AMBA accreditation: shameful wheeling and dealing

Von am 23. November 2021
AMBA AMBA Screenshot: https://www.gisma.com/course/global-mba Screenshot www.gisma.com

AMBA is considered one of the world’s top three accreditation agencies for MBA programs. But its non-transparent approach raises questions. The case of the questionable Gisma Business School shows this.

„For MBA students, AMBA accreditation is an assurance of quality,“ AMBA writes on its website. „The decision to embark on an MBA represents a major commitment for students. In a crowded education market, AMBA accreditation ensures students‘ investments are rewarded with the finest business education available – and will certainly have a demonstrable impact on career paths.“

AMBA accreditation, then, is intended to give prospective students confidence in choosing an MBA program. But AMBA’s approach raises significant questions. This can be seen in the example of Gisma Business School.

In 2011, the British Association of MBAs (AMBA) accredited the MBA programs of Gisma Business School in Hanover for the first time. The auditors praised the successful collaboration with Purdue University in the US and the German Leibniz Universität Hannover. All three MBA programs were audited at that time: the full-time MBA, the executive MBA and the part-time MBA.

The AMBA always accredits only the MBA programs of a school, not the school itself. All MBA programs must meet the standards. However, the AMBA itself repeatedly writes of „AMBA accredited schools“ and is already causing confusion.

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At that time, Gisma Business School in Hannover was not a recognized university in Germany (information about its history including its insolvency can be found here). Therefore, it could not award academic degrees and therefore offered franchise programs where the MBA degree was awarded by other business schools. After Purdue University, these included Porto Business School and, most recently, Grenoble School of Management. These MBA programs were therefore accredited as franchise programs at Gisma Global GmbH in Hanover (Hanover Local Court HRB 210397).

New university in Potsdam

Since 2021, there is now also the Gisma University of Applied Sciences GmbH in Potsdam (Potsdam Local Court HRB 35061 P), which has been state-accredited as a university of applied sciences in Brandenburg since September 2020 and wanted to offer its own new Global MBA from May 2021.

Gisma University of Applied Sciences GmbH in Potsdam was registered as Gisma Business School Hochschule GmbH in Hanover on October 18, 2016 (Hanover Local Court, HRB 216113) and moved to Potsdam on January 18, 2021. It cannot be identical to Gisma, whose MBA programs are accredited by AMBA, if only because these were first accredited in 2011.

There are therefore two different GmbHs, i.e. two different institutions or companies, one for the franchise programs with AMBA accreditation and a recently recognized university in Potsdam that can offer its own MBA programs. In the imprint of the Website www.gisma.com stand accordingly both GmbHs – which is rather unusual. The franchise programs run thereby under „Gisma partner Postgraduate programs“.

At least according to data of the website North Data the only connection of the Gisma Global GmbH in Hanover with the Gisma University of Applied Sciences in Potsdam consists of the fact that both have the same managing director with Daniel Bolz. According to this account, there is no direct connection between the two companies.

Screenshot: https://www.northdata.de/Gisma+Global+GmbH,+Hannover/HRB+210397: 22.11.21

Transferable accreditation?

Now comes the big question: Is the new Global MBA of the Gisma University of Applied Sciences GmbH in Potsdam accredited by AMBA, although actually the franchised MBA programs of Gisma in Hanover have been accredited?

Yes, AMBA explains, writing, „AMBA accredits the Gisma franchised MBA programs, which are operated in conjunction with other AMBA accredited schools, and the new Gisma MBA program.“ And upon further inquiry, AMBA reconfirms: „AMBA accredits new MBA programs from existing AMBA accredited schools.“

This means that AMBA accreditation has been transferred from one institution/company to another institution/company. AMBA also confirms this when asked again, referring to the two GmbHs: „As we have stated in our previous correspondence with you, AMBA accredits the Gisma franchised MBA programs, which are operated in conjunction with other AMBA accredited schools, and the new Gisma MBA program.“ So, as a new university recognized in Brandenburg with its first degree programs offered in 2021, Gisma in Potsdam already has an AMBA-accredited MBA program.

Of course, it’s wonderful for Gisma University in Potsdam to be able to advertise its AMBA accreditation – which it does extensively. After all, international students in particular see AMBA accreditation as reliable proof of quality.

