Organisation sets its sights on Asia

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 July, 2009, 12:00am

One in five students worldwide studies business and 40 per cent of those students are in Asia. There are more than 5,000 institutions in Asia awarding business degrees with numbers continuing to grow rapidly. Asia is now officially threatening the United States as the MBA and higher education capital of the world.

But of those 5,000-plus faculties and teaching institutions, less than 150 are accredited to any formal set of standards and quality measurement.

That alone is a good reason why the world's largest business school accreditation organisation, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), recently set up an Asian regional office. Founded in 1916, the AACSB accredits 568 schools across 33 countries, and maintains a membership of about 1,200 business schools and major companies throughout 71 countries.

John Fernandes, president and chief executive of the AACSB, said the new Asia headquarters would serve to strengthen his organisation's membership, professional development and accreditation services in the region.

'Our intention in Asia is to spread accreditation to advance the quality of management education. That's our mission. We also do research, data collection and reporting. All of these services we're bringing to Asia.'

The office is designed to help with the convening of members and the growth of membership, and to assist schools going through the accreditation process.

Mr Fernandes said: 'That should equate to better infrastructure and expertise to assist local member schools to further improve the standards of business education [in Hong Kong].'

Three of Hong Kong's university business schools are already AACSB-accredited: Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, City University and Chinese University. All three are in The Economist's top 10 full-time MBA programmes in Asia-Pacific. They also rank in the top 100 in the world. Four additional Hong Kong organisations are AACSB members, but not yet accredited - a process that takes about three to five years.

A further reason for establishing an Asia office is the AACSB's recognition that it needs to expand its services to areas that are not exclusively high-income. 'Ninety-eight per cent of the schools we have accredited are in high-income countries,' Mr Fernandes said. 'But when we look at, say, India, we can see a country that faces major challenges in its provision of business education.

'The best schools have more applicants than they can handle and the faculties are overstretched. One of the big problems we find when we talk to businesses in developing countries is that half of the business school graduates they hire don't work out and have to be retrained.

'Accreditation is one measure of the authority of a school's programme. My hope is that in being part of the Indian management education landscape we will help them with their professional development and their recognition outside the country.'

There are 111 AACSB member organisations in Asia, of which 20 have accreditation. The targets for growth are ambitious but, according to Mr Fernandes, realistic. 'We'll be running deficits for five years before we reach break-even, not least because it can take that long to go through the process. Accreditation isn't a case of signing on the dotted line, paying a subscription and then hanging the certificate on the door.

'We have 21 standards that we measure for schools in developing and delivering their students. There are learning goals and assessments of those goals, not just tests. There really is something to be said about the process. We encourage continuous improvement and diversity. It's an organic process.

'Within five years we want 300 new members, of which 100 will be in the accreditation process or already accredited.'

Mr Fernandes said someone in the school needed to manage the process full time, which would place a strain on resources. He stressed, however, that once the school had attained accreditation all the faculty members benefited because as part of an internationally accredited faculty, their own employment horizons expanded considerably.

As to what the schools could expect for their commitment, he said that the lure of the AACSB logo as a certificate of approval could be tempting. But he was adamant that all his organisation's members had seen benefits far beyond a simple warranty of performance.

'Initially, they may have their eyes on the little blue seal. But every school I've worked with has said, 'wow, we really learned from this, we really benefited from the experience'.

'The American University of Beirut, for example, was a very challenging project on both sides - in large part because there weren't too many people who were willing to go there at the time.

'But it was amazing how much they had improved. They put into place massive changes in their faculty, they rethought their mission, everything. The process helped them to get better.

'That's what we aim to help a lot of Asian organisations do. So, for most organisations, maybe in the short term they just want to use the logo, but in the long run I think they'd say, 'I don't know what we'd do without it'.'