As an accreditation officer at a triple-crown accredited school, you are frequently asked how long it takes to attain your first international accreditation and what would be the fastest way to get there. However, there is not really a fast track about accreditation. As soon as a business school fulfils the criteria and standards, the accreditation will follow – it is very difficult to put a timeframe on this.
By Christina Green
Head of Quality Management
TUM School of Management
The lessons learnt for the job’s done are:
- Have a valuable mission and a strategy
- Be open to change
- Have all your data in order
1. Have a valuable mission and a strategy
It is the mantra of all the accreditations to have a mission and a strategy which are not only lived but followed through. Some believe that a mission and a strategy will handcuff a school and you are not able “to pick some flowers along the way”. But it actually gives more freedom and power by being able to say “no”. A good mission will guide a business school in its decision. For example, if approached by corporate partners, other schools or the university central management to start a certain research center or a degree program, the proposal should fit to the mission and if not, it should be declined. This helps a business school to focus on its strengths and not be sidetracked by projects which would require a lot of resources but are not aligned with the core mission.
Same goes with the strategy. Since it guides the way to reach the vision, having a resource-based strategy is important. The strategy should be based on a SWOT as well as a gap analysis, and the school must know what it wants to accomplish. It is also important that the strategy is visionary and the goals are set high. Often, the mistake is to put in strategic goals which are already (when writing the strategy) known to become true and are almost accomplished. This does not inspire an organization to reach a certain goal. In addition, it is underestimated how much an accreditation will give back to the organization. So, strategic goals should be set high since the school will be able to follow through once they received successfully a quality seal!
There is also a value in setting long and short-term goals. It is motivating if you are able to reach first strategic goals within the next year. If all goals are difficult and set for the next five years to reach, people are reluctant to start or feel already demotivated at the beginning. Or even worse, people do not start and think and leave it to the next person (especially if you have a lot of people on time-limited contracts).
Last but not least, the strategy should be discussed with various stakeholders (internal and external). Even though a strategy is a living document which may have to be adjusted in-between its validity, the core of the strategy and its major goals should be followed through. Therefore, it is wise to set up topic-specific workshops working, for example, on program strategy, executive education strategy and brand strategy. Those workshops can involve many different stakeholders and have their views and opinions transferred into strategic goals.
I would start with internal stakeholders (especially professors) and bring them on board. They are normally the hardest ones to convince, asking questions on why we need a strategy for a business school and do not want to have their freedom restricted by a strategic document. External stakeholders are normally much more positive and give valuable input.
2. Be open to change
One of the major criticisms of accreditations are that they will turn out all similar business schools since they have to adhere to the same standards. Luckily, it is not like that. There are standards that need to be accomplished but they are set in a way so you can fill it in with your school’s own mission and background.
Some matters need to be put in place though and sometimes it is tough to “turn a ship” around. Sometimes bureaucracy is argued to hamper the fulfilment of accreditation body expectations. For instance, the internationalization of the student body or faculty. However, there are ways to work towards the goals by explaining your need and thrive for international quality standards with the university’s central management and ministry of your country. Who does not want to have an international renowned business school in its university or country?
In many cases, the openness to change for faculty is the problem. They often see change or the strategy process as a restriction of their freedom. It is always an advantage if the business school is young and faculty were previously employed at accredited business schools. They are then used to the requirements of accreditation already from their previous employer and see mostly the positive side of fulfilling the accreditation requirements.
The use of the English language, or often also the entire switch to English if your school is in a non-English-speaking country, is also a difficult process. Many faculty are not capable of conducting their classes in English or see no need to have English as a working language. Administrative staff is also challenged when dealing with the increasing international student body. Ways of including them or bringing them up to speed include English communication classes, intercultural sensitivity training, and staff exchange.
Change will also come with the success of accreditation. As soon as you have one of the international accreditations, you are put on the map. This means you will get more opportunities to expand your programs and even further internationalize your school. You can participate in the FT ranking, which could result in a more ranking-driven strategy. So, an openness for constant change is a must for all accreditation-interested and accredited business schools.
3. Have all your data in order
Each accreditation organization has its own opinion about how data should be presented. There are differences in how faculty is categorized (AMBA: full/part time faculty / AACSB: faculty qualification as well their engagement / EQUIS: core faculty with at least 2 years contract left). Also different areas (e.g. corporate connections, ERS-activity) of the faculty’s CVs need to be highlighted. All accreditation organizations have, however, in common that they want to see the CV of each faculty member. They, of course, should be formatted in a similar and certain way. All of this adds to the organizational nightmare before a peer review visit, something which should be avoided.
Research data has to be presented also in various ways depending on the accreditation. Of course, you always have to be up-to-date on the research output since this is one of the most important items your business school is going to be measured on.
Most schools going for an accreditation are starting to collect data via Excel or Access-Spreadsheets. However, this is prone to failure. At the end, it is difficult to meet the various expectations of the peer reviewers. It is advisable to think about a database solution early and implement it before the first visit, since it also takes some time to get the data out of the various datasheet fed into the new database.
As a triple-crown accredited school, the next peer-review visit is coming along always quicker than you may think, so the three items discussed above should always be in the forefront of your mind and worked on.