The very last and concluding episode of the Quality Assurance Academy presents the HOW TO webinars, with Manuela Brusoni, Director of Quality, Accreditation and Benchmarking, SDA Bocconi School of Management, Christina Green, Head of Quality Management at TUM School of Management, and Claire Thouary, Founder of QACE UP brought three different perspectives on the value of accreditations.
Though accreditations are usually seen as a cost, there is an indisputable value to them. On the institutional level, Manuela explained that, even though the most direct value of any accreditation process is the strategic decision itself, there is also a hidden value to recognize. It lies in the possibility to take stock in a systemic way of what your school does, put everything together and take a step back to observe the bigger picture. Once done, you know your strengths and can use the accreditation process to its full extent. It is also your chance to define better your role and position within a complex entity called university, and to explain better the different pace and way of doing things. Christina agreed, adding that going through the accreditation process gave her institution the unexpected freedom to craft its own strategy. But personally, she sees the biggest value in getting everyone together at one table, which usually results in a more effective and swift decision-making process. The ability of the accreditation process to break silos is one of the most valued aspects for Claire. In addition, while having everyone on board, you can witness a whole new competency emerging – people being motivated and driven, becoming proactive, which is the best way forward to avoid fatigue of the lengthy and demanding process.
The beneficial impact of accreditation can be observed on various other levels than just the institutional one. Thus, Christina mentioned the enhanced corporate relations that her school developed as a consequence of learning how to best showcase what you stand for as an institution during the EQUIS journey. Claire extended the list with improved interconnectedness of different stakeholder groups within the institution, including the students’ interaction with the alumni network. In cases where the latter is not that dynamic, many projects can be created thanks to the encouraged reciprocal engagement with students. Manuela concluded that in their particular case, the international outreach in both student and faculty regard registered a substantial boost. After all, being a trusted partner makes a difference.
Navigating the path of accreditations is not always easy, even more when the expectations are not aligned or do not necessarily reflect reality. It is therefore wise to formulate the desired and expected outcomes beforehand rather than retrospectively advocate the real-life impact. Commonly questioned aspect of programme accreditations is a lack of improvement in student numbers for a programme in question. According to Manuela, the question you need to ask is – are we really trying to improve the numbers? What would the situation look like if we didn’t have the accreditation? Christina further pointed out that in her experience, the goal is not necessarily to attract more students, but rather students of better quality or international students. And in the end, maybe the programme in question is to be blamed. Claire endorsed such a statement by highlighting that having your programme accredited doesn’t mean that your job is done, maybe now you would want to review your programme and involve all the stakeholders to ensure continuous development.
Manuela, Christina and Claire were at one about situations in which accreditation will not bring any value to the institution – if you start the process with a premise that accreditation is a box-ticking activity, then it won’t do much for you. The same is true if you are not 100% sure you want to go through with it, since it is a hard and complex process. Finally, good exercise could be answering the following questions as an institution – Who are you? What are your values? Where do you want to be in 5 years? How do you want to get there and what do you want to do once there? Without having answered these questions before accreditation, you might want to reconsider.
Exploring the real need for accreditations compared to rankings, Claire perceives the latter more like a communication instrument, while the accreditations are a quality improvement tool. Both are nonetheless complementary to each other. Manuela argued that in some cases, accreditation is a stepping stone for some of the rankings. And while accreditation is a continuous process that influences the quality of your institution and for which the school is in the lead, there is certain discontinuity in the rankings which represent a scrutiny at a particular point in time you are subjected to and that is not determined by the school’s strategy. Accreditations help to make things explicit, and can even reward peculiarities by pushing schools to better explain their strengths, while rankings pursue homogeneity. Last but not least, accreditations are an embodiment of member-driven networks for Christina, who sees them as an important instrument to share best practices and advance, and this makes the entire process more sustainable and robust. Quality is about change management, it is a mindset and not only a series of processes.
On the question of the value of multiple accreditations, Manuela, Christina and Claire once again agreed – the approaches and focus of each of the accreditations are different, in the same way as each and every one of the schools going through the process ends up gaining slightly different benefits allowing them to embrace and celebrate their uniqueness. As Manuela added, managing multiple accreditations helps you build a comprehensive data set serving eventually as a repository for homogenous and comparable data for the entire institution. And we all know the power of data.
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