Growth & Progress: The Global Impact of Accreditation

What led business schools outside the U.S. to become first in their markets to seek AACSB accreditation? Five deans describe their schools’ journeys before and after accreditation and share the goals they’ve set their sights on next.
Growth & Progress: The Global Impact of Accreditation

FOR MOST OF THE 20TH CENTURY, business school accreditation was an American phenomenon that stemmed from AACSB’s founding. (See “Starting Points”) It wasn’t until the 1970s and ’80s that EFMD in Belgium and AMBA in the U.K. introduced their accreditations; all AACSB members were U.S.-based until 1968, when the University of Alberta in Canada became the first school outside the U.S. to earn accreditation. Thirty years later, ESSEC in France became the first school outside the Americas to earn the credential. (Read essays by deans from both schools in “View from the World”). What inspired the first international schools to pursue AACSB accreditation? What impact did it have on their programs? Deans at schools in the Netherlands,

Australia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates explain what accreditation has meant to them so far—and what they hope to see from the association in the future.

PHILOSOPHICAL SHIFTS

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, many schools outside the U.S. were not just facing increasing global competition, but also growing pressure from their universities to transform their programs. While the schools featured here each had unique motives for pursuing global accreditation, they also shared a few underlying common goals:

To unify their programs. Before the School of Business at the American University in Cairo in Egypt earned its accreditation in 2006, its departments of management, accounting, and economics did not function as one school, but as three. Each department had its own mission, vision, and objectives, and each acted independently from the other two, explains dean Karim Seghir. “The AACSB accreditation process helped the school’s leaders cultivate a culture of ‘One School’ with a common mission and played a key role in aligning the offerings of the departments,” he says. “This led to more collaborations in teaching, research, and outreach between the three departments and a better utilization of our resources.”

"WE FIND IT MORE AND MORE IMPORTANT TO BE ADAPTABLE IN A CHANGING MARKET"

—STEFF VAN DE VELDE, ERASMUS UNIVERSITY

To fulfill research-driven ambitions. In 2000, the College of Business and Economics (CBE) at the United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) was the first business school in the Middle East to earn AACSB accreditation. It did so primarily to fulfill goals set for it by the larger university, says CBE dean Geralyn McClure Franklin. “Prior to our interest in AACSB accreditation in the mid-1990s, we were a teaching-oriented institution,” Franklin says. “With the university’s interest in global accreditations for key programs, our emphasis shifted to include teaching and research. As a result, the CBE focused on recruiting, retaining, and motivating faculty to perform at the levels necessary to maintain high-quality teaching and research. This effort continues today.”

To grow globally. When Rotterdam School of Management (RSM) at Erasmus University in the Netherlands became the second AACSB-accredited school in Europe in 1998, its goals were twofold, says dean Steef van de Velde: to become more research-driven and to increase its global visibility. The school placed greater focus on its research center, now the Erasmus Research Institute of Management, which brought together scholars from RSM and the Erasmus School of Economics. By achieving AACSB accreditation, says van de Velde, the school also aimed to bring more attention to its internationally focused programs, including its international MBA program launched in 1985.

To assure learning outcomes. Aligning their programs with AACSB’s assurance of learning (AoL) standard, introduced in 2003, has represented one of the biggest hurdles for these schools—but according to these deans, it also has yielded substantial benefits. Seghir admits that AUC’s faculty and staff had to be convinced of assessment’s value. Today, however, the school has developed a “culture of assessment and continuous improvement,” Seghir says. “Our stakeholders perceive assessment and continuous improvement as a journey rather than a destination.”

UQ Business School at the University of Queensland in Brisbane—the first AACSB-accredited school in Australia—had similar difficulties putting AoL standards in place for its accreditation in 2003, says Andrew Griffiths, dean and chair in business sustainability and strategy. But he stresses that “the implementation of assurance of learning—the linking back to the mission and strategy of a research-intensive business school—has created new opportunities for innovation adoption and experimentation.”

“WE FOCUSED ON RECRUITING, RETAINING, AND MOTIVATING FACULTY TO PERFORM AT THE LEVELS NECESSARY TO MAINTAIN HIGH-QUALITY TEACHING AND RESEARCH. THIS EFFORT CONTINUES TODAY.”

—GERALYN MCLURE FRANKLIN, UAEU

At the University of Sydney Business School, which became the second AACSB-accredited school in Australia in 2004, a central challenge was to create a more intentional approach to curricular revision. Before the early 2000s, incremental changes to degree programs were made largely by individual faculty who relied on often minimal feedback from students and graduates. Adopting AoL practices has helped the school approach curricular revision more systematically, says dean Gregory Whitwell.

“Program learning outcomes are now targeted from the first unit of study and are pursued right across the degree,” he says. “Each program now has a capstone that integrates all that students learn and provides an appropriate place to capture evidence of achievement.” Aligning the school’s programs with the AoL standard also helped faculty overcome another challenge before it had even presented itself. In 2011, Australia’s government mandated that all Australian higher education programs adopt AoL protocols. The business school already had its processes in place, ahead of the rest of the university.

PLANS UNDERWAY

These deans note that their schools now are positioned to push ahead with new initiatives. Their plans share common themes, including experimentation with new technology, expansion into the global market, and greater engagement with business leaders and policymakers.

For example, with the foundation for its global programs firmly in place, RSM now plans to expand into other global regions. Its leadership also wants to do more to leverage the school’s location in Rotterdam, home to the busiest port in Europe, to support its research and curriculum. In the next few years, RSM’s faculty also will explore the possibilities of blended learning platforms to provide students with more flexible learning options. “We find it more and more important to be adaptable in a changing market,” says van de Velde.

