MBA accreditation explained | TopMBA.com

MBA accreditation explained

By Craig OCallaghan

Updated July 3, 2023 Updated July 3, 2023

Choosing an accredited MBA programme can be the first step to enrolling in a world-class course. The decision to pursue an MBA degree is a huge commitment, requiring both time and money in the hope of increased earning potential and career progression upon completion. The journey begins with a deliberate and thorough search for the right school.

Accreditation from a leading accreditation body provides an immediate short list. The three most respected accreditation organisations are:

Schools that really want to stand out will seek accreditation from multiple bodies. Securing the 'triple crown' accreditation - separate accreditations from AACSB, EQUIS and AMBA) is seen as the highest possible standard for an institution to aspire to, and as of the start of 2023 there are 118 institutions with triple crown accreditation.

Why is MBA accreditation important?

Accreditation, especially international certification creates global exposure for an institution inevitably drawing in a higher level of talent. Business schools are among the most competitive in the world, bringing advancements in curriculum and research for over a century. The indicator of success for many of these schools has been accreditation.

Accreditation from any of the three bodies above has a three-fold benefit for student, school and employer. The school benefits from compliance to a world-renowned process, the student is assured that their business education will retain its value and employers have a candidate pool of students that have been taught by a school of international acclaim.

Does MBA accreditation matter?

While accreditation cannot guarantee a specific study experience, students should see accreditation as evidence that the school has submitted to a rigorous process and demonstrated that its MBA programmes are of a required standard.

As Dr Sonia Monarrez, Director of Strategic Intelligence at EGADE Business School, said at the QSEduData Summit 2023: "[Accreditation] represents a systematic way to improve."

Triple crown accreditation is relatively rare, precisely because of the amount of work required by an institution to accomplish it.

 Speaking at the QS EduData Summit 2023, Dr Hari Natarajan (Vice Dean, Programs, Miami Herbert Business School) said: "Schools must have a clear purpose in mind before beginning the accreditation process. You don’t need three accreditations, but it makes sense if it will bring specific strategic benefit to your institution.

“If you’re not Harvard, you have to come up with justification for why you deserve a seat at the table. As an institution, there’s a quality imprimatur on our CV now.” 

When comparing schools, it's worth considering what benefits a triple crown accredited institution might have. For example, Dr Natarajan said: "Our goal in getting the triple crown was to engage in a greater number of international partnerships and the triple crown has helped to grease the wheels with that. Going through the rigorous accreditation process has made us better so it’s been incredibly productive.” 

Given that many business schools in the US only hold AACSB accreditation, the triple crown has helped open Miami Herbert Business School to a more internationally diverse market, which may be more in line with your ideal study environment.

When speaking to a business school, learning more about their motivations behind pursuing triple crown accreditation can be enlightening.

Types of accreditation

AACSB

Founded in 1916 the AACSB is an association made up of higher learning institutions and enterprises focused on business education. It is also the oldest, largest and most recognised accreditation body for business schools in the world. With more than 1,100 members in over 70 countries the AACSB claims one of the most rigorous and respected stamps of approval a business school can achieve.

The AACSB spans undergraduate, graduate and doctoral programs and is not exclusive to just the MBA sector. “It is a mission-driven institutional process that focuses on self-assessment and overall quality,” explains Jerry Trapnell, vice president and chief accreditation officer of AACSB. Schools adhere to 21 peer reviewed standards developed by a global network of 900 deans and university presidents.

Trapnell claims that the value proposition of the organisation is, “A procedural, non-governmental, voluntary assessment. We provide a network of 1,000 schools, publish white papers, conferences and seminars, all with the objective of advancing management education worldwide.

“Our standards are demanding and we have aggressive expectations about learning. The choice to enter the process of accreditation with us, which can take up to seven years to complete is not for schools content on operating locally.” It is for this reason that the AACSB will only be able to give approval to a small number of institutions over the coming years.

EQUIS

Operated by the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD), an academia, business and public sector membership organization, the European Quality Improvement System or EQUIS is one of the world’s leading international systems of quality assessment, improvement and accreditation of management schools and business administrations.

Created in 1997 with the goal of developing an accreditation system aimed at business schools who’s mission was to permeate beyond their borders, it immediately amassed the support of big name European schools such as INSEAD and London Business School.

The EQUIS brand is not as well established in North America as AACSB and, for example, just seven Canadian schools tote EQUIS. Those that are included on the list have a commitment to developing partnerships in Europe and Asia, where the EQUIS name is common.

AMBA

Out of the top three, the only accrediting body that concentrates solely on the quality and relevance of individual MBA programmes is the Association of MBAs (AMBA). AMBA is the impartial international authority on postgraduate business education in the world. Established in 1967 as global credentials for all MBA, DBA and MBM programmes. 

Dr Richard Owen, director of accreditation and business school services at AMBA says that AMBA requires their schools to only admit students who have three or more years of full-time work experience under their belts. The strength of AMBA’s accreditation is their acute focus on the MBA and value-added services for its members. Unlike AACSB, schools must be accredited to be a member. Members are entitled to market trend reports, networking and information exchange, deans and directors conferences and forums for marketing and administration training.

FAQ

Do employers care about accreditation?

In short - yes! Accreditation raises the reputation of a business school among employers, which in turn means that attending an accredited school will make employers view your MBA degree as more reputable. 

As previously mentioned, triple crown accreditation can also increase the international visibility of a business school, which may be beneficial if your long-term career plans involve working in a different country to where you studied.

Does it matter if your MBA is accredited?

Having an accreditation means that the teaching at a business school has been certified as reaching a certain standard by a third party. While this doesn't mean the MBA experience at an unaccredited school is worse, you perhaps would need to rely on other sources of information (speaking to alumni, meeting a school at an event) to ascertain if their MBA programme was right for you.

Is a non-accredited MBA worth it?

The accreditation process is not straightforward, so there may be valid reasons why a school hasn't pursued accreditation and it's a question you should consider asking when applying to a non-accredited school. While an MBA will almost always provide a clear ROI and help you progress in your career, the quality of education and reputation of an institution are two crucial factors in ensuring you achieve the outcomes you desire and a non-accredited MBA offers fewer guarantees.

Which accreditation is better for the UK?

Of the three accreditations mentioned above, one is not necessarily better than another. EQUIS originated in Europe and therefore is more common among UK business schools, but that doesn't mean it's 'better'. Arguably possessing multiple accreditations is more important and as of 2023 over 20 UK business schools hold triple crown accreditation, including Alliance Manchester Business School, Imperial College Business School and University of Strathclyde Business School.

What impact does accreditation have on a business school?

By achieving accreditation, a business school has reached a high level of standard which must then be continually maintained, a process which can help ensure consistent levels of quality teaching over many years.

Wilfred Mijnhardt, Policy Director at the Rotterdam School of Management, told the QS EduData Summit 2023: "New people now come into different sectors of the school and they can step into an existing system of logic. You can build a narrative of continuous development and consistency with accreditation."

Photo by Jeremy McGilvrey on Unsplash

This article was originally published in November 2012 . It was last updated in July 2023

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