for schools that have a similar mission. Be yourself!

Preparing for and approaching initial AACSB accreditation usually takes several years. Therefore, a few long-lead items should be carefully considered early in your preparations. One long-lead item is the development of faculty qualification rules, and it’s important that they both meet the expectations of AACSB and highlight the mission of your business school.

The faculty qualification rules you develop will inherently drive what activities your faculty pursue to maintain their AACSB faculty status, since faculty need to maintain their AACSB faculty status to teach. If your scholarly faculty (SA and SP) have to produce research publications that do not match the mission of the school, the accreditation tables you produce for AACSB will highlight and summarize this quite clearly. Additionally, if your practitioner faculty (IP and PA) are required to engage with the business world, make sure it is done in ways that highlight what your vision and mission strive to achieve. It is a good idea to assess the AACSB tables related to faculty qualification and intellectual contributions to ensure you’re planning for the right outcomes.

At the ZHAW School of Management and Law, we started by carefully reading the AACSB Business Accreditation Standards and looking at the tables expected in the accreditation documentation (2.1, 2.2, 15.1, and 15.2). We then talked to other schools with a mission similar to ours. Additionally, we began compiling all scholarly and professional activities of our faculty, to get an idea of how our report tables may look. We successfully earned accreditation in May 2015, based on the 2003 standards.

Our faculty’s activities had never been compiled before 2009, so one person was tasked with one-on-one meetings with each faculty member to collect all details concerning their intellectual contributions and to compile the data in an Excel spreadsheet. Once data collection was well underway, we were able to assess which qualification rules would be appropriate for our school. It was important to understand our portfolio early on to assess our research portfolio and strengthen weak areas before reporting. Practically speaking, when developing faculty qualification rules, one minor shift in the rules can impact your faculty ratios dramatically. Our goal was to include as many publication and activity types as would match our mission and enable our faculty qualification rules to represent the varied and significant endeavors of our faculty. Currently, we use the accreditation software Academ from Rimaone to track our faculty qualification. Manual manipulation of data has been superseded by automatic and on-demand reports generated directly within the Academ program.

Following our successful initial accreditation, we took the opportunity with AACSB’s updated 2013 standards to improve our qualification rules. To do this, we compared our old rules to the expectations of the 2013 standards and reused what we could. We then considered which additional scholarly and practice activities would help drive mission achievement at our school, and we included these. Finally, we assessed the impact on faculty qualifications and found that with the updates to our faculty qualification rules, only about 10 of our 450 faculty members needed attention. With new standards anticipated in 2020, we will again have a chance to update certain aspects of our qualification rules.

From where did ideas arise for the scholarly and practice contributions to include in our qualification rules? We perused the AACSB Business Standards, discussed the topic extensively with peers at AACSB events and conferred with our contacts at AACSB to confirm we were on the right track. This does not mean we floated through our initial accreditation without complications; we had to justify our decisions to the peer team and show how specific contributions affect our faculty ratios. One such occurred when we weighted administrative duty quite heavily. This isn’t usually an issue, however, at our school, many faculty members have administrative duty, which means members of our faculty gain points through this activity. During the visit, the peers asked us to show the impact of the administrative duties, and we were able to demonstrate that without administrative duty counting towards faculty status, our faculty ratios only changed by 1%, meaning we still met the standards cleanly.

Something that helped us during the entire process—from before the initial accreditation visit in 2015 until today—is that we have an internal tool to forecast our faculty ratios. This allows us to measure precisely how any changes to qualification rules will affect faculty ratios in each program. It is part of a comprehensive process to make sure faculty know how their AACSB status develops and when they need to complete specific scholarly or practice contributions. Since the initial accreditation in 2015, we’ve also worked with our HR department to ensure we’re are hiring people who will be able to maintain an AACSB faculty qualification.

We are constantly developing aspects of our faculty qualifications as we move forward. Our goal is to improve the process we follow while improving the impact we have as a business school while remaining aligned with our mission. Have there been bumps in the road? Certainly. However, it’s important to learn from these experiences and work towards improvements. So, as a great colleague and many accreditation professionals say: “After accreditation is before accreditation.”


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