EFMD Programme Accreditation: Past, Present and Future

The Becoming of EFMD Accredited by Barbara Sporn, Robert Galliers and Jens Petter Tøndel

After fifteen years of successful programme accreditation under the EPAS label, the EFMD Board convened in the spring of 2019 to discuss the programme’s future direction and decided to rebrand and further develop EPAS into EFMD Accredited. Why that move?

First, there was a strong appreciation of the accumulated programme expertise of EFMD Quality Services, relating to the full spectrum of business school programmes from Bachelor degree level all the way to PhD programmes. The Board also valued the various different delivery modes used in the classroom, online and via practical experience in organisations. These assets should thus be made more visible to the market through a brand that can showcase the accredited programme more specifically.

Second, for decades EFMD has been the lead agency for the accreditation of business and management schools and programmes worldwide. The intention now is to strengthen EFMD as a brand even further and expand its programme accreditation system. Over the next year or so, EFMD Accredited will replace the EPAS brand as the recognised label for top-quality and internationally-positioned programmes.

Third, and very importantly, many business schools felt the need to combine programme and institutional accreditation – with EPAS and EQUIS – but this has not been possible… until now. With the new EFMD programme accreditation system, existing EQUIS schools can seek accreditation for their flagship and/or innovative programmes while newly-accredited EQUIS schools can retain the hard-won EFMD Accredited label when gaining EQUIS accreditation.

The EFMD Accredited process allows schools to highlight selected programmes strategically. In doing so it contributes to schools’ positioning. Even more importantly, it sends strong signals internally and enables the development and identification of processes that strengthen cooperation within the programme, its quality and its prospects.
Prof. Dr. Thomas Bieger, Former President, University of St. Gallen, Switzerland

Being EFMD Accredited for a specific programme is a guarantee that the programme has been thoroughly scrutinised by peers and experts. It is also a way to demonstrate the robustness of our programmes. It can be carried out for different reasons depending on how a business school’s portfolio of programmes evolves over time. The EFMD programme accreditation system is clearly filling a strategic need in the current offering of programme evaluation.
Professor Frank Bournois PhD, Dean, ESCP Business School, France

Key values of EFMD programme accreditation

Against this background, EFMD programme accreditation retains four key values as building blocks:

  • Respect for diversity
    We believe in, and respect, different models of business programmes and business schools in our assessment and accreditation system.
  • An international dimension
    We believe in the international dimension of business programmes, both regarding the student learning experience and the mix of faculty. The EFMD programme accreditation system sees programme internationalisation and multicultural aspects as key features.
  • Responsible management
    We believe in the importance of ethics, sustainability and responsibility. Different elements should be embedded in each programme’s policies, operations, teaching and research.
  • Connections with practice
    We believe in the practical relevance of programmes and look for practice-based learning experiences for students through project work, internships and the like. On top of that, the relevance of business programmes is illustrated and facilitated by the involvement of senior management and professional practitioners in governance structures, programme development, delivery and research endeavours.

In a nutshell, since 1 September 2020, EFMD programme accreditation – under the label EFMD Accredited – has become a reality. EFMD Accredited offers schools the benefit of the ongoing development of programme expertise and institutional positioning delivered by a team of experts, made possible through EFMD’s strong grounding thanks to the successful history of EPAS.

The EFMD Accredited process allows for a thorough evaluation of a programme, in both breadth and depth. The standards concern all the aspects of the programme’s life cycle.
While demanding, they are inspiring as they provide extremely valuable guidance for further development. Meeting these standards guarantees that the programme, whether it is in its early stages of development or is more mature, is strategically relevant; that it has a cutting-edge and forward-thinking curriculum; a well-rounded and innovative pedagogy, and strong ties with business practice. All these features contribute to the best possible learner experience and career development opportunities.
Professor Alice Guilhon PhD, Dean, SKEMA Business School, France

The EFMD Accredited process is invaluable in ensuring our MBA remains up-to-date and aligned with global best practice. It provides an opportunity for reflection and renewal, as well as assuring students that the quality of their degree is internationally recognised.
Professor Nigel de Bussy PhD, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Faculty of Business and Law Dean, Curtin Business School, Curtin University, Australia

EPAS: A Distinctive Success Story

EPAS was launched in 2005 with the purpose of helping enhance business and management education through a rigorous peer review system of programme accreditation. The process was designed to complement the institutional accreditation that had been launched eight years previously under the EQUIS banner. Currently, 120 programmes have been accredited, representing 89 institutions across 35 countries and 5 continents.

