Business schools have been among the most successful higher education institutions of the last 50 years. Yet now they face many serious challenges that, as Michael Osbaldeston explains, have deep implications for accreditation bodies.
Business schools have existed for over a century, originally as institutions of practical education, which, following the Ford and Carnegie Foundation reports of the 1950s, were gradually recast as serious academic institutions. More recently, they have spread rapidly from North America, through Europe to Asia and beyond, currently numbering over 13,000, with new additions being launched almost daily, particularly in emerging economies.
Business schools are one of the major success stories in higher education of the last 50 years, both from an academic (faculty, research, qualifications) and a business (customers, revenue, profitability) perspective.Yet despite this success, critical comment has been growing in recent years, fuelled in part by the recent global economic recession.
These criticisms have been concisely summarised by Thomas et al in their 2014 EFMD publication Securing the Future of Management Education: “Critics accuse business schools of doing arcane, irrelevant and impractical academic research; doing a poor job of preparing students for management careers; pandering to the market and the media rankings; failing to ask important questions; and in the process of responding to the demands of their environment, losing claims of professionalization as they ‘dumb down’ the content of courses,
inflate grades to keep students happy and pursue curricula fads”.
If that were not sufficient, others have added charges of being too analytical, insular and theoretical; insufficiently global, integrative and team-oriented; and lacking in values and ethical guidance. It is hardly surprising then that some leading schools have turned to accreditation to demonstrate their worth and provide quality assurance to their stakeholders.
The accreditation of management education was initiated by AACSB as far back as 1916, with a focus on North America. AMBA, set up initially as an alumni network, originally concentrated on MBA programmes with a primary focus on the UK. It was not until 1997 that the demand for a European approach to accreditation led EFMD to launch EQUIS, with an initial focus on European schools, and later EPAS, its programme accreditation system.
All three accreditation organisations have expanded internationally, to the point where some 1,000 schools today have achieved one or more of their accreditations. EQUIS aims to achieve both recognition of and quality improvement in the world’s top business schools – recognition through the award of a quality label that is valued worldwide by students, faculty, employers and the media (often being a prerequisite for entry to rankings) and improvement through the need to meet, and continue to achieve, internationally agreed quality standards.
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