ALMOST TWO DECADES AGO, Debashish Sanyal, the then dean of Management Development Institute (MDI) Gurgaon, decided to take the institute through the international accreditation process of the Association of MBAs, or AMBA, as it is popularly known.
The accreditation put MDI on par with similar institutes around the world. For Sanyal, too, it was life changing. He moved across different private institutes, taking five of them through the accreditation process. After MDI Gurgaon in 2002, SP Jain Global and SP Jain India received international accreditation in 2009, followed by Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (NMIMS) Bangalore and Hyderabad, respectively. Sanyal is currently director of Great Lakes Gurgaon, which received AMBA accreditation in 2019. It is now aspiring to get its second accreditation by AACSB by 2024.
The Triple Crown
But the ultimate in global B-school recognition is Triple Accreditation, or Triple Crown. It implies the school has received accreditation from AMBA (based in the U.K.), Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International, or AACSB (based in the U.S.) and EQUIS (based in the European Union). Internationally, only around 1% of business schools are triple-accredited. India has three — Indian School of Business (ISB) Hyderabad, IIM Calcutta and IIM Indore.
While receiving accreditation from one or two of the governing organisations is prestigious, a Triple Crown is highly regarded among business schools because of the rigorous standards an institution needs to adhere to. One of the key objectives of accreditation is to promote entrepreneurship through various programmes. It is also an important factor in business school rankings.
"You are counted on par with other national and international institutions of repute with similar accreditation. It adds value to the brand of your college across the world, besides helping in exchange programmes for students and faculty," says Sanyal. The accreditation process requires the institute to institutionalise systems and processes. It also helps in increasing research output. More research publishing attracts premium faculty, both national and international, which in turn raises the quality of the institute as a whole.
Set up in 2016, U.S.-based AACSB is the world's oldest accreditation body. Its business standards, announced its 2020, consist of nine parameters, organised into three categories. The Strategic Management and Innovation category includes three standards that guide B-Schools in the process of meaningful strategic management, in addition to the management of all necessary resources such as creating new programmes, building facilities, or hiring more faculty. The Learner Success category includes four standards with emphasis on ensuring learner success through curriculum, engagement and assurance of learning. The third and final category, Thought Leadership, Engagement and Societal Impact, focuses on the school's direct impact on the society at large through external engagement and research activities — whether on a community, regional, national or international level. It has accredited 950 schools worldwide, 19 of them in India.
For AMBA, it began in 1967 when eight U.K.-based business school graduates decided to launch the Business Graduates Association (BGA) in London. Its mission was to improve the quality and number of business schools, encourage employers to recruit business graduates, and promote business education. BGA launched an accreditation programme to uphold high B-school standards and its first Guide to Business Schools was released in 1972. After that, there was no looking back, and by 1979, BGA was reviewing 80 institutions. Most were in the U.S., but there were also 14 institutions in Israel, South Africa, Hong Kong, Iran and Ireland. The MBA was considered the flagship programme at business schools, and by the end of the 1980s, the organisation changed its name to the Association of MBAs (AMBA), with a focus on accrediting MBA programmes at business schools. Today, AMBA has a community of 300 schools with accredited MBA programmes, 14 of them in India.
EQUIS is awarded by European Foundation for Management Development a global, non-profit, membership-driven organisation. It is recognised globally as an accreditation body for business schools, business school programmes, and corporate universities. In India, six schools have EQUIS accreditation.
The accreditation process differs for all three. For AMBA, which focuses only on MBA, the school applying should have enough experience running the programme — at least 10 years with a minimum cohort size of 21. Majority of the teaching faculty must have a PhD, and the average work experience of students should ideally be a minimum of three years. Other criteria that AMBA looks for is a broad, healthy variety in that cohort, including the male-female mix. "In India it is around 24%, which is an outlier against the rest of the world. Earlier it was 90% male to 10% female," says Andrew Main Wilson, CEO, AMBA. Recently, Miami Business School in the U.S. was assessed, and it was Wilson's 254th AMBA accreditation.
