A stamp of approval: The important role of MBA accreditation

Accreditation separates top MBA programs from the rest.

Even if you’re still in the early stages of researching your  future business schools and MBA programs, you’ll most likely have come across MBA accreditation.

MBA accreditation is usually most recognizable through a series of badges, or accreditation stamps on business school websites, prospectuses and other promotional material. Some of these badges are that of international accreditation agencies, and some could be more localized, or even related to a specific industry if an MBA program is particularly specialized.

MBA accreditation, or business school accreditation?

By far the largest, and most significant accreditation agencies for MBA programs and business schools are the three international bodies: the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB); EFMD’s European Quality Improvement System (EQUIS), and the Association of MBAs (AMBA).

Of the three bodies mentioned, two accredit entire business schools – AACSB and EQUIS – while AMBA accredits individual programs.

Many of the top business schools have earned accreditation from all three bodies, which in turn makes them very attractive institutions for employers seeking the most talented of graduates; highly skilled faculty seeking to continue nurturing the world’s next business leaders; and MBA applicants looking to ensure they are taught at one of the world’s top business schools.

“Applicants should be able to differentiate between national accreditations, usually validating sufficient quality, and international accreditations, often much more demanding,” says Professor Julio Urgel, deputy director general of operations and quality at EFMD.

MBA accreditation as a measure of a business school’s reputation

“Reputation is key when it comes to choosing a school,” emphasizes Mark Stoddard, accreditation projects manager at AMBA.

“Employers not only ask whether you have an MBA, but where you studied and some programs have better reputations than others. You can measure the quality and impact of an MBA program by checking that it has the right accreditations.”

However, if a school doesn’t boast all three of the international accreditations mentioned, or in some cases any of them, it does not necessarily mean that school is inferior. Like with MBA rankings, a program’s suitability for each individual applicant depends entirely on what that applicant hopes to achieve.

“Accreditations are important because they ensure the quality and academic rigor of the program and the school,” says Pilar Vicente Maese, senior associate director for admissions at IE Business School in Spain.

MBA accreditation versus MBA rankings

“Candidates should research how an institution or program fairs across the different accreditations and rankings - since rankings have different focuses, potential students must pay particular attention to the rankings that are most closely aligned to their professional and personal objectives,” he advises.

“Of course, accreditations and rankings will only show part of the picture and candidates must investigate further by attending events and speaking to current students and alumni to see if the school they are considering is the right fit.”

Like Maese, Stoddard at AMBA advises applicants against substituting MBA accreditation for business school rankings when selecting which programs to apply to.

“Rankings are based on a limited range of quantitative benchmarks and can change from year to year,” Stoddard says.

“International rankings, and national rankings to a lesser degree, are a valuable complement to international accreditations, but never an equally valuable alternative,” asserts Urgel at EFMD.

“Rankings only assess a limited number of items in a program or a school.

“Despite this limitation, the encapsulated message conveyed by having obtained a reputed international accreditation or recurrently appearing in the top places of a respected international ranking is often, but not always, exactly the same: this is a very good school or program.

“However,” continues Urgel, “this message is based on much more substance, and therefore more reliable and complete, when delivered via accreditation. This is the reason that very often serious and reliable rankings do consider as part of their criteria what kind of accreditation the school or program has as part of their criteria.”

MBA accreditation: a threshold of standard for business schools

This is a sentiment echoed by John Elliott, marketing and communications manager, for the dean’s marketing unit at UTS Business School in Australia.
“When several schools are competing in the same market are all providing the same accreditation, rankings may provide a useful supplementary tool as a mark of quality, providing prospective students understand and agree on the criteria used to assess quality.”

It’s this research into values and attributes assessed by both rankings and accreditation agencies that applicants really need to pay attention to. If their ideals don’t match those of the accreditation or ranking, then it shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

“Accreditation provides a threshold of standard for business schools,” Nunzio Quacquarelli, managing director of QS Quacquarelli Symonds explains. “The specific focus of each board is quite different so they are measuring different things.

“A candidate needs to understand what accreditation a school or program has received and why, before making their decision. It is important that a school is accredited either locally or internationally.”

Written by Mansoor Iqbal

Mansoor is a contributor to and former editor of TopMBA.com. He is a higher and business education specialist, who has been published in media outlets around the world. He studied English literature at BA and MA level and has a background in consumer journalism.

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