Johan Schlasberg 

Branding and Accreditations of Business schools
This field is part of my consulting practice. It is work in progress.

branding and accreditations

Many university and B-School boards, deans and their staff, spend much attention on costly Accreditations. Are accreditations worth the effort and money? Are there other ways of branding Quality?

The value of accreditations depends on your perspective. Are you a student, a PhD-candidate, a potential donor, an untenured professor, a local community, a board, or any other constituent in this context? I will present some facts and aspects on branding and accreditations. It is not an academic paper, but may later be developed into one.

My starting point is that accreditations have value, but are overvalued. Their value will diminish as more B-Schools get them. Other, more versatile and efficient, ways of assessing quality and branding can, and need to be developed and made widely available. I have a few ideas and suggestions.

Accreditations from the most well-known 'accreditation companies'reference like AACSB, AMBA, and EFMD are set up to produce relatively few winners and many also runners. A better goal would be a concept that produced many winners and perhaps alerted "us" to the sour apples.

Many Business schools do not desire to engage in the costly and cumbersome process of getting an accreditation stamp, and yet have plans to upgrade their Quality, and increase their relevance, as measured by several parameters.

My key advice - Increase your Transparency

Transparency and authenticity are, and will increasingly be key competitive factors, especially for the B-Schools that have decided not to apply for an accreditation by the dominant accreditation companies.

I assume that almost all Business schools have what I call 'Quality Intentions' (QI), meaning that they have an agenda to provide better education and services. They may, however, not yet, have a formal Quality Assessment (QA) process. These organisations need alternative ways of improving. One model would be to offer a more transparent QA-profile on their website than most accredited Business schools.

Business schools in competition

Business schools are, perhaps, in an increasingly competitive situation. I say perhaps because the story of increasing competition is a driving selling point for accreditations that warrant better validation. B-schools in many smaller countries are offering courses on many levels in English, and thereby declare that they want to participate in a global or at least regional context and perhaps competition. Rankings are oversimplified media-friendly constructions that trick us into believing things that are of mixed value. B&A is a reference to M&A - Mergers and Acquisitions.

Looking at B-Schools websites and websites of the 'accreditation associations' you quickly note how great everything is. After a while, you begin to wonder: what is marketing speak and what is the real picture? Many have commented that a central marketing currency in the future, and likely already, is authenticity.

Increasingly many companies are neutralizing factors like gender, age and place of study. This means that the recruiters in the first - often computerized screening - will not see whether an MBA is from a University of a big accredited B-School or a lesser known B-School.

Ongoing: Contacts and interviews with HR-people and recruiters.

Interviews with non accredited Business Schools

A large majority of B-Schools have chosen not to apply for accreditation by the leading accreditation companies. Do they plan to? Is it a matter of cost? How do they see accreditations?

Ongoing: Contacts and interviews. I would like to hear from you.

The Academic Research on Business Schools

As the number of B-Schools has mushroomed, some say 13-15 000, it was apparent that this presented a growing opportunity for research. The field can now be said to be a niche of its own. As the subject is of great interest to many influential persons at the universities, it will very likely attract even more attention.

Key question
What is the impact of academic research on accreditations and branding? Have B-Schools changed their agendas or processes?

The publishing industry is always searching for markets large enough to sustain a new journal. Many scholars in this field have published articles in journals like 'The Journal of higher education', and 'Higher education', and others. However, I will not be surprised by the appearance of a 'Journal of Branding and Accreditation' or something like that.

'The Academic Arms Race' is a chapter by Enders J. in Pettigrew and al. (2014).

Ongoing: A review of some academic research on branding and accreditations.

Accreditation organisations are accreditation companies

There are several international acronym organisations such as AACSB, AMBA, and EFMD (EQUIS) that offer accreditation for the world's approximately 13-15.000 Business Schools.

The accreditation organisations present themselves as being non-profit. However, they operate and market their services, which often are referred to as "products", like commercial companies. They have business plans and want to grow like most commercial companies. A more accurate description would be to call them companies, Accreditation companies. Wikipedia Resourcesreference

The market for accreditations is and needs in a way to be an oligopoly. How many acronyms brands are there room for "on the shelves"? Their services and implementation processes are costly, which, paradoxically, is attractive to an oligopolist and their clients. What would happen to the status and value of accreditations if their number increased by a factor of say ten?

The accreditation companies have websites that are well worth reading and learn from. Besides some marketing they publish insights and facts which are a close to a "must read" even if your B-School is not in the process of making an accreditation investment.

Introduction to AACSB
"The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business" | AACSB enW

AACSB has 1,700+ member organisations and more than 800 accredited business schools (Oct 2019).