"We bring a team of four assessors, one local and three international. They bring with them the experience of accreditations all over the world. Since AMBA focuses specifically on MBAs, it goes into great detail about the MBA programme, judging it by classic international standards," adds Wilson.
AACSB and EQUIS, on the other hand, accredit the entire institute. Both offer a comprehensive institutional accreditation system for business and management schools, acknowledged worldwide by potential students, faculty, employers and corporates. EQUIS accreditation ensures a rigorous quality control, benchmarking the school against global standards in terms of governance, programmes, students, faculty, research, internationalisation, ethics, responsibility and sustainability, as well as engagement with the world of practice. It covers the activities of the school, including degree and non-degree programmes, knowledge generation and contribution to the community.
The AACSB accreditation process includes an internal assessment by the school as well as an external peer review by heads of accredited B-Schools. "Being principles based and outcomes focused, our standards can be applied in a variety of contexts, and aim to promote relevance and innovation-specific to each accredited school," says Caryn Beck-Dudley, president and CEO, AACSB. The school seeking AACSB accreditation must first join the Business Education Alliance as an educational member of AACSB and confirm the scope of programmes to be reviewed. All programmes in business disciplines offered by the institution are included in the review (referred to as institutional accreditation). The school then submits an eligibility application and develops an initial self-evaluation report. Once the eligibility application is approved by the Initial Accreditation Committee, a volunteer dean from an AACSB-accredited school is assigned as a mentor. He/she works with the applicant school on its self-evaluation to determine its current alignment with the accreditation standards, and assists with the development of its plan to close gaps, in the form of an initial self-evaluation report and the implementation of the plan in subsequent progress reports.
Once the committee is assured that the school meets the standards, the latter is invited to submit the final self-evaluation report. A team of three peers reviews the final report and conducts a pre-visit analysis, which is reviewed and approved and sent to the school. The peer review team also provides a visit report to the applicant school. Finally, recommendations or denials of accreditation are ratified by the Initial Accreditation Committee and forwarded to the AACSB board of directors for ratification.
"Accreditation is a consultative process. It's not a team of ruthless auditors looking for problems. We work with the school. That's very important," says AMBA's Wilson. After the accreditation, if further guidelines are needed, a senior manager from AMBA and BGA will continue to mentor the school and monitor the process.
"When we examine a business school in detail, the first part offers positive impact. We look at what are they trying to achieve, the kind of impact they can have on stakeholders and communities. The second part is accreditation, which is responsible management," says Victor Hedenberg, business development manager, BGA. "Schools are encouraged to run weekend programmes update marketing skills, digital marketing or even corporate finance. The idea is to make business schools a place of learning on a continual basis."
Schools are also being encouraged to rethink what they do for their alumni. "The most untapped potential for a lot of business schools is lifelong learning. Even if you finish your programme, there is an offering by the school where you can come back and learn on demand," adds Hedenberg.
Similar to AMBA, BGA covers all programmes, from the undergraduate to the doctorate level. It oversees the curriculum to match the objectives of the institute to the curriculum. "If, for example, a school is trying to train entrepreneurs, then faculty members should have entrepreneurial knowledge or experience, or they should be practitioners. Similarly, in case of an academic university, the faculty should have strong credentials and published research which has had its impact on the society," says Hedenberg.
AMBA has different membership fees and tiers — bronze tier for membership; silver tier for validation, and a gold tier for full-school accreditation.
As schools receive accreditations, they become part of an international network. Ideas and connections are generated with other schools within the network, mostly abroad. There is also a student and graduate network of an international community of MBAs in terms of building relationships, business connections, and scouting for jobs internationally.
Ambitious young managers want an education which is not only the best in a local context, but also commands a premium internationally. Accreditation is a step in that direction.