Screenshot: www.gisma.com as of 11/22.21

 

Screenshot: www.gisma.com, as of: 11/22/21

But now it gets strange. Because Gisma in Potsdam, when asked, refused to provide information – such as a detailed curriculum – about the new MBA program. It seems as if there is something to hide. Even those who were interested in the program were sent only rudimentary information – with detailed reference to AMBA accreditation.

Information on the MBA program for prospective students (excerpt)

And for the student advisor, AMBA accreditation even comes first.

Excerpt from the mail of a study advisor

While Gisma did not release more information about its new MBA program when asked, AMBA claimed in April that it had reviewed the program and it met AMBA’s criteria: „AMBA reviewed the new Gisma Global MBA program and it met AMBA’s criteria.“

However, the first class of the new Global MBA was not scheduled to start until May 2021. So AMBA could hardly have checked beforehand whether the students met AMBA’s standards. And now it gets even stranger. Because Gisma also refused to provide information about its new MBA class, and to this day it remains questionable whether the new Global MBA even launched in May.

Global recruiting

Gisma (both limited liability companies) is part of the GUS (Global University Systems) education group, which focuses primarily on recruiting international students. Around a thousand agencies and agents around the world work to lure young people, preferably from India, Pakistan, Nigeria and other emerging economies, to one of the GUS schools – in this case to Germany. They are promised studies in Germany, a language course, help with accommodation and job search.

In Germany, in addition to Gisma, the GUS schools include the University of Europe for Applied Sciences, the HTK Academy, and the Berlin School of Business and Innovation (BSBI), although the latter is not a recognized university and degrees are awarded primarily by an Italian distance-learning university.

Yet the case of BSBI shows that promises are far from always kept. There, massive mismanagement led to protests by some students in 2019. MBA Journal reported on this in detail at the time. The Financial Times also took a critical look at GUS and BSBI, among others, in its article „Inside the university recruiting machine.“

The international recruiting activities of GUS are of course also of interest to franchise partners such as Grenoble School of Management, which thus – quite rightly – benefit financially from the Gisma programs.

Grenoble MBA no longer exists

We remember: The franchise MBA of Gisma in Hanover with the Grenoble School of Management was accredited and was also offered on the Gisma website until September 2021. But this offer no longer existed since the beginning of 2021. The press office of the Grenoble School wrote on September 28, 2021: „Concerning the Global MBA that we used to offer in Berlin, it ended definitively for the beginning of this year (2021). Indeed, the overall Covid-19 situation has greatly complicated the ability to recruit international students and the minimum 20 students for a Global MBA promotion could not be reached with as much ease as in normal times. Gisma now offers its own Global MBA which is not taught by Grenoble Ecole de Management.“

Gisma writes in this regard „that the cooperation regarding the MBA program with Grenoble was terminated by Gisma in February 2021. The information about the program was maintained on the Gisma website, as the study program was still in place until the end of the summer semester. However, marketing for this degree program was discontinued directly in February 2021 so that potentially interested students were not misinformed. Since the last group of students successfully completed the MBA this summer semester, Gisma has now been able to remove the program from its website. We ask you to refrain from unjustified insinuations in the future“, writes „A.Meyer – Legal Department – GUS Germany GmbH in Berlin“.

That is already rather oblique. One advertises on its website with a course of studies, which is offered already long no more, because there are still students in a former class? In addition, the statement is not entirely correct. After all, the students had completed the first year of study, but not the degree. Answer from Grenoble: „According to the MBA program manager, the current last group of students enrolled are in year two, working on their final project“ and further „according to received information, they will graduate July 2022.“ So they will not get their MBA degree until July 2022.

This means that Gisma in Hanover, whose MBA programs have been accredited since 2011, is currently no longer offering an MBA program. To that end, AMBA writes, „Provided a franchise program is AMBA accredited, as was the case of Grenoble Business School’s MBA with Gisma, that program will continue to be accredited for the duration of its accreditation period, or until it has been taught out to the final cohort, whichever is the sooner.“ So that would mean accreditation for the program would have to expire no later than July 2022.

But what will happen to the co-accredited new Global MBA in Potsdam? Will the program remain AMBA accredited because the accreditation of Gisma in Hanover has been transferred to Gisma University of Applied Sciences in Potsdam?