Introduction to AMBA
"The Association of MBAs" | AMBA enW

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Introduction to EFMD
"The European Foundation for Management Development" | EFMD enW

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Other accreditation organisations:

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The Accreditation costs and benefits

Each accreditation is a substantial investment in money, time, and organisational alignment to accreditation criteria. Annual fees and yearly internal compliance reviews, and data gathering are added costs.

Accreditations can be viewed as a way for universities and B-Schools to construct a purposeful and efficient organisation, and that they "need" external pressure to achieve this. That is one way, but not the only way.

Ongoing: A general description of the work needed to get an accreditation, and the cost structure. An analysis of actual accreditation costs for Lund University School of Economics and Managementreference (LUSEM).

their business model drives bureaucratic behavior at universities and B-Schools.

Accreditation processes

Accreditations are a subset of Evaluation and they are both closely related to branding.

What changes in the school have been required to get the accreditations? Do the accreditation associations have very different assessment criteria? Are three accreditations three times better than one? What is the significance of ranking in national and international comparisons? More about the signal value of the accreditations for different constituents in an upcoming post. Also, more will follow about Transparency and the lack of it.

Accreditation as a driving force for internal quality work. The internal quality process will likely be improved by working with the accreditation companies. One example is this article in the journal 'Civilekonomen', 2018 Swedish flag, about the quality work at Jönköping International Business School. Business schools that for various reasons have chosen not to try to be accredited are also likely to conduct internal quality work but differently.

The fact that an organisation increases its accreditation work is not the same as the actual quality perceived by users - in this case, the students and the researchers.

In Sweden, a continuous evaluation of higher education is conducted by The Swedish Higher Education Authority. They publish criticism and can revoke a business degree. Unlike the 'accreditation associations, UKÄ has a service HögskolekollenSwedish flag where students and other interested parties can see how the evaluations go and sort the universities according to different criteria. On UKÄ's website, there is, among other things, readable information about how the quality reviews are doneSwedish flag.

An alternative model

Transparency is a powerful alternative to accreditations. However, it will require a lot of work, and internal discussions about the meaning and design of transparency.

A Swedish perspective

Accreditation is one of the marketing methods used by Lund University School of Economics and Management (LUSEM),  Jönköping International Business School,  School of Business, Economics and Law in Göteborg,   Handelshögskolan in Stockholm, and some other universities and business schools in Sweden. Accreditation can be compared to the Nordic Swan Ecolabel - which by the way is administered by a government-owned company. The Ecolabel can probably today be said to by many be something of an "expected basic requirement", while accreditation is intended to signify that you belong to an elite of the world, in this case, Business schools.

A Swedish case - Lund School of Economics and Management (LUSEM)

LUSEM

This picture was taken in the entrance hall at Lund School of Economics and Management (LUSEM) in September 2019. It signals that the accreditations are important for the school's management. It is something of a paradox that the more successful the Accreditation companies are, the higher will the percentage figure get. Thus in five years, maybe LUSEM belongs to the top 4% of all B-Schools.

How much information about accreditations should you find at a B-School website? The only information I have found so far, about the accreditation process at LUSEM you can read here.

LUM Lund University Magazine. In addition to the monetary cost to the accreditation companies, there is extensive internal work. In issue 2019:4 of LUM is an interview with Kristina Eneroth Swedish flag, Vice-Dean at LUSEM, about LUSEM's accreditations. Question: "How many pages have you written on behalf of LUSEM to the accreditation institutes?" Reply by Kristina Eneroth: "It has become thousands over the years. I dare not count." Many other employees' time can be added to this. All this accreditation work has a significant alternative cost.

Ongoing: I plan to read a fair amount of the documents involved in the accreditations LUSEM have applied for.

Litterature references and Resources

  1. Huzzard T., Benner M., Kärreman M. editors (2017). 'The Corporatization of the Business School: Minerva meets the Market'. Taylor & Francis |
  2. Judson K. M. (2009). 'Building a University Brand from Within: University Administrators' Perspectives of Internal Branding'. Services Marketing Vol. 30 2009:1 pp. 54-68. | Online
  3. Peters K, Smith R.R., Thomas H. (2018). 'Rethinking the business models of business schools: A critical review and change agenda för the future'. Emerald Publishing Ltd.
  4. Pettigrew A. M., Cornuel E., Hommel U. editors (2014). 'The Institutional Development of Business Schools'. Oxford University Press. | download for free, Pdf 353 pages.

Resources
enW = English Wikipedia

  1. AACSB The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business | AACSB enW
  2. AMBA |The Association of MBAs | AMBA enW
  3. EFMD The European Foundation for Management Development | EFMD enW

Published: Sep 2019.   Last updated: Oct 18, 2019