The EFMD business magazine

The EFMD business magazine

EQUIS and EFMD Programme Accreditation

EQUIS and EFMD Programme Accreditation
Since June 2019, business schools have been able to be both EQUIS and EFMD Accredited, thereby demonstrating their excellence at the institutional and programme level. Some schools have used programme accreditation (formally EPAS) as a launchpad for gaining institutional accreditation (EQUIS), while some EQUIS-accredited schools now seek EFMD programme accreditation in addition. This article begins to unpack the rationale for taking either route – from the point of view of eight of the thirteen schools currently holding both accreditations – and also highlights the symbiotic, bi-directional and synergistic relationship between the two accreditation processes that facilitate continuous improvement and strategic development – at both levels.

In June 2019, the EFMD Board made a far-reaching decision concerning its institutional and programme accreditation systems. What had previously been viewed as two separate, albeit related, accreditations could, going forward, be held simultaneously. Previously, a school holding EPAS (the EFMD Programme Accreditation System) would be required to relinquish it when gaining EQUIS accreditation. From then onwards, this was no longer the case, and the EPAS appellation was changed to EFMD Accredited. This not only meant that those schools whose programmes had been accredited by EFMD’s Quality Services could retain their programme accreditation but also that EQUIS schools could additionally seek EFMD Programme Accreditation. Currently, at the time of writing this article, 13 schools hold both the EQUIS and EFMD Programme accreditations.

This article seeks to unpack the rationale for doing this and the benefits to be gained from seeking both EFMD accreditations from the point of view of some of the schools concerned.

We gratefully acknowledge the feedback received from our enquiries and the insights provided by the following:

  • Bologna Business School, Italy: Massimo (Max) Bergami, Dean
  • China Europe International Business School (CEIBS), China: Frank Bournois, Vice President and Dean
  • Curtin Business School, Australia: Vanessa Chang, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Dean, Faculty of Business and Law
  • Nottingham Business School, UK: Virender Slaich, Head of Quality and Accreditations
  • Rennes School of Business, France: Michel Nedzela, Senior Adviser to the Dean (Accreditations)
  • SKEMA Business School, France: Elise Tosi, Director of Accreditations, Quality and CSR
  • Toulouse School of Management, France: Hervé Penan, Professeur des Universités and Directeur
  • University of Zagreb, Faculty of Economics and Business, Croatia: Sanja Sever Mališ, Dean and Mario Spremić, Accreditation Leader.

Prior to the Board’s decision, and as noted by Frank Bournois (CEIBS), EPAS had on occasion been viewed as a stepping stone on the road to EQUIS accreditation by some schools.

The EQUIS and EFMD Programme Accreditation Standards

First, though, it may prove useful to reprise the two sets of standards which are summarised in the frameworks illustrated above. EQUIS focuses on assessing a business school’s overall excellence and quality given its unique context and strategic goals, while EFMD Programme Accreditation evaluates the specific design, delivery, and outcomes of individual programmes, considering both course-level and overall programme-level achievements. Both standards share common concerns, such as connections with the professional world, internationalisation, ethics, responsibility and sustainability, but they approach accreditation from different perspectives. EQUIS looks at the broader institutional context and strategy, while EFMD Programme Accreditation delves into the specifics of programme delivery and outcomes.

The EQUIS and EFMD Programme Accreditation Frameworks

When considering the two sets of standards, our contributors make a number of comments. For example, Sanja Sever and Mario Spremić (Zagreb) rightly point to the EQUIS standards taking a ‘broader view’, helping schools to focus on their strategic development. Hervé Penan (Toulouse) echoes this point when talking about ‘continuous improvement’ and ‘benchmarking’ against other major business schools internationally. Vanessa Chan (Curtin), echoing Frank Bournois’s earlier point, highlights the ‘congruence’ between the two accreditations, as ‘a step on the school’s journey from programme accreditation to institutional accreditation’. Elise Tosi (SKEMA) notes that EFMD standards at the institutional and programme levels are seen to be ‘both comprehensive and demanding’, with the two accreditation processes being ‘mutually reinforcing’, often leading to the emergence of important – and necessary – developments and innovations that may have only been ‘vaguely considered’ previously. Frank Bournois points to the role that EFMD Programme Accreditation plays in the context of business school expansion, not just in terms of growing numbers of students but more particularly in relation to the range of new programmes being developed – both at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels – with the consequent ‘need to delve more deeply into their development and delivery’.


