WHU | Logo

Accreditations for MBA programs: EQUIS -
What accreditations are the sign of a good business school?

How can you determine if the business school and MBA programs you are considering meet your own demands as well as generally recognized international requirements and standards? Through accreditations. Here is a brief guide through the various quality seals and certificates.

Why is it important for a business school to be accredited?

The MBA – both the program structure and the degree itself – is geared toward professionally experienced individuals who want to expand upon their previous opportunities and their network while also moving up the career ladder. This target group also sees the recognition of their achievements as important – be it their prior career experience or the knowledge and skills that can be gained through an MBA degree program. This recognition formally takes place at a higher level by means of accreditation certificates. These certificates ensure that management training meets international standards of quality. This alone gives future employers the certainty that an applicant has obtained the necessary skills for the position being filled. An accreditation certificate confirms the reputation of the business school and thereby serves as recognition of a future graduate’s achievement. Above all, however, the accreditation also assures the quality of the degree program. This lets you be confident that your tuition fees are well invested. Ultimately, it’s not just about earning a good final grade; it’s about the skills and knowledge you obtain during the program. So, it’s definitely worth taking the time to closely examine the university or business school you’re considering attending. A review of the school’s accreditation is a good place to start.

Are all accreditations equally important for the MBA?

No, there are distinct differences. In order to understand them, we have to take a look at the work done by accreditation agencies and institutes.

The German Accreditation Council is the top institute responsible for quality assurance in Germany. The council has commissioned multiple accreditation agencies to review degree programs and schools in regard to their quality standards. The various agencies differ substantially in terms of their focus and their process in evaluating a university. In Germany, the landscape of accreditation organizations is truly diverse. This is especially true when it comes to the European and international partnerships and networks. In Europe in particular, the universities are closely interwoven through the Bologna Process. That’s why it’s especially important to be able to compare degree programs and thus assure an established quality in the educational institutions. Educational tracks can be internationalized only through quality assurance and development.

Not all accreditation organizations deal with business degrees or, more specifically, with the MBA degree. It’s important not to let yourself be deceived by accreditation certificates, but first to take a closer look at the focus of the particular accreditation. The accreditation of business-related degrees, and specifically the MBA programs, falls exclusively under the authority of the following organizations: EFMD (EQUIS), FIBAA, AACSB, and AMBA. If a university promotes itself with other accreditation certificates, these relate to other degrees and departments, not the business or MBA programs. The following is an overview of the accreditations that are relevant to the MBA, along with their individual areas of focus and accreditation processes. But first, we want to briefly address a question that is frequently asked by prospective MBA students:

What is the Triple Crown, and is it really essential?

When it comes to the accreditation of MBA programs and business schools, the question often arises about the so-called Triple Crown – and about whether a prospective MBA student should only enroll in a business school that has this distinction. The Triple Crown refers to the triple accreditation of a business school through AACSB, EFMD, and AMBA. In the estimation of some experts, this distinction is primarily a matter of prestige and a marketing vehicle. After all, a business school with what appears to be the complete set of MBA-related accreditations can certainly position itself better among the competition, especially at the international level. But technically, and in terms of quality standards, such schools do not necessarily have an edge over a university with just two of the certifications – especially considering that EFMD is largely focused on accreditations in Europe. The AMBA accreditation is also considered obsolete for European business schools if they already have the other two certifications. After all, AMBA reviews only individual programs or degrees, while the other two organizations examine the entire university or business school. Thus, contrary to what is communicated in certain universities’ marketing strategies, the Triple Crown should not be the determining factor in MBA candidates’ choice of a university. But let’s move on to the individual accreditations and their concentrations.

EFMD EQUIS Accredited

What is EFMD?

EFMD is the European Foundation for Management Development, a nonprofit organization. It was founded in the 1970s as a network of business schools and, since 1997, has been accrediting business schools for compliance with quality standards. The accreditation certificates are not awarded for an indefinite period of time; rather, in the interest of promoting ongoing performance and development, they must be renewed every three to five years. The foundation is composed of 760 members from the fields of business, management training, public service, and consulting, representing 81 countries. Up until August 2019, three different certifications were awarded: EPAS (EFMD Programme Accreditation System), EOCCS (EFMD Online Course Certification System), and EQUIS – whereas, EQUIS stands out against the other two certificates, as explained below. Since 2006, EPAS has been accrediting individual university programs, such as master’s and bachelor’s degree programs and MBAs. EOCCS relates to the examination and assessment of a university’s online courses. Since August 1, 2019, EFMD only awards two certifications: EFMD Accredited and EFMD EQUIS Accredited. EFMD Accredited combines the EOCCS and EPAS quality seals.

