A foreign degree from a fancy big MBA school in the U.S. is a dream that fuels the higher education industry in most parts of the world. It ‘guarantees’ (as many colleges may have you believe!) a comfy job with a coveted brand, not to forget the reputation that comes with it. But would all of this be possible if you end up with a degree from a university which is not accredited? Well, that depends.
And the other big question is: Why is accreditation important for B-schools and universities?
First and foremost, you need to know what and if there are differences between an accredited university and non-accredited one.
Let’s start with the basics. What’s the meaning of accreditation?
Simply stated, accreditation allows a university to get state funding and the university is bound to conform to a set of rules and reviews.
Accreditation is not a mandatory process for universities to follow. It is completely voluntary in nature. There will be an accreditation agency which conducts and awards accreditation to universities that apply for it.
Harvard University explains accreditation as a peer review process, which assures quality of the university, ease student transfer between institutions by signalling quality, certifies a graduate’s credentials to employers.
The agency that reviews the universities is an autonomous body, not directly controlled by the government, and the university may get its accreditation done from a national or regional accreditation authority.
But don’t assume that an institute approved is equal to it being accredited. A state in the United States may approve of an educational institute running in its state, but the institute needs to get accreditation done from the body authorized to do so.
Most offline institutes that are not accredited are polytechnics, theology institutes, and some others that offer online courses as well. However, the accreditation is not necessarily limited to the university alone. It can extend to a specific program within the institute.
Institutional accreditation is conducted by the accrediting body by taking into account all aspects of the university including course curricula, the services and facilities it claims to offer its students and faculty, budget provisions, and other services.
The accredited universities may then go a step further to get accreditation done for one of its schools or programs by a specialized body.
Such reviews add more credibility to the particular program. That’s because the general impression created is that the program has double accreditation and it must have gone through rigorous procedure at all levels to get itself the accreditation.
There may be accrediting agencies at the national or regional level that are authorized to award accreditation. Some of the globally recognized ones are mentioned here.
The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International) is a non-profit membership organization of educational institutes, businesses and other entities in the field of management education.
While being a member organization of AACSB does not imply accreditation, on its website it says there are 755 business schools in 51 countries that have earned AACSB Accreditation. Similarly, 182 institutions hold an additional specialized AACSB Accreditation for their accounting programs.
For instance, the WP Carey School of Business in Arizona State University in the US, has both its business and accounting programs accredited by AACSB, but the University of Birmingham in the UK, the Harvard Business School at Harvard University and Indian School of Business in India have only their business programs accredited by it.
Just like AACSB, there are other global accrediting agencies like the Association of MBAs (AMBA) based in London. Its assessment team comprises senior academics from ‘leading accredited programmes’. The Copenhagen Business School has accreditation from AMBA and so has INSEAD in France.
And then, there is the European Quality Improvement System (EQUIS) which is an accrediting body set up by the European Federation for Management Development (EFMD). Some of the prominent higher educational institutes accredited by EQUIS are China Europe International Business School (CEIBS), Said Business School, University of Oxford (UK), and Bentley University (USA), among others.
A non-accredited university may try and make up for the lack of accreditation, may be in the form of lower annual fee structure. Would it offer the best program? Would it always have the quality that you desire from your school?
So let’s say you get a degree from a university or program which is not accredited. What’s the worst that can happen? You’d have difficulty in starting a work of your own due to licensing issues, especially if yours is a technical/doctoral degree. Or, the job that you have been eyeing may not accept your degree at all.
Does all of this mean that an accredited university will always offer the best that there is in terms of quality? Debatable!
One must check while sifting through the names the accrediting body which has awarded accreditation to the particular university or school in question. Sometimes, accreditation earned by a university may not be recognized in other country or even state.
The Council for Higher Education (CHEA) in the U.S. is one source where you can check if the accrediting body is recognized and reputed. It calls itself ‘an association of 3,000 degree-granting colleges and universities and recognizes 60 institutional and programmatic accrediting organizations.’
There is a certain amount of credibility and accountability that an accredited institution carries with it, which gets carry forwarded in the form of its student in his or her CV. Students too feel more secure about their future prospects when they take admission in such an institute for higher study, especially international students.