Newly Accredited: Brunel Business School on Earning AACSB Accreditation
Head of Brunel Business School, Chris Pitelis, offers insights and advice on the AACSB accreditation journey.
In this blog series, AACSB is spotlighting business schools around the globe that have recently earned AACSB Accreditation. We ask the business school deans about their journey to accreditation and what the new achievement means to them. In this interview, Chris Pitelis, head of Brunel Business School, shares insights on the accreditation experience at his school.
Why was it important for your school to undergo the rigorous process of earning AACSB Accreditation?
There are five key reasons: First, AACSB Accreditation affords credibility to any business school and is widely seen as primary among the “triple crown” of accreditations. Second, achieving accreditation creates a feeling of belonging to a community and network of excellence. Third, the accreditation process is arguably the best way of receiving advice that no consultant, colleague, or other mentor could possibly provide. Schools undergoing the process get access to the best independent assessors and advisors with a wealth of business school-specific experience. That the advice provided is voluntary, autonomous, and developmental makes it unique. Fourth, accreditation supports the rigorous and continual self-evaluation of a school’s mission and path to align with it against a comprehensive set of standards. Last but not least, the accreditation process functions as independent unbiased advocacy to the wider institution of the needs and opportunities of the school. My team, led by David Gallear, and I feel so privileged to have partaken in this invaluable experience from which we have benefited so much.
What did you learn about your school through your accreditation journey?
Among the many things we learned are our key advantages, our competencies and strengths, our weaknesses and limitations, opportunities and challenges, our competitors and complementors, areas that need improvement and the means to do it, and ways to embed continuous improvement in our way of thinking and acting. We have also learned from our mistakes and identified key gaps and aimed to fill them. The management and leadership experience gained, alongside the creation of requisite teams to reach the desired outcome, were by themselves an excellent learning opportunity and process.
What was the most challenging/rewarding part of the accreditation process?
Most challenging was our decision to apply for accreditation for the school as the unit of accreditation, as opposed to the unit of accreditation being the university. That required satisfying some stringent criteria regarding the degree of distinctiveness and autonomy of the school in its relationship to the university, as well as very significant support at the institutional level.
It also required an understanding of the AACSB philosophy, as well as mentoring and support by the peer review and accreditation teams. Getting there felt very rewarding, but on a more fundamental level it was the sense of purpose, community, and support we received that felt the most gratifying. We have met and worked with some very special AACSB staff and volunteers, and just meeting and working with them made all our efforts worthwhile. I feel that I would say the same even if we had not managed to succeed this time round.
The most rewarding part of the accreditation process was that through it we became much stronger and more advantageous to all of our students, internal stakeholders, and business partners. The continuous improvement process resulted in much stronger academic programs that provide the knowledge and skill sets our students need to compete in the marketplace, and it also helped us better position our school so as to serve our external stakeholders such as potential employers, corporate partners, and the regional economy and community.
How have your business programs changed as a result of achieving AACSB Accreditation?
In the process we have changed and improved all kinds of programs and operations—undergraduate, MBA, and PhD—as well as our planned partnerships. We have revisited our PhD program, and have already seen significant improvement in our MBA—as a result of implementing advice received from accreditors. We have scaled up our very successful Business Life program, improved our branding, filled some gaps, and shaped our recruitment efforts based on advice received. More generally we have entered a mode of continuous learning and upgrading.
What advice would you give to another school approaching the accreditation process?
Go for it! Be open, frank, candid, humble, eager, and ready to learn. Be willing to benefit and give something back—not only through your own improvement but also through feedback to the accreditation team and to other institutions. In academia we are privileged in that we all benefit from each other’s improvement. And we are all learning and contributing to our community and ecosystem—a critical part of which is accrediting institutions such as AACSB.
At the practical level, I suggest carefully studying the directions and requirements and seek advice when in doubt (and sometimes even if not in doubt). There are many potential challenges, and alongside the formal advice, it is often the informal advice that stems from the tacit knowledge and experience of the peer review team and AACSB staff that can make all the difference.
In sum, it is important that everyone knows the end goal and understands the value and expectation of accreditation. Once achieved, the work to maintain accreditation continues, and it is key that all members—executive team, faculty, and staff—are vested in the success of accreditation attainment.
Chris Pitelis is head of Brunel University London Business School and professor of strategy and sustainable competitiveness.