The aggregate total of accreditations since 2005 is much larger, however, in part as a result of the prior embargo on EQUIS-accredited schools retaining their EPAS accreditation(s). Indeed, over the years a total of 187 programmes or programme sets from 126 schools have been accredited. The figure right gives an indication of the growth in the number of Peer Review Visits undertaken (and programmes reviewed) for each five year period since 2005 (including the small number of visits that did not lead to accreditation).

Like EQUIS, EPAS has always respected diversity while at the same time emphasising continuous improvement and academic rigour. Diversity is a core value of EFMD and thus also for EPAS.

There is no one ‘right’ model for a business school and it is therefore important to be sensitive to the local and regional context. While pedagogical approaches and programme content may well differ depending on the context, quality is always paramount.

The EPAS journey has been one of discovery and growth with emphasis on continuous quality improvement. It has allowed the programme team to reflect on the student learning experience in a systematic and innovative way. With internationalisation and responsible management at its core, the accreditation standards and criteria were successfully adapted to the strategic significance of the programme and the context in which the school operates.
Professor Gioia Pescetto PhD, Former Executive Dean, Portsmouth Business School, UK

Given intense international competition, EPAS has been indicative of the high quality of both programmes and institutions. In the face of so much choice among programmes and universities, accreditation has become a yardstick with which to judge the quality of the service we offer. Most high-quality universities will only partner with universities with recognised status. Such status, therefore, adds to the value of our degrees and is beneficial to graduates in terms of their career development and salary prospects.
Professor Sami Saarenketo DSc, Dean, School of Business and Management, Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology (LUT), Finland

A particularly distinctive and challenging feature of EPAS is that it sets appropriate and consistent intended learning outcomes (ILOs), both at the programme and individual course levels, and also establishes appropriate assessment regimes.

It is thus necessary to define ILOs for the key EFMD programme accreditation standards, one of which concerns internationalisation. It is essential that all accredited programmes offer students a strong international learning experience, instilling in them the ability to appreciate and operate in multicultural settings, thereby developing the skills to become international managers.

Students should gain their international learning experience both at home and abroad, either physically and/or virtually. This has implications for the learning objectives, the curriculum, the mix of faculty, the mix and mobility of students and the number and quality of a school’s international partners.

This strong focus on international experience was in line with the underlying rationale of the Bologna Accord, which was signed around the time of the EPAS launch.

EPAS is a tool we have used to better understand and develop our programmes through a process of self-improvement and peer evaluation. Accreditation is not just a badge but significantly brings programmatic change and improvement.
It also serves as a starting point for us to prepare for school accreditation through EQUIS. As a result of the EPAS process, we were able to introduce successful initiatives not just in programmes but throughout the school.
Professor Pasu Decharin PhD, Former Dean, Chulalongkorn Business School, Thailand

Getting involved in an accreditation process with EFMD is a demanding, challenging but very constructive experience. The programme faculty find in it a unique opportunity to question and validate the fundamentals on which the programme is based. EPAS has made a contribution of enormous value to continuous improvement.
Professor Pablo Regent Vitale PhD, Dean, IEEM Escuela de Negocios, Universidad de Montevideo, Uruguay

Since the outset, schools have also been required to make ethics, responsibility and sustainability, or ERS, an integral part of their curriculum in order to achieve EPAS accreditation. This transversal emphasis on ERS has been a major factor in educating responsible managers who understand the ethical and sustainable behaviour required in today’s business world – a concern that was often lacking before and during the 2008 financial crisis.

To play a key role in organisations upon graduation, students also need to develop analytical skills and apply their theoretical knowledge in practice. Hence, classroom learning should be combined with practical learning experiences and appropriate ILOs are required here as well.

EFMD programme accreditation – through the EPAS process – has contributed significantly over the years to students’ development of analytical and decision-making competencies thanks to its strong focus on involving senior practitioners in both programme governance and advisory bodies, alongside contributing to teaching and learning opportunities.

Initially, EPAS was a European initiative with mainly European business schools going through the accreditation process. Today, however, EPAS has become increasingly global, with approximately 20% of the accredited programmes now being delivered outside Europe.

The proportion of accredited programmes at non-European business schools has been increasing steadily and is expected to rise significantly under the EFMD Accredited banner.