What does EQUIS stand for?

The acronym EQUIS stands for the EFMD Quality Improvement System and is both a quality seal and a system for assessing business schools. It’s a counterpart to the American-influenced accreditation standards. Since the fundamental concept of business schools and of the MBA degree originated in the United States, it’s no surprise that the U.S. has always played a leading role in the structure of MBA programs. This also applies to accreditation systems and standards for MBA programs.

What distinguishes EQUIS?

In contrast to other institutional accreditation systems for business schools, EQUIS does not require a global standardization of educational modules and content. Rather, it supports regional and national features of the individual locations by incorporating these factors into the overall assessment. This was inspired by the specific needs arising from Europe’s cultural diversity. Accordingly, EQUIS also has a certain European influence. However, the certification involves quality assurance at the international level. On the whole, it is aimed at simplifying the quality assessment of business-focused educational institutions around the world, without applying a particular standardization or showing preference for a specific business school concept.

What is the aim of the EQUIS accreditation?

The aim is to promote an exchange of knowledge between partner organizations within the EFMD and the narrower EQUIS network – by means of the accreditation system. Conferences, seminars, and workshops are regularly held for this purpose. The accreditation focuses on a balanced relationship between three core elements: high academic quality, international orientation, and practical relevance to the business world.

How does EQUIS accreditation take place?

The evaluation of a business school or degree program takes place after the institution has applied for the certification and begins with a self-disclosure and self-assessment on the part of the institution.

For the accreditation of MBA programs by EQUIS, three separate entities are set up: the committee, the awarding body, and the peer review team. The committee consists of academics and business representatives or entrepreneurs, who first decide about the institution’s general eligibility for the accreditation. One could say that the committee reviews the program content and structure of the degrees, such as the MBA.

The peer review team consists of four members, each of whom hold a leading position in a management training program or have a similar qualification. The peer review team has the task of visiting the school in order to gain a first-hand impression of the program. Simply put, their task includes examining the day-to-day operations of the business school. Of course, the actual examination of the peer review team is much more sophisticated in structure. The team’s primary focus is to dialogue with institution, providing recommendations about what could be improved or where they see further potential in the areas of teaching and research.

The awarding body refers to the stakeholder that, after the findings have been assessed, makes the final decision about awarding the accreditation.

The ten examination criteria for EQUIS accreditation

  1. Evaluation of the degree programs
  2. Context, governance, and strategy of the business school
  3. Composition of the student body
  4. Self-assessment report from the institution
  5. Peer review: assessment and recommendation
  6. Qualification and background of the faculty
  7. Research
  8. Internationalization
  9. Ethics and sustainability
  10. Contact to businesses (practical relevance)
  •  Optional: Executive education, e.g. the EMBA, examined in regard to the program quality (if offered)

What universities and business schools in Germany have EQUIS accreditation?

  • University of Cologne (Faculty of Management, Economics and Social Sciences)
  • University of Mannheim (Mannheim Business School)
  • Technical University of Munich (TUM School of Management)
  • ESCP Europe
  • European School of Management and Technology (ESMT Berlin)
  • Frankfurt School of Finance & Management
  • WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management

EQUAL: Network of the EFMD

The network or “think tank” EQUAL can be seen as a product of the work of EFMD. EQUAL stands for European Quality Link and refers to an independent network, founded in 1996, aimed at the promotion of budding executives. It’s making a substantial contribution to the strategic advancement of management training and development at the international level. And it isn’t limited to MBA programs or specialized “executive education,” but focuses on the entire possible career path, from the first semester to the management of an international business. To this end, the innovative network develops quality assurance guidelines for the various degrees in the field of business and economics. This likewise ensures the comparability of the degrees. These guidelines, in bundled form, are known as the European MBA Guidelines. The accreditation agency FIBAA, also a member of EQUAL, takes its bearings from these guidelines as well.

WHU | Logo