And how long is the accreditation of Gisma in Hannover valid at all, and when is re-accreditation due? That, again, is top secret. „AMBA’s accreditation agreement is directly with the school.“ In addition, according to AMBA standards, reaccreditation (and Gisma in Hannover has already been reaccredited several times) can be valid for one to five years.

Source: https://www.associationofmbas.com/app/uploads/2019/09/MBA-criteria-for-accreditation.pdf

For prospective students, this is of course non-transparent and misleading. Those who apply to a school because they trust in the quality assurance provided by AMBA may be looking down the tube. Because by the time they start their studies, the accreditation may have already expired. And when it expires is a secret. The AMBA does not release any information on this.

Questionable quality assurance

The AMBA’s promise of quality assurance is another matter. This is again demonstrated by the example of the franchise MBA with Grenoble. For this, there was a profile of the students on the Gisma website. According to the chart shown there, 49 percent of MBA students are 18 to 24 years old, which is remarkably young for an MBA program that normally requires a bachelor’s degree and at least one year of work experience.

However, the AMBA actually requires at least three years of appropriate and relevant work experience. For example, the criteria for AMBA accreditation state, „Students are expected to have a minimum of three years appropriate and relevant postgraduate work experience upon entry and the student body as a whole should average at least five years of such experience.“ With the published profile, this is unlikely to be possible. So did the Grenoble MBA at Gisma in Hannover violate AMBA standards?

A corresponding inquiry to AMBA remained unanswered. Grenoble in turn writes: „Regarding your question about the presented figures on Gisma website, note that they also are incorrect. From our understanding, it looks like they used the wrong statistics (probably from MScs instead of MBA) and we asked them to correct this misleading information as soon as possible. As well as to remove both GEM MBA (note: Grenoble MBA) and the MSc MIB (note: MSc in International Business) from all their marketing and promotional materials as they are not running anymore.“

But why is Gisma publishing false information? Grenoble writes, „They are working on their figures and will send them out for us to validate before republishing.“ So Gisma is working on „their figures“ for their MBA students? Now that’s where things get even more precarious. Because Grenoble awards the MBA degree and – as a school also accredited by the AMBA – is therefore also responsible for compliance with the admission criteria.

Does the French business school not know the profile of its MBA students at Gisma? And why did it allow the allegedly false numbers to be published over a long period of time in the first place? Grenoble is silent when asked. To this day, the French school does not present the „correct profile.“ After all, it already wrote on October 1: „For your information, it seems that all the statistics as well as the cancelled programs have been removed from Gisma website.“

Threat of legal action by Gisma

If all this is already questionable enough, Gisma in Potsdam puts the crown on the whole thing and now wants to force the author to remove the screenshot of the Grenoble MBA profile published in the article on September 6. The justification for this is adventurous: „The text and the graphic give the impression that the graphic shows figures for our client’s current degree program.“ What is meant is the „Global MBA“ of the Gisma University of Applied Sciences in Potsdam. But the text and the graphic clearly state that it is the Grenoble MBA. Apparently thus a further intimidation attempt (the Gisma threatened already times a complaint).

This is also supported by the fact that Gisma in Potsdam has again commissioned the Berlin lawyer Tim Hoesmann for its warning. He, in turn, has been the lawyer of the impostor and „profiler“ Suzanne Grieger-Langer for years, who last appeared prominently in October in ZDF Magazin Royal with Jan Böhmermann (The case of the false profilers) and on FUNK (Business model profiler: What’s up with the true crime professionals?) and was also critically praised in the FAZ („A questionable ‚profiler'“) in May. MBA Journal had also reported several times about the „profiler“ and Hoesmann had sued the author several times on behalf of Grieger-Langer.

Conclusion: With its strange procedure and its intransparency, the AMBA turns out to have little credibility and thus also supports questionable schools like Gisma. For an accreditation organization that prides itself on providing quality assurance to prospective students, this is disastrous.

Über Bärbel Schwertfeger

Bärbel Schwertfeger ist Diplom-Psychologin und seit 1985 als freie Journalistin im Bereich Management, Weiterbildung und Personalentwicklung tätig.

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