Newly Accredited: University of Exeter on Earning AACSB Accreditation
David Allen of the University of Exeter Business School talks about how the accreditation process helped the school reflect on its strategic positioning as a fairly new school, and further distinguish its place in the market.
In this blog series, AACSB spotlights business schools around the world that have recently earned AACSB accreditation. We ask the business school leadership about their journey to accreditation and what the new achievement means to them.
Here, David Allen, pro vice chancellor and executive dean of the University of Exeter Business School, talks about how the accreditation process helped the school reflect on its strategic positioning as a fairly new school, and further distinguish its place in the market. The journey also helped the school develop new synergies—among departments and people—that will have a lasting impact on students and the community.
Why was it important for your school to undergo the rigorous process of earning AACSB accreditation?
Accredited business schools are considered to be the best business schools in the world, recognized globally by top employers and other universities. Accreditation is a way of measuring the quality of the school’s activities, including their facilities, students, faculty, and programs.
The requirements for AACSB accreditation are challenging, but by completing the process we have been provided with external recognition of the quality of our activities. With a focus on continuous improvement, the AACSB process has provided us with an opportunity to assess our performance, measure our efficiency, and improve our programs.
By working to achieve AACSB accreditation we now have a framework to use to ensure continuous improvement.
What did you learn about your school through your accreditation journey?
AACSB’s focus on mission allowed us to review and consider our strategic position. In reviewing the school and our objectives in this way we were able to reflect on who we are as a school and who we want to be. This is particularly important to us as a relatively young school, having only been established in 2008.
Over the course of the accreditation journey we have reorganized the departments in the school to create a new interdisciplinary department that brings together the research synergies of the school. We have reconsidered the governance of the school and introduced two new associate dean roles to help us maximize growth in specific areas of business, specifically professional and postgraduate education.
We have also created or enhanced eight research centers, which will help us develop our strategy further and establish the school as world-class in leadership, sustainability, and the digital economy.
As the assessment was conducted by peers, it helped us appreciate the areas that were working really well within the school. Our peer review team commended us for our excellent career services, including industrial placements, and our enhanced process for program review, to name a couple. These are areas of our business we are very proud of, so it is great for the school to now have this external recognition.
What were the most challenging and rewarding parts of the accreditation process?
Though it is now somewhat of a cliché, I would say that gathering the necessary data about our faculty has been the most challenging, as this exercise is not one we would otherwise have undertaken. That said, the results have been very insightful and have helped us understand who we are as a school and how we can develop our staff further to meet the school’s objectives.
The process of accreditation is a valuable one, as it brings everyone in the school together to work on a shared goal. Reading the self-evaluation report gave me a real sense of how far we have come as a school and of all the hard work that my staff have put into to achieving this goal.
What impact do you hope to see from having achieved AACSB accreditation?
We hope that achieving AACSB accreditation will be a signal to both students and faculty that we are a high-quality business school that is committed to continually improving. We hope to leverage the achievement of gaining accreditation to increase our brand awareness internationally and attract the best staff and students.
We also hope that this is just the beginning of a much longer journey, to further develop and embed the processes we have introduced as part of gaining AACSB accreditation. By using AACSB as a framework, we can continue to think more strategically and aim to provide the best learning experience for our students.
What advice would you give to another school approaching the accreditation process?
Make the most of your mentor. They are a valuable source of information and they are there to guide you through the process. You do not need to struggle with an issue or spend time second-guessing if you are on the right track.
In addition, build up networks of peers within the AACSB community. It is likely that schools in similar regions, or of similar sizes, are experiencing similar difficulties in applying standards. By coming together as a network, you can find a way to resolve these difficulties as a group (or even become a collective voice within the organization to suggest change!).
David Bruce Allen is pro vice chancellor and executive dean of the University of Exeter Business School in the U.K.