Will this article shake the coconut tree of accreditations?

Posted on 27/06/2011

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Today was published an article in the New York Times based on an interview of Thierry Grange, co-founder and Dean of Grenoble Ecole de Management, considered as one of the best Bschools in Europe(http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/27/world/europe/27iht-educLede27.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2). Thierry Grange is an eminent member of the board of AACSB. . As often with him, no diplomatic language but a clear view of a deep connoisseur of higher education in management. The main points of this article were quickly used for an article by The Economist (http://www.economist.com/whichmba/accredit-where-its-due) making me think that it could be the start of something…

Dean Grange recognises that accreditation bodies (and particularly AACSB) have been rather dogmatic and oriented toward the cut and paste of the American model of higher education in management. As the best Bschools worldwide (so far and for how long?) are mostly located in the US, as it is the dominant country for the development and diffusion of new managerial concepts, as US institutions have a very poor knowledge of the rest of the world (and as the US are still the dominant country), it is not surprising that the attitude toward higher education in management is not different from the one of Coca Cola or Levi’s after World War II. As many organisations when they want to export, they first take their current product and try to sell it “as is” abroad (and with a tremendous success in the case of AACSB). But contrary to cola drinks and jeans, business schools were not invented in the US. In fact, the oldest recorded business school is French (the Ecole Superieure de Commerce de Paris, founded in 1829) and several French ones were created before the turn of the 20th century. And similar schools existed in other European countries and in Asia. Of course, they looked more like the current colleges or polytechnics but nevertheless, there is a long tradition of teaching commerce and of training young professionals in management outside of the US. Therefore, it is not surprising that AACSB may have some difficulties to adjust its criteria to these schools and that these schools also have trouble adjusting.

Because accreditations became part of the competitive landscape, there is no choice but to find common grounds for both entities. So far, it was mostly (only?) the non-US Bschools adjusting to what accreditors were asking. The best example is research. It was not a tradition in most Bschools outside of North America and UK (and yet these schools were producing skilled graduates who became successful managers but this is another story!) but a big chunk of the accreditations standards. As a result, Bschools started to hire academics mostly to do research and to produce articles to satisfy not the community, not the companies nor the students but the accreditation bodies. Several highly ranked Bschools have now flocks of “professors” who are teaching only a few hours per year or even not at all but are producing papers for the accreditations (and for the rankings but this is again another story).

Don’t misread me. I am a strong advocate of accreditations and particularly AACSB. I have witnessed that the positive effects were amazing for all the institutions which went through its process and that it is certainly one of the main factors explaining the general raise of quality in higher education in management worldwide.

So, when AACSB starts reflecting on its own standards (as I understood it is now), when it starts asking schools how many people are reading the articles published by their academics and who are these readers (as I understood it will soon), it is asking the right questions and is showing clearly that higher education is global and that the one size fits all model may not apply to the world of business schools. As for many other businesses, accreditations have to move from internationalisation to glocalisation. I am confident that they will come up with new standards which will clearly reflects this fact.

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