Newly Accredited: University of Wollongong on Earning AACSB Accreditation
The accreditation process caused the school to reconsider its purpose, leading them to embed social responsibility and sustainability into their mission.
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.
Executive Dean Charles Areni of the Faculty of Business at the University of Wollongong, which was recently accredited in November, discusses how the process of accreditation helped the school express its most important values that would be integrated into its mission: responsible leadership and sustainable business. Further, he says the accreditation experience provided the school with the incentive it needed to become more innovative and flexible.
Learn more about how the school was able to streamline learning experiences for its multiple international campuses, gain widespread buy-in for change, and discover new leverage through the accreditation journey.
Why was it important for your school to undergo the rigorous process of earning AACSB accreditation?
The Faculty of Business at the University of Wollongong is unique in that we deliver our programs across a network of domestic campuses, as well as our international campuses in Dubai, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and via our trusted partner in Singapore. This presents obvious challenges in terms of maintaining consistency of teaching quality and overall student experience, but it also presents exciting opportunities for providing international experiences to our students. The question was how to manage the challenges while at the same time taking advantage of all the opportunities.
The key areas of focus in terms of accreditation were managing quality assurance (QA) and assurance of learning (AoL) processes and protocols (Standard 8), as well as monitoring the engagement and qualifications of academic staff (Standards 5 and 15), particularly for new appointments at our offshore campuses. The AACSB accreditation process provided a platform for improving these processes in a systematic way.
What did you learn about your school through your accreditation journey?
The accreditation process required us to reconsider our mission statement and ask the question, “what do we stand for?” What we learned from this reflection is that the themes of social responsibility and sustainability united us as a business school. These core values cut across traditional disciplinary boundaries and resonated with both academic and administrative staff. Responsible leadership and sustainable business practice now feature prominently in our mission statement, and this strategic focus has spawned three new research centers to support cross-disciplinary research on responsible, sustainable business.
Our AACSB journey also revealed an underlying desire to innovate, which was being stifled by a kind of “institutional inertia” that prevented this spirit from manifesting. The accreditation process allowed the natural innovators in our school to come out from hiding, so to speak. We had a veritable explosion of new ideas across the teaching, research, and international portfolios.
What were the most challenging and rewarding parts of the accreditation process?
As indicated above, coordinating QA and AoL processes across our multiple international campuses proved to be quite challenging. This entailed changing the mindsets of many stakeholders to get buy-in to the idea that change is necessary. However, one of the great advantages of AACSB accreditation is that it is an impetus for organizational change, providing both legitimacy and a rallying point for academic and administrative staff. This laid the foundation for greater integration and coordination among our multiple locations, which will ultimately allow us to provide a much richer range of international experiences to our students.
What impact do you hope to see from having achieved AACSB accreditation?
It would be hard not to mention the obvious benefit of boosting our global reputation. By achieving AACSB accreditation we are signaling to multiple international markets that we adhere to the highest standards of business education and that we are among the best business schools in the world; but, perhaps, an even greater benefit has been instilling a continuous improvement mindset in the Faculty of Business. We are already planning our next phase of innovation and have completely overcome any institutional resistance to change. We are simply a more naturally innovative and adaptive organization than we were before.
What advice would you give to another school approaching the accreditation process?
To borrow the famous advertising slogan—just do it! As I mentioned previously, the pursuit of AACSB accreditation gives a business school dean incredible leverage for driving organizational change. It also promotes a stronger strategic alliance with the rest of your university. Your university will have a better understanding of how the business school adds value to the institution beyond simply providing financial resources. This, of course, improves bargaining power by highlighting the value of investing in the business school!
In addition to providing recognition for excellence, and instilling a culture of continuous improvement, the AACSB journey serves as a rallying point for your business school. It brings academic and administrative staff together in pursuit of a common cause. But AACSB accreditation is extremely rigorous. Do not go it alone. Get connected. Attend conferences. Ask questions. Seek advice. One of the great advantages of AACSB is the global network of expertise you can tap into during your accreditation journey.
Charles Areni is executive dean of the Faculty of Business at the University of Wollongong in New South Wales, Australia.