Don’t let the dean escape!

The penultimate episode of the Quality Assurance Academy presents the HOW TO webinars, with Thomas Cleff, Dean of Pforzheim Business School at Pforzheim University, offered the unique opportunity to discuss and hear insights on accreditation from someone usually representing the very starting point of the quality assurance chain within the institution.

Being a dean, you should be able to foresee benefits of accreditations when it comes to the strategic management of an institution as well as understand the spirit of accreditation standards, explained Thomas. Which, in practice, is not always the case. Why is that so? Well, simply because not all the deans are the same. Not only you can discern between several different types of deans (those highly involved in accreditations; those assuming the new role only temporarily – often faculty taking over deanship for a limited period of time only; and generally, those who see accreditation as a simple reward), but an equally important factor coming at play here is geography. In some countries, like, for example Germany, professional deans are not so common.

According to Thomas, when deliberating about whether going down the accreditation road or not, there is no need for an elaborate line of reasoning to prove your point to a dean. A simple and common question might do – where do you want to be in 5 years from now? Usually, the idea is not really structured and rather vague at best. Hence your chance to point out that engaging in an accreditation process might be helpful when crafting your institution’s strategic plan. And since strategy should really be dealt with by the deans, it makes their involvement crucial. So, don’t let the dean escape! Furthermore, undergraduate students might not know a lot about accreditation, but for Master students, accreditation is the most often mentioned reason to choose the school. So, there is another solid argument in favour of accreditation.

The tricky part doesn’t necessarily end here, and there is still a long way ahead of you. Although there is no magical or bullet-proof solution for getting your dean on board, a coincidence of various agents eventually makes it happen. You shouldn’t definitely underestimate the power of external influences, such as various conferences and events. Deans who get a chance to watch and learn from the best practices of other schools engaged in similar or even the very same process, deans with a good network of peers, will more easily understand the essentials of the accreditation procedure. Using faculty as drivers of change might work as well. A great way is to bring colleagues to accreditation conferences, especially key influencers within the faculty or within certain committees that decide on matters at the core of accreditation and with whom you might not have a direct link. And once your school is accredited, a great way to keep the dean up-to-date about the standards is to push him/her to become a peer reviewer. There is no better way of knowing the standards than applying them.

Though the real value of international accreditation for a business school may not be evident at first, it is certainly undeniable. From the point of view of Thomas, you will learn a lot about your institution, you will learn how to react and lead the way, how to make use of the standards to progress further. It will equally help you to level-up in the competitive business school environment, to improve your institution’s rankings and your international partner portfolio will get a substantial boost. Internal processes will definitely be transformed for the better, and you will be able to track the development of your school through the regular reporting system. In this case, data are key and not only for accreditation. The accreditation team in many schools has become central in collecting and preparing the data and in making them available, also for matters not related to accreditation. The quality management team is best supported by one of the vice-deans who can explain why these data are needed and how they will be useful.

That accreditations come with a cost is an indisputable fact, but as Thomas pointed out, you are usually paying comparable amounts to advertise your programme on the national level. When accreditation can do an even better job for you, is it really necessary then to question the price? The long-term impact is undoubtedly worth it, and just in case someone is considering accreditation as a simple logo, then there is not much sense in doing it. And you never know, maybe you will be able to find a sponsor for your initial accreditation, the same way Pforzheim Business School did. Having a spirit of initiative definitely counts.

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