AACSB: Leading the way for transformative societal change
AACSB International announced recently its 2020 business accreditation standards intended to further improve quality in business education. In an interview to Invest Foresight, Stephanie M. Bryant, Executive Vice President and Chief Accreditation Officer, explained the purpose and impact of introducing the standards.
“The new standards fall within three categories,” Stephanie M. Bryant said. “The first category, strategy and innovation, contains three standards. A strong strategic plan based on a focused mission is the cornerstone of an AACSB-accredited institution.
“The second category in the standards is learner success. AACSB has four standards to make sure students, or learners as we now refer to them, receive high-quality teaching and are successful in their education and in their careers. We use the term “learner” instead of “student” to reflect our belief that education is really a lifelong journey.
“The last category, engagement, thought leadership and societal impact, is a new part of standards. Our accredited schools are to make sure they aim to make the world better, as expressed in AACSB’s vision of business education as a force for good in society. For example, we are in a global pandemic right now. How can business schools help solve this problem? Almost all business schools have expertise in how to manage supply chains. That expertise creates an opportunity for business schools to partner with other organizations to maximize supply chain efficiencies and ensure the world has the materials it needs to fight this pandemic. This is only one example. AACSB accredits the best business schools in the world — more than 870 of them to date — and we have the power to bring together tens of thousands of people to work together to solve diverse problems.
“We also advocate positions, for example, on social justice, diversity and inclusion, etc. The societal impact emphasis of the new standards means we want to help develop purpose-driven leaders who are equipped to help solve some of society’s grand challenges, we want to bring the best minds in business education together with the business community, government, and other stakeholders, to use our collective strengths to solve problems through both research and engagement. We believe we can change the world for better when we harness our collective efforts. It’s an exciting time to be in business education, and we are not shy about leading the way for transformative societal change.”
AACSB has a truly global presence in dozens of territories. Yet in the new version of its accreditation standards their number was reduced. “We reduced the number of standards from 15 to 9 through consolidation of topics and streamlining, not through dropping any of the quality measures and requirements. For example, we had four standards that were all around faculty qualifications in the previous standards. They are all related, so we made them one standard. It eliminates redundancy while maintaining essence of the requirements,” Stephanie Bryant explained. “We are the largest and oldest accreditor of business schools in the world, truly global in nature, with member schools in over 100 countries and territories, and we are the recognized gold standard in business school accreditation. To be accredited by AACSB is a lengthy journey that requires many years, much evidence of high quality, and an extensive peer review process to ensure schools are aligned with the quality expectations that are inherent in the standards. Once a school is accredited, they must undergo a rigorous on-site peer review visit conducted by other deans of accredited institutions who are peers of the accredited school. AACSB currently accredits only 5% of the world’s schools offering business degrees at the bachelor level or higher, including virtually all of the globally-recognized and top ranked business schools in the world.”
Some Russian institutions are also interested in joining AACSB. “We currently have one accredited school in Russia (IBS) and five schools pursuing accreditation (this is the journey that can be up to seven years),” she said. “Russian schools must meet the same standards as any other accredited school.”
According to Dr Bryant, “The new standards focus on ensuring that high quality and continuous improvement are demonstrated by the school, and recognize that business schools have a responsibility to contribute positively to society. Alongside the new standards, AACSB has identified five actions business schools can take to contribute to positive change and a higher purpose:
1. connect business, community, and government to deliver results;
2. solve problems based on knowledge sharing and research;
3. develop purpose-driven leaders with the vision to tackle the toughest challenges;
4. create hubs for lifelong learning to promote prosperity and elevate economies;
5. and inspire innovations with the power to change the world.
These are activities we focus on through engagement, innovation and amplification of the voice of business education.”
Since AACSB requirements are strict and the accreditation process is lengthy, prospective candidates are offered assistance. “Schools join as members first,” Stephanie Bryant noted. “This allows them to attend our seminars and meetings, meet their peers, hear best practices, and build relationships across the network. If a school chooses to pursue accreditation, that is a separate step. First they fill out an eligibility application and then that kicks off the process. The seven-year time frame that a school is in process (that’s the maximum time), that is where they show they are aligning with the standards. Once they show they are sufficiently aligned with the standards, they will be invited to an initial accreditation visit where the peer review team evaluates their alignment with the standards and makes a recommendation that goes up to our board.”
“Continuous improvement is a guiding principle for us internally as an organization and an expectation for our accredited schools,” she added. “When new standards are issued, we then update them annually as needed until we reach a tipping point where new standards are needed. That tipping point typically happens every 10 years or so, but this time we issued new standards in seven years, recognizing that the environment had become so disruptive it was time for new standards. We aren’t held to artificial timeframes. Through a collaborative process with our accredited schools, we change the standards when we see the need.”