A bi-directional symbiotic relationship

Echoing Vanessa Chan’s comment, Sanja Sever and Mario Spremić note that EFMD Programme Accreditation has been helpful in programme development across the school’s whole programme portfolio – not just for the programme under review – with lessons being learned from both the EQUIS and EFMD Programme Accreditation processes. To quote, EFMD’s Programme Accreditation process enables the school ‘to delve more deeply into the process of continuous improvement’ throughout the school’s various programme offerings. Hervé Penan makes a related point concerning EFMD Programme Accreditation, noting that the process ‘allows for diversity’ –  importantly, going ‘beyond mere compliance’ with a set of fixed standards or a particular type of programme in mind. After all, EFMD Accredited programmes range from undergraduate to generalist (e.g., MBA) and focused (e.g., MSc) programmes. Indeed, two research-led schools – Toulouse School of Management and the University of St Gallen – have their PhD programmes EFMD Accredited, reinforcing not just the point about diversity but also the importance of synergy with respect to a school’s particular strategic focus and context.

Building on his earlier point about business school expansion, Frank Bournois notes that more focused programme reviews are particularly apposite for newly developed programmes – something that is particularly important ‘for fast evolving programmes’, such as those concerning information technology. ‘What led CEIBS to EFMD Programme Accreditation was the spirit of continuous improvement and the need to obtain expert views on the more detailed aspects that an overall EQUIS peer review would not have time to provide’. This point about the more in-depth review that the EFMD Programme Accreditation process enables is a view shared, for example, by Virender Slaich (Nottingham Trent) for its undergraduate programmes, by Michel Nedzela (Rennes) for a specialist Masters programme in International Finance, and by Vanessa Chan (Curtin) for its MBA programme. In each case, the focus has been on those programmes that are particularly relevant for the school at a certain point in time and given its particular role and focus.

To echo an earlier point, a general comment made by all those who have kindly contributed to this article concerns the comprehensive and continuous improvement aspects of EFMD’s institutional and programme accreditation systems. Sanja Sever and Mario Spremić (Zagreb), for example, talk of further strategy development arising from the processes. Indeed, Vanessa Chan, Virender Slaich and Elise Tosi (SKEMA) remind us that peer review visits go beyond mere compliance with set standards but recognise diversity and seek congruence with developing strategies – continuous improvement being ‘the name of the game’. While seen as being helpful in raising a school’s standing both nationally and internationally – and, certainly, this is often mentioned as an important byproduct – continuous development at both the school and programme levels, in line with strategic imperatives and particular environmental conditions, remains the focus of attention for both the EQUIS and EFMD Programme Accreditation systems.

A concluding remark

While it is often said that an international accreditation helps to demonstrate a school’s, or programme’s, standing internationally, a common saying that would appear to apply here is that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Combined, institutional and programme accreditation reviews – EQUIS and EFMD Programme Accreditation – are synergistic. According to those who have contributed to the preparation of this article, there is an emergent quality arising from the two processes facilitating strategic development and continuous improvement at all levels.

Grateful thanks are due to Véronique Roumans, Senior Manager, EQUIS and Isabel Ramos, Senior Manager, EFMD Programme Accreditation for their help in producing this article.

EQUIS and EFMD Programme Accreditation

Bob Galliers is a former Associate Director/Senior Adviser for EFMD’s Quality Services, dealing with both EQUIS and EFMD Programme Accreditation. He was a member of the EQUIS Accreditation Board for 7 years in the early 2000s. He is the University Distinguished Professor Emeritus and former Provost, Bentley University, USA, and Professor Emeritus and former Dean, Warwick Business School, UK.

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