Is accreditation just a syndrome of poverty?
There are 15 000 institutions worldwide that offer degree business education and 1 000 of them have been accredited by the major international agencies: AACSB, EQUIS, etc. Probably another 200 are in the “pipeline” to be awarded the “magic seal” if we add the international program certifications like AMBA and EPAS for example.
The movement started in 1916 in the USA with AACSB and in 1996 in Europe with EQUIS. Although many media and some “not yet accredited” schools look at this trend with critical eyes, more and more applicants join the list and for their vast majority, they all have a common motivation: to acquire more visibility to compete more efficiently in the “business education market”.
For a long time “competition” was a word far away from the academic semantic field. During the last 30 years, business education transformed from a professional domain, addressing future executives into a commodity for every person looking to be prepared to enter the labor market. This quantitative development was followed by the explosion of the number of students taking an education abroad. All schools have now to compete to recruit students from everywhere. Some countries may be less attractive because of the very local organization/language of their curriculum or more simply because they did not yet experience free and competitive sourcing. But even these “islands of tradition” are hit by this 30 year old trend.
The countries where the number of accredited schools is high (more than 40% of the institutions), like Australia, Korea, United Kingdom, France and North America are all characterized by a strong competition to recruit international students and faculty. The contrary is true as well. The notoriety of academic institutions is a combination of fame, history, excellence in research, famous alumni and communication of course. This cocktail can help to get a good place in the rankings but it is limited to a sample of 100 players only.
For all the others, international institutional accreditation is the only accessible way to be distinguished and so to be on the applications list of the “global students”. Of course for “old, prestigious, rich and superior” institutions this foreign and external academic quality control is unacceptable and useless. For all the schools that are aware of a deficit in their global visibility and for all the ones that prefer to test their international quality level instead stating their excellence ex-nihilo, accreditation is a fair and transparent value solution.
The negativists will conclude that accreditation is a syndrome of poverty of the weak notoriety, visibility and distinctiveness of the “soon to be famous but ambitious” business schools.
The connoisseurs will be more realistic and remark that as long as the leading institutions accept external peer-evaluation, accreditation is the strongest indicator for academic leadership.