In sum, for fifteen years, the EPAS process has ensured that EFMD programme accreditation is a quality indicator across borders for students, for business schools and for business and professional organisations and associations. As such, EPAS has been a driver of change in the development and dissemination of business and management programme excellence worldwide.

Programme management and expertise

From the start, EFMD programme accreditation has also had a strong focus on programme management and excellence. Peer Review Team members are carefully selected for their programme expertise and their prior experience. Their task is to contribute relevant ideas for the ongoing development and improvement of each programme, and this is a key feature of the review process.

As indicated above, EFMD has always firmly believed in the importance of balancing academic with practical elements. For this reason, as with EQUIS and EPAS, the EFMD Accredited Peer Review Team will always have one member with considerable managerial and/or professional experience. Having a representative from the world of practice on the Peer Review Team sets EFMD accreditation apart from other accreditation agencies.

Engaging in an on-going improvement process with EFMD programme accreditation ensures that the programme will benefit from a comprehensive and thorough analysis of standards and criteria led by international experts in management.
An EFMD Accredited programme pledges its students, alumni, academics and global partners to commit to best practices and to make an impact through an inclusive community. Part of the accreditation journey is also opening
doors to trusted worldwide peers and experts to demonstrate that the school is providing students with exceptional education by continuously improving academic rigour and excellence, employability, internationalisation and research.
Professor Hervé Penan PhD, Directeur, Toulouse School of Management, (TSM), Université Toulouse Capitole, France

‘EFMD Accredited’ and EQUIS: A happy marriage

Back in 2007, the Amsterdam School of Business (ASB) was the first school to gain EQUIS accreditation after already achieving EPAS accreditation for one of its programmes, its Master in International Finance. Following the EFMD policy at the time, the school gave up its EPAS accreditation as a result.

Since 2007, 22 schools from 12 different countries (accounting for 24 programmes) have given up EPAS accreditation as a result of gaining EQUIS accreditation. Now, since the Board’s recent decision, two EQUIS accredited schools – SKEMA and ESCP – have already entered the pilot process to obtain EFMD programme accreditation, and their respective MBA programmes are now EFMD Accredited. Other reviews in this pilot phase took place, with around eight EQUIS schools deciding to enter.

More EQUIS schools are expected to enter EFMD Programme Accreditation over the coming months.

EPAS accreditation was the starting point of a tremendously useful learning process, providing an international perspective for programme development while offering valuable insight as to the institutional aspects of accreditation. The fact that both our initially nominated programmes received EPAS accreditation straightaway gave our team the encouragement to obtain EQUIS accreditation, leading to substantial improvements in our entire institution.
Professor Dr. Zita Zoltay Paprika, Former VP of International Relations and Accreditations and former Dean, Corvinus Business School, Corvinus University of Budapest, Hungary

EFMD thus now offers a happy marriage between EQUIS and EFMD Accredited, providing school and programme accreditation respectively. First, EQUIS schools can now seek accreditation for their ‘flagship’ programmes or for programmes that are relatively new, or that are undergoing changes or further development.

Second, schools that initially sought EPAS accreditation prior to seeking EQUIS accreditation can now retain accreditation for their key programmes.

The Future

Looking ahead, EFMD programme accreditation, under the EFMD Accredited banner, has a bright future ahead despite numerous current and future challenges such as the Corona pandemic, increased digitalisation, and the question of internationalisation. 36 programmes are currently in the pipeline for review, of which 16 are from outside Europe.

The EFMD Programme Accreditation Team is ready to address these challenges by maintaining a constant dialogue with our member schools. In addition, the team is responsible for a fluid process of respecting our standards and criteria on the one hand, while being responsive and adaptive to the changing needs of schools on the other. In this respect, online peer reviews are being offered for the time being and we continue to invest in developing our online expertise.

Additionally, we are reacting flexibly to issues associated with the restructuring and reconfiguration taking place in business schools.

Regarding internationalisation, we can offer insights into new forms of networks and new alternatives for implementing student mobility. It is important to keep our systems active while at the same time responding to specific situations and needs. All this is being done with a sense of service to the community and the shared common goal of helping schools from around the world to keep improving the quality of their programmes.

EFMD’s Programme Accreditation Team is on hand to support institutions during all aspects of the accreditation process. We look forward to hearing from you.

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