Digital technologies will be the next big focus for UQ Business School, says Griffiths. “Technology can provide us with opportunities to enhance our strengths not only in face-to-face delivery of programs, but also in how we conduct and communicate our research.”

The University of Sydney Business School now has a new strategy designed to position the school as “socially conscious and committed to making people’s lives better and helping business be a force for good,” says Whitwell. “We must construct our programs so that our students are forever questioning the notion of ‘business as usual.’ We ourselves must use the same approach in looking critically at what we do. Part of our research and public policy agenda must be to question the status quo and, where we judge change to be necessary, be advocates for alternative approaches.”

“HOW DO WE ENCOURAGE OUR FACULTY TO LOOK UPON THEIR ROLES DIFFERENTLY? HOW DO WE ENCOURAGE THEM TO INVEST TIME AND ENERGY INTO NEW MODES OF TEACHING?”

GREGORY WHITWELL, UNIVERSITY OF SYDNEY

With business and society paying more attention to technology and conscious capitalism, many business schools—particularly those in emerging markets—will be focusing more on solving economic problems in their own regions, says Seghir. For the AUC School of Business, that means addressing one of the most pressing challenges facing its region: unemployment. To that end, the school now coordinates the activities of the recently established African Academic Association on Entrepreneurship (AAAE). The consortium of schools includes the AUC, the University of Stellenbosch and the University of Cape Town in South Africa, ESCA Ecole de Management in Morocco, Lagos Business School in Nigeria, and Strathmore University in Kenya.

AAAE’s goal is to develop teaching and research that focus on entrepreneurship, family business, small business management, innovation, and startups; it also will promote student and faculty exchanges, joint research, joint programs, and other collaborations among its members and other institutions in Africa and worldwide. “A sustainable and viable solution to this rising challenge of unemployment is a well-directed entrepreneurship ecosystem,” says Seghir.

WHAT'S NEEDED NEXT

These deans have recommendations for AACSB and other global accrediting bodies, as these organizations draft revisions to their accreditation standards and chart their courses for the future:

Provide more examples of best practices. The growing emphasis on ethical decision making, experiential learning, and online education will require changes to the accreditation standards, says the University of Sydney’s Whitwell. “How do we encourage our faculty to look upon their roles differently? How do we encourage those who believe their primary responsibility is research to invest time and energy into new modes of teaching?” he asks. “Students also are demanding more opportunities for experiential learning. In schools such as ours, with very large total enrollments, it is a challenge to implement scalable models for experiential learning, both in terms of delivery and assessment of learning outcomes. We would appreciate guidance, exemplars, and the sharing of solutions to these sorts of challenges.”

Strengthen ties to business and government.  As AACSB develops its international strategy, Seghir notes that business schools in emerging markets would like to see the association collaborate more with the world’s ministries of higher education and other governmental institutions. Partnerships with policymakers are greatly needed “to identify and tackle the challenges that business schools in the Arab region and Africa are facing,” says Seghir. “These business schools face major challenges when it comes to funding. AACSB could help by getting schools closer to funding agencies that focus on emerging economies.”

“WE HAVE CULTIVATED A CULTURE OF ‘ONE SCHOOL’ WITH A COMMON MISSION. THIS HAS LED TO MORE COLLABORATIONS IN TEACHING, RESEARCH, AND OUTREACH AND A BETTER UTILIZATION OF OUR RESOURCES.”

—KARIM SEGHIR, THE AMERICAN UNIVERSITY IN CAIRO

Franklin of the UAEU says that she, her leadership team, and her accreditation committee believe it will be crucial for associations like AACSB to reach out beyond the business school community. “We feel emphasis is needed on engagement with the private and public sectors,” she says. She believes that such engagement will help business schools not only have more say in policy decisions, but also better highlight the relevance of their programs, the skills of their graduates, and the real-world impact of their research.

Increase and improve access to business education.  If business schools want to follow through on their promise to grow the global economy, they’ll need to make their programs more accessible, particularly to those in emerging economies, says van de Velde. “The changes we would like to see from industry,” he stresses, “include easier access for those who do not have resources or means to enroll in business education programs.”

“ASSURANCE OF LEARNING—THE LINKING BACK TO THE MISSION AND STRATEGY OFTHE SCHOOL—HAS CREATED NEW OPPORTUNITIES FOR INNOVATION.”

—ANDREW GRIFFITHS, UNIVERSITY OF QUEENSLAND

Continue international outreach.  An increasingly complex global landscape for business education means more schools need to belong to a shared community, says Griffiths of UQ Business School. “We would like to see AACSB continue to expand its internationalization agenda, with a continued focus on the innovation and differentiation of business schools,” he says. “In particular, we’d like to see a stronger focus on industry engagement and industry inclusion as indicators of a business school’s impact.”

Focus more on the social good. These deans agree that future discussions about the purpose of business—and business schools—ultimately will need to follow a more socially driven agenda. “The curriculum challenge here is much more than the inclusion of a course on business ethics,” says Whitwell. “A fundamental question for us is: How do we reformulate the curriculum so that all students, no matter what program they may be enrolled in, complete their studies with a new appreciation of what they and business can do to make the world a better place?”

Van de Velde agrees. “We need to steer business education more toward the development of business leaders capable of leading their organizations into a sustainable future.” Griffiths also emphasizes a need for business schools to produce more research into areas such as sustainability, innovation, and the commercialization of technology, in order to provide greater insight into what it will take to solve the world’s “wicked problems.” As the global community of business schools faces the future, the purpose of business education will be twofold, these deans emphasize: to produce the next generation of business leaders and to be a powerful force driving positive social change.