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Stamp saying "approved." (photos.com)
Stamp saying "approved." (photos.com)

Report on Business Education, Spring 2011

B-schools work hard to get the stamp of approval Add to ...

Four years, two full-time employees, and an incredibly extensive self-evaluation report that involved every faculty member − this is only part of what it took the Gustavson School of Business at the University of Victoria to work its way through the 20-odd steps required to gain accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB).

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"We're all still catching our breath from the process," admits associate dean Dr. A.R. Elangovan.

But when they officially became accredited in December, 2010 − making them the latest business school in Canada to earn AACSB's stamp of approval − the phone started ringing. "The moment we got the accreditation, we began getting inquiries from universities around the world wanting to partner with us," Dr. Elangovan says. "We found our ability to hire faculty and draw students was significantly enhanced."

Gaining accreditation is expensive and a long-term commitment (accredited schools must undergo re-evaluation every five years). Yet UVic saw so much value in the distinction, that it pursued AACSB despite already having received accreditation from a similar European body, the European Quality Improvement System. With double accreditation, the school joins an elite group of 66 business schools worldwide, including only six in Canada.

With an estimated 12,000 business schools in the world, prospective students can be overwhelmed by their choices, and accreditation is one way in which schools distinguish themselves from the pack. AACSB, the most prominent American body, has accredited 607 schools in 38 countries.

The painstaking evaluation is designed to assess a school on the quality of its faculty and students, how effective it is in achieving and measuring learning outcomes, and whether it strategically manages its faculty according to a well-understood mission, according to Dr. Elangovan. "It's useful to put yourself under the microscope and have external agencies that have looked at business schools around the world come and say, 'You're one of the best. You are playing in the top league.'"

However, the benefits of accreditation go far beyond the prestige. According to Dr. Tom Scott, vice-dean of the University of Alberta's school of business, the re-evaluation process forces schools to continually self-reflect. "It imposes discipline. It prevents you from becoming lackadaisical about your mission."

U of A's business school was the first in Canada to receive AACSB accreditation, back in 1968, and it last confirmed its standing in January, 2011. Over the decades, the school has adapted as the AACSB shifted its focus to mission statements. Instead of assessing schools against a set list of one-size-fits-all qualifications, AACSB now evaluates schools against their individual mandates. "It becomes critical to define your mission clearly because if you don't, or if you're vague about it, they will define it for you," Dr. Scott says. "You have to be proactive about understanding what you want to achieve." Even the best schools are given suggestions about how to better fulfill their goals by the three-person accreditation team that visits campus, and Dr. Scott believes this systematic process has helped U of A grow and improve its programs.

Dr. Ken Jones, dean of the Ted Rogers School of Business at Ryerson University, has been in the thick of the AACSB's process for the past five years, and expects to receive accreditation within a few months. For him, the most important benefit has been collecting data about the school. Having compiled consistent metrics, the school knows itself better than it ever has. "If my provost asked me, 'How many publications did your faculty have last year?' I can provide the answer," Dr. Jones says. "If he asks me questions about learning goals or where numeracy is in the curriculum, I know the answer."

Having measurable data and a clearly defined mission has improved Ryerson's institutional memory. Instead of the onus falling on current leadership to define what direction the school takes, pursuing accreditation has forced the school to articulate a vision that is independent of who happens to be sitting in the dean's chair. "If I'm replaced, my replacement will be following the same process, rather than reinventing the process," says Dr. Jones.

He adds that he has recruited higher quality faculty than he would have been able to if the school weren't pursuing accreditation with AACSB. "One advantage is that it gives us leverage to get resources for high quality new hires," he explains. "We can go to [Ryerson's]administration and say, 'In order to maintain our accreditation, we need this.'" The process has positively affected current faculty, as well. "It has built the morale of the faculty. Everyone is working towards a common goal."

Organizations like AACSB see their role as being broader than just granting accreditation to worthy institutions. Dr. Jan Williams, dean of the College of Business Administration at the University of Tennessee, says AACSB also does research "on issues that are important to people who run business schools."

As AACSB vice-chair, Dr. Williams was involved when the organization released a major report this January urging business schools to better address globalization in their curriculum. "The globalization report took two years to complete, 300 pages, 10 case studies. There has never been a study of the magnitude from AACSB. This is the closest thing AACSB has to a think tank."

Regardless of the extent of AACSB's research, Dr. Williams maintains that the biggest benefit of pursuing accreditation is the mentorship of peers. "There is no substitute for people who you have a lot of respect for coming to your school and taking an objective look at you."



A TOUGH PROCESS

The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business accreditation evaluation is extremely rigorous. The first step is to develop a self-study that includes data about every aspect of the school. During this stage, which can take up to five years, the school is matched with a mentor − a dean from another accredited business school − who helps the school address its weaknesses. For instance, the school must demonstrate the quality of their faculty by providing data about their academic qualifications, professional experience and research activities. If the mentor believes the quality of faculty is not up to the standard required by the accrediting body, the school would hire new professors at this stage.

During the self-study phase, the school will also provide detailed information about its governance and financial models, the quality of the students it attracts, and data demonstrating that it is fulfilling its stated mission. Perhaps the most challenging requirement is to demonstrate that the school is achieving its learning outcomes. This must go beyond showing that given topics are covered by the curriculum; AACSB wants to know how the school judges whether students leave a class having the skills and knowledge they need. For schools, this means defining very specific learning objectives for every program and course and developing metrics to track whether they've been accomplished.



BUSINESS SCHOOLS AND THEIR ACCREDITATIONS



AACSB

EQUIS

AMBA

John Molson School of Business, Concordia University

X

HEC Montréal

X

X

X

Laval Université

X

X

Alberta School of Business, University of Alberta

X

Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary

X

Beedie School of Business, Simon Fraser University

X

X

Asper School of Business, University of Manitoba

X

Sauder School of Business, University of British Columbia

X

X

Gustavson School of Business, University of Victoria

X

X

Memorial University

X

Dalhousie University

X

Sobey School of Business, St. Mary's University

X

Brock University

X

DeGroote School of Business, McMaster University

X

Queen's School of Business

X

X

X

Telfer School of Business, University of Ottawa

X

X

X

Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto

X

Wilfrid Laurier University School of Business

X

Université du Québec à Montréal

X

Richard Ivey School of Business, University of Western Ontario

X

Notes:

AACSB is the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business

EQUIS is the European Quality Improvement System

AMBA is the Association of MBAs



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