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International business schools and the search for quality

Options:     Print Version - International business schools and the search for quality, part 4 Print view

Article Sections

  1. Background
  2. Internal quality control
  3. International accreditation
  4. Other forms of accreditation - programmes
  5. References

Other forms of accreditation – programmes

While accreditation by EQUIS or AACSB may be the ultimate goal, some schools may just not be at the point where it is appropriate to go through this process. They may, for example, not have enough permanent faculty; still be working hard to improve some areas; or not yet be sufficiently "international" to qualify for full-scale EQUIS accreditation.

Such schools may find it useful to focus on a particular programme. EFMD runs its own Programme Accreditation System (EPAS), whilst the Association of MBAs accredits Master of Business Administration (MBA) degrees.


EPAS was launched in 2005 and accredits a range of programmes at undergraduate, graduate (both general and specialist, and including "pre-Bologna qualifications") and doctorate level. Review concentrates on the selected programmes and only looks at institutional aspects in so far as they affect the programme.

The standards cover five main areas and are summarized below:

1. Institutional context

  • The institution must show an understanding of both the national and international contexts, including, where appropriate, the Bologna reforms.
  • It should be financially viable, and resourced and managed sufficiently well to be sustainable.
  • It should also have a commitment to international and corporate activities.
  • Faculty (whether permanent, adjunct, professional or visiting – note that there is no insistence on permanent faculty) should have sufficient expertise for the programmes under review, be research active and engaged in pedagogical innovation.

2. Programme design

  • The objectives should be in line with the strategic objectives of the organization and stakeholder needs; the programme should be aimed at the appropriate market and its promotion should be professional.
  • The intended learning outcomes should clearly state what the student should know and be able to do on graduating; the curriculum should incorporate international and corporate aspects and show awareness of social trends.
  • The programme should be appropriately delivered and rigorously assessed against achievement of the intended learning outcomes.

3. Programme delivery and operations

  • Entry requirements should be appropriate, and sufficiently rigorous, for the target market. The organization should be customer focused and have an induction process.
  • Pedagogy: students should have a high quality educational experience with use of a variety of pedagogical methods.
  • Students should be developed as rounded individuals.
  • Students should be exposed to a "culture of internationalization" with a mix of teaching faculty, students, and teaching materials.
  • Corporate links should be exploited.

4. Programme outcomes

  • Assessed work should be appropriate for the intended learning outcomes and the level of the degree.
  • Quality of graduates should be appropriate for the graduate profile and international norms, and students should have assistance with career placement.
  • There should be support and activities for alumni.
  • The programme should have an international reputation.

5. Quality assurance processes

  • Quality assurance for design and approval of programmes should be formal, effective and rigorous, with periodic review.

The process of accreditation is very similar to that for EQUIS, with the exception that the briefing visit following the application is substituted by a telephone conference. The whole process takes on average six to nine months.

Although more focused, the standards are applied rigorously, and success may be a benchmark for the school that it is ready to go for full-scale accreditation (Greensted, 2008).

For more details, see

Association of MBAs

The Association of MBAs ( describes itself as a member organization (of MBA students and graduates) which offers an accreditation service for MBAs, Doctorate of Business Administration, and Master in Business and Management degrees. Unlike EPAS, it does not accredit other types of business programme.

The Association of MBAs accredits programmes in their entirety, in all modes and including those which are co-delivered by a partnership organization. The following is a summary of its standards:

The institution

  • Does it support the MBA?
  • Does it have as appropriate mission, strategy, governance, finance?
  • Is it audited and is the audit acted on?
  • Are there mechanisms to secure feedback?
  • Does it have clear leadership?
  • Does the part of the institution that offers the programme have sufficient autonomy?
  • Are there adequate support resources, for example the library, career support, pastoral care, and an alumni association?


Faculty should be "appropriately qualified and credible" and it is expected that at least 75 per cent will have a postgraduate degree, probably a PhD. They should also be research active, and with business links and understanding. There should be sufficient teaching and administrative staff to resource and run the programme effectively.


Admissions procedure should be rigorous; applicants for an MBA should have appropriate work experience, and sufficient grasp of English; they should also have something to offer in group work.

Purpose and outcomes

This section looks at what an MBA is about, presumably on the expectation that the programme seeking accreditation will meet these requirements. Views of alumni, employers and sponsors will also be sought.


  • Nature and design – should be geared to strategic management and leadership; be rooted in theory whilst linked to practice; be generalist, although may be slanted to a specific area.
  • Knowledge, skills and understanding – coverage of the major areas of knowledge which underpin general management; should contain a practically based project.
  • Delivery and assessment – delivered by a range of methods, importance of group work. Assessment should be clear and comprehensive, with feedback.
  • Mode and duration – a range of possible modes, with duration expected to be one year's full time and two-years' part time.


This article has considered quality in business schools from a range of viewpoints: There are the quality standards set by external accrediting bodies, both for institutions and for programmes. Equally important, however, is the process that the school puts in place for its own system of quality management. This should be supported by senior management and pervade all aspects of the institution. Above all, the best way of ensuring quality is to go for quality enhancement, which means adding value to what is there already. In other words, never standing still – as is appropriate in our fast-